There are few games that have left an impact that is as long-lasting as the Portal series. Starting life as a humble puzzle-platformer in Valve’s Orange Box, it was catapulted into memedom and endless “The cake is a lie” jokes. It inevitably spawned a sequel that included co-op and a raft of new challenges. Portal 2 also launched on PC with the Perpetual Testing Initiative. This is essentially a level-editing and sharing platform that allows players and creators to generate their own GLaDOS-style puzzles for anyone to play. It’s safe to say I spent more time in these levels than I did the actual game because the possibilities for level generation were nearly limitless. As with all games, this service gradually declined in popularity as gamers moved on to newer, more exciting things. However, one modder in Germany decided to do their best to make not just a few new puzzles, but basically a whole new game. A spiritual successor to Portal called Portal Reloaded. And I love it!
Portal Reloaded came out on Steam a couple of weeks ago and is free to download for anyone who owns Portal 2. Even if you don’t have it yet, Portal 2 is €8 on Steam so it’s hardly going to break the bank. The basic premise of the game is identical to that of its predecessors. You are an anonymous Test Subject in the long-abandoned Aperture Science testing facility and you have been tasked with assessing the effects of the latest in Portal technology. This game gives you your normal Orange and Blue portals that allow you to pass from one area to another instantaneously, but this time you also get a rectangular Green portal. This is what sets Reloaded apart. The Green portal doesn’t allow you to access a far-off area in the Testing Chamber, it allows you to travel 20 years forward (and backward) in time. Portal Reloaded literally adds another dimension to the series.
What is the gameplay like?
Since this is a mod for Portal 2 the gameplay is essentially identical to the previous entries in the franchise. The only difference is the aforementioned Time Portal. You’ll be picking up weighted storage cubes to place them on switches, you’ll be destroying turrets (while they lament their fate) and you’ll be creating lots and lots of portals. The Time Portal is key to solving every puzzle and it brings with it a number of interesting twists on the standard layout of each chamber. For instance, some mechanisms or features of a particular chamber may be decayed or dysfunctional in the future, while they’re pristine and in perfect working order in the present. Likewise, the laws of causality will come into play and prohibit you from doing certain things with certain objects in some chambers. For instance, you can bring a cube or turret from the future to the present, but you can’t bring the same item from the present to the future. This would mean that the item ceased to exist in the present so couldn’t exist in the future. Get it? Yeah, me neither really. Suffice to say the standard gameplay and level design is here again and you’ll need to remember how to think with Portals in order to succeed.
What are the visuals like?
On the visual side, it’s business as usual too. Portal Reloaded doesn’t touch the old-school Aperture aesthetic, which is a nice touch, but it also doesn’t do anything to update the graphics at all. This is a good and a bad thing if you ask me. It’s great insofar as it allows basically anyone now to play. Portal 2, much like GLaDOS herself run on something not much more sophisticated than a potato. I remember being able to run Portal 2 on the laptop I used for college 8 years ago. That thing was hardly a dedicated gaming rig. However, it would have been nice to have seen some new particle effects or maybe some nicer lighting around the Portals you’ll be shooting all over the place.
What’s it about?
The Portal series has never really had much of an in-depth story, with most of the narrative basically revolving around trying to destroy various maniacal robots. There’s a deeper level to the lore that you can find if you go looking for it (there are a lot of interesting theories online as to the true identity of Rat-Man) and this game is no different.
While the story may be kept lean, the atmosphere in Portal games has always been second to none, I find. The vast expanse of the areas in between the testing chambers really gives the impression of the size of the Aperture Lab