Much like how reviewing The Legend of Korra required me to compare it with its predecessor Avatar: The Last Airbender, if I’m going to review Portal 2, it’s inevitable to see how it stacked up against the first Portal game, which I’ve already reviewed.
First Category: The Gameplay
On a fundamental level, there isn’t a whole lot of difference between the two games: find a usable surface, shoot a portal onto it, repeat, then use said portals to shortcut your way to solving each level. Along the way you face treacherous terrain, deadly barriers, and high-pitched turrets prepared to shoot anything in their line of fire, all while a malevolent AI taunts your ability to succeed.
In Portal, there was more of a difficulty scale. The tests got harder and more layered as you progressed and then it all culminated in a timed boss battle. But while Portal 2 also had difficult tests, more time and space was set aside for plot development and character interaction. I will, however, give the game credit for featuring some very creative new mechanisms like the mobility gels and the excursion funnels, though I imagine having better graphics in the sequel helps a lot.
It’s safe to say that Portal game was more of a straightforward puzzle platformer with good story elements, while Portal 2 was a puzzle platformer with an interwoven story.
Second Category: The Story
In Portal, there really isn’t much of a story. There’s a plot, but it can be summed up in two sentences: Solve puzzles with a portal gun. Stop GLaDOS from killing you. Throughout the game, you really don’t learn anything more than that and your player character, Chell, can only contribute what the player does in-game. No dialogue or backstory necessary.
Portal 2, on the other hand, has lots of story. More details and hints about the origins of Aperture Science, the turbulent career of its founder Cave Johnson, and the creation of GLaDOS herself. It also is something of a double caper plot, since you have to go through the same sequence of events twice: explore the ruins of a facility, solve puzzles, survive death traps, and defeat a power-mad AI before it’s too late. Plus, you get Wheatley, a fast-talking and friendly personality core who tries to help you escape the ruins of Aperture Science and provides a nice foil to the cold mockery of GLaDOS.
I will say that the atmosphere of both games is more easily distinguished by how much story content they have. In Portal, the lack of story and other characters makes the Enrichment Center far more ominous and suspenseful. In Portal 2, with so much more detail and allusions to the previous game, the Enrichment Center becomes less suspenseful and more eerie, as several times you have to navigate through the ruins of what used to be a functional facility the last time you played. Less of an “empty hospital” feel like in the first game and more of a “haunted house” atmosphere.
On the whole, I really like both games for their sense of humor, their creative use of portals, and their iconic environments. But if pressed, I would say that I have to go with Portal 2 as being my favorite. Though the puzzles might not be on the same caliber as in the first game, I love the story, the addition of characters like Wheatley and Cave Johnson, and the new design of the Enrichment Center. Portal may be a great experience, but Portal 2 takes that experience the next level and speaks to both the writer and the player in me.
Bibliography: Portal. Developed by Valve Corporation. Published by Valve Corporation and Microsoft Game Studios. Platforms: Microsoft Windows, Mac OS X, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360. Released on October 9, 2007.
Portal 2. Developed by Valve Corporation. Published by Valve Corporation. Platforms: Microsoft Windows, Mac OS X, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360. Released on April 19, 2011.