This month marks the fifth anniversary of the release of Portal 2. Exponentially longer than the first game in the series, Portal 2 expanded on the mechanic of navigating and transporting objects via portals by introducing a mechanic from another game, Tag Team's Tag: The Power of Paint, which was developed by some students from the DigiPen Institute of Technology. The game included various colored paint gels, each with different properties. Red paint would cause the player to move faster. Blue paint would allow the player to walk on any surface. The game's designers were hired by Valve to work on Portal 2, resulting in puzzles that not only employed the use of portals, but also the use of these coloured gels. The result was what PC Gamer called "The best game of the year." Doug Lombardi, director of marketing at Valve, said that "Portal was a test bed. Portal 2 is a game." Gabe Newell has called Portal 2 the "best game we've ever done," and make no mistake -- Portal 2 is an excellent title. To celebrate its fifth year anniversary, I'll be listing my favorite moments in the game. Enjoy!
Disclaimer: This article assumes the reader has played and beaten Portal 2 and there are spoilers ahead. You have been warned.
Right off the bat, after completing a brief controls tutorial, you meet your partner for the first half of the game, the eccentric personality core, and all-around moron, Wheatley. He comes by, seemingly with good intentions, with a plan to help Chell, the protagonist, escape Aperture.
Wheatley immediately makes an impression, mentioning Chell may have brain damage and brushing it off like its not a big deal. He then rips her suspension chamber from its support and runs off toward the testing track with it like a driver under the influence, knocking over other suspension chambers and talking about how the Aperture management staff has it in for him. And to actually access the testing track, Wheatley uses your suspension chamber as a makeshift battering ram. It's pretty surreal. It feels like one of those VR attractions at a major amusement park somewhere, Disney World for instance. It makes for a memorable way to start off the game.
The writing of the scene is humorous, but of course, writing is but one part of the process. The actor needs to bring life to the writing, and Stephen Merchant does a fantastic job of getting across Wheatley's talkative, stammering dialogue.
In Chapter 2 of the game, you find a radio in the Rat Man den found in an alcove in Test Chamber 03. This radio plays an original song written exclusively for Portal 2 by The National, called "Exile Vilify."
The lyrics of the song were composed by The National, and were reviewed by Valve to ensure that they fit with the tone of the Rat Man dens. While that may be true, since Rattmann put his life on the line in order to ensure Chell's survival, I feel it would also be true for Chell as well. In the midst of vilifications and possibilities of death at the hands of GLaDOS, and later Wheatley, Chell always found a way to stay alive. Does it feel like a trial? I'm sure it would have felt a lot like a trial. That and the song's pretty catchy as well.
Here's the video that won 1.00000000001th place in Portal 2's music video contest, a visual retelling of Valve's Portal 2: Lab Rat comic made by MikeMov89Portal2:
Roughly halfway through the game, you and Wheatley overthrow GLaDOS and put him in charge in place of her. Almost immediately, Wheatley lets his newfound power get to his head, uploads GLaDOS into a potato battery, then throws her into the elevator with you and pounds it down into the ground, causing its support to give out and send both you and her falling miles down into a section of Aperture Science that time forgot. And were the company still in business at the time this game takes place, they'd probably rather you forgot about it as well.
Exploring the old, condemned Aperture facility, from the way it was in 1952 until the 1980s, allows the player to experience the journey Aperture, and its founder and CEO, Cave Johnson (played by the spectacular J.K. Simmons), took in getting the company started up as a shower curtain manufacturer, experiencing success in science innovation, and their fall from grace when the true nature of their experiments came to light. Experiments like turning someone's blood into gasoline, and having a superconductor pointed at someone (resulting in getting a tumor or best case scenario, superpowers). Oh and apparently making lemonade was planned as well at some point. But the plan was scrapped.
It's also revealed in Johnson's rant how exactly GLaDOS was brought into being. It's because of the rich lore the old facility contains about Aperture as a whole that it's one of my favorite moments in the game. It is, for all intents and purposes, a history lesson, and one that I actually enjoy. Kind of sad, really.
