by Chris Davis
previewed on PC
Make a Note
The clearest thing about 2007 is that, among the biggest triple-A titles that were released including, but not limited to, Halo 3, Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare, Bioshock, Crysis, and God of War 2, few would have anticipated that a little tie-in title to a Valve box set release would garner such love. When the Orange Box was released that October, though home to the much anticipated Team Fortress 2 and Half-Life 2, Portal stood out far beyond either of them and gained both the love of gamers and a seat in the spotlight reserved only for a handful of games in history. The charm, puzzles, dialog, and amazingly fun gameplay was universally acclaimed in such a way that people were frothing for a sequel or, at the very least, an expansion within weeks of the game’s release. Valve heard those pleas and released an expansion for the Xbox Live Arcade called Portal: Still Alive the following year that consisted of the full game and additional maps created from user generated content.
This however was simply not enough. Portal 2 was announced last month and, from all reports, it looks to be both a strong departure and a return to the familiar.
Fratricide is the Only Way
Portal 2’s announcement couldn’t have come in a more obscure package even if Valve tried. On March 1st Valve released a cryptic update to the PC version of Portal that “changed radio transmission frequency to comply with federal and state spectrum management regulations.” While this may seem like a nonsensical update to a game that hadn’t seen any significant patches since early 2009 it did drive a handful of curious Valve purists to find out what was going on. Players entered Portal for the umpteenth time and discovered that they could manipulate the radios which yielded a Morse code transmission that, when translated, implied a computer restart and a link to Aperture Science promotional video. Further investigation would yield a phone number and a large amount of ASCII images of logos and items from within Portal.
The true meaning of this strange patch was made clear two days later when Valve released another update for the title, this time adding “valuable asset retrieval.” The end result: an extended ending for Portal, one in which the main character, Chell, was dragged off by a robot after GLaDOS’ death who thanks her for using the party escort submission position. And thus, today, this is where we stand.
The Baked Good is a Falsification of Reality
When Chell finally destroyed GLaDOS at the end of Portal fans were eager to see what had happened in the outside world that she had been warned about. Unfortunately all we got to see was a parking lot with debris falling out of the sky before being dragged off by a “party associate” while Chell drifted into unconsciousness. What happened during that time however is anything but insignificant. As Chell reawakens once again within the building it is clear that it has been a long time since she defeated GLaDOS; several hundred years in fact. The rest of the world never rediscovered the Aperture Science facility. Whatever happened after the events of Half-Life 2’s saga have long since passed and it seems that Valve has no intention of reconnecting Portal 2 with the rest of the Half-Life universe.
In the centuries after Chell’s first adventure through the testing chambers and her final battle with her silicon captor the facility has not fared well. With no humans present, the once sprawling modern buildings have fallen into a state of almost irreparable damage. Many areas have had their ceilings collapse and nature is actively reclaiming everything manmade. Vines, brush, and ponds of water now occupy areas that were once clean rooms and test chambers. Formerly impenetrable walls that guided Chell on her previous linear journey are crumbling apart and exposing the vulnerable guts of the once grandiose buildings and underground chambers.
And yet, through it all, two things remain the same: Chell still lives, but so does GLaDOS.
New Friends, Old Enemies
When players got their hands on Portal, one thing was clear: it was a very lonely experience. With only GLaDOS as a vague and eventually life threatening task maker, players noticed that, other than Chell, the Aperture Science facility was a slightly unsettling place with no humans around. During development, Valve designers threw around the idea of have the player character being stalked by a “party associate” during the course of the latter half of the game after you’ve escaped the final test chamber. Though the idea never came to fruition, Valve did see fit to implement the idea of a more lively facility. In the game’s final cinematic the game’s camera took us through winding corridors and unknown sections to a large storage room filled with AI cores that came to life as the candle on the cake was blown out. These AI cores are now alive and wander the facility each with its own distinct personality and have spent the centuries expanding the underground chambers while leaving the human-created sections to rot.
After Chell awakens at the beginning of the Portal 2 she meets her first AI core named Wheatley who ops to join her on a tour of the facility. As they ascend in an elevator it suddenly stops and opens up on a very familiar place: GLaDOS’ chamber, the site of the final battle hundreds of years ago. As they venture into the room however the lifeless shell of Chell’s former enemy comes to life and bears down on her destroyer. “Oh, it’s YOU,” says the sultry voice of the GLaDOS, used after players destroyed her morality core at the end of Portal. GLaDOS is anything but happy to see you but in the end decides that the need to continue to advance science outweighs her need for revenge. “Okay, look. We both said a lot of things that you are going to regret but I think we should put our differences behind us for science. You monster.”