GLaDOS returns

We return to the wacky world of Portal, whose first incarnation inspired a legion of fans, the hit song ‘Still Alive’ (recently covered by acapella band Basix), and one of the most memorable characters to ever grace a video game, a psychotic computer called GLaDOS.

When the first iteration of Portal arrived in 2007, it came as something of an unexpected surprise. The origins of the game were seeded in a project called Narbacular Drop, released two years earlier by students at the DigiPen Institute of Technology - a Seattle design school. Their game made use of interconnecting portals, wormholes in fact, which allowed the player to move around the sentient dungeon environment.

Having bagged a couple of awards and a great deal more critical praise, Washington developer Valve soon employed the students and set them loose with the art and environments they had originally developed for Half Life 2. After a little jiggery pokery the game found itself in stores as a component of The Orange Box bundle. The result was a wildly original game that was characterized by mind-bending gameplay, where players were rewarded for their solving of puzzles with little more than cake and a kind word.

Four years of development and a lot of head scratching later, Portal is back and, incredibly, it’s even better. In the sequel, out now, the original game’s protagonist Chell has awoken from cryogenic stasis to find the Aperture Science human behaviour research laboratory has fallen to rack and ruin; overrun by nature and littered with broken glass and malfunctioning machinery. It isn’t long before Chell and new character Wheatley inadvertently wake GLaDOS, the HAL like central computer of the first outing, who soon places Chell back on mind-bending puzzle-solving duties with the trusty Portal Gun.

The cool vocodered tones of GLaDOS are contrasted in this installment by the west country burr and endless whittling of Wheatley, voiced by Stephen Merchant, whose long improvised sessions have resulted in hours of dialogue that wanders way off script and further extends the humour which distinguished the first game from its contemporaries. Throw in anti-gravity excursion funnels, and special gels – propulsion, which can be applied to surfaces in order to accelerate slides, and repulsion that offers more bounce to the ounce - and Valve have cooked up all the ingredients for more dastardly puzzles than those enabled by the first game.

The biggest change however is the Cooperative Testing Initiative, a co-op story that features two bi-pedal brobots Atlas and P-Body, whose mannerisms are not a million miles from fellow roly poly/lanky strider double act Laurel and Hardy. Their story takes place chronologically after the single player experience and, as well as adding hours of playtime, this daring duo allows for the Valve team to create far more complicated puzzles, introducing plenty more brain cell melting layers of mischievousness to the level design. In short, it’s perhaps best to book in your grief counseling now for one of the most engaging games of recent months. As GLaDOS would say, “Continue testing.”

Words by Kingsley Marshall


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