If you keep close to the wall in this small area, you'll hear a voice that speaks in utter gibberish. It's the belief of most players that the voice is that of Doug Rattmann who, by the time the events of Portal 2 take place, is long dead.
This last Rat Man den is, in my opinion, the creepiest. The den is unique in the way that it is the only one of the seven dens in which you hear the disembodied voice of someone who's been dead for years, decades, perhaps even centuries. The voice has sparked spirited debate, and several people have worked to decode the message the Ghost of Rattmann leaves behind for whoever finds this hidden alcove.
The graffiti present in the den also foreshadows events to come later on in the game. At the end of the hallway, near the fan, there's a piece of graffiti that contains an odd poem:
The bell invites
Hear the turret for
It is knell
That summons to
Heaven or to Hell.
This poem refers to something known as the Oracle Turret.
Early in the game, while making your escape with Wheatley, you come across a turret that doesn't attack you when you come across its field of vision. In fact, it sits in a pile of junk. "I'm different," it says as you walk past. Doug Rattmann touches on this same turret in the poem found in the last Rat Man den. Later on in the game, while moving around the inner workings of the modern Aperture facility, you see the same turret about to be disposed of. Pick it up, and you'll be privy to a few snippets of information, some foreshadowing future events.
As heard in the video, the turret mentions how Prometheus was cast down into the Earth's depths and pecked by birds for giving the gift of knowledge to mankind (Like GLaDOS was), and that "the answer is beneath us." Before Wheatley even mentions the fact that only the top layer of the facility has been explored so far, we're given vague hints to that fact from an oracle turret.
The information that the Rat Man den and the Oracle Turret provide, even when taken together, doesn't make sense until later in the game. It's one of my favourite moments because of the questions that it raises. How does the Oracle Turret know about the significance of lemonade here? How does it know all this? Could it be that this Oracle Turret is Cave Johnson, and that he was uploaded into a computer after all? It would certainly explain why they knew about the significance of Lemonade and the true identity of GLaDOS. And what about Rattmann? How did he know about the turret in the first place? So many questions.
At the beginning of Chapter 9, also known as "The Part Where He Kills You," Wheatley's what he thinks is the perfect death trap for you: a platform surrounded by several spiked plates, with no means of escape. Except, there's totally a means of escape. Conversion gel is dripping from a pipe nearby, and through the use of portal technology, you find that means of escape. Then you scurry away and Wheatley begs you to come back. If you respect his request and come back, he'll admit he didn't plan for this outcome, and then basically just asks you to kill yourself by jumping into the abyss, enticing you by saying that you'll find your parents down there, a boy band, a triple portal device, etc. If you do jump down, he'll express his surprise and say he didn't think that would work.
The scene is pretty amusing; just hearing the things Wheatley comes up with to entice Chell into jumping into the pit, like the pony farm, it's clear that he's desperate, and at the same time, he kind of knows that it won't work.
There's a similar scene towards the end of Chapter 9, only this time with a "masher" at the end of a conveyor. Here, he doesn't sugarcoat things any and instead says that taking the ride into the masher would be the more dignified way to die.
Stephen Merchant shines as Wheatley in these two scenes. It makes me wonder how many of his lines were written as opposed to being improvised (Merchant was given room to improvise as Wheatley).
So that's my list of my favorite moments in Portal 2. Stephen Merchant did excellent work as Wheatley. I was pleased hearing The National in the game with their original song "Exile Vilify." I really enjoyed the journey you take into Aperture's past, learning of its bright start and its dark and disturbing fall from grace. The last Rat Man den and the Oracle Turret also raises a lot of questions, and has sparked a lot of debate among fans. Some have even tried spotting Rattmann in the game. What are your favorite moments in the game? Let me know down in the comments! Now if you'll excuse me, I'm gonna go add Exile Vilify to my iTunes library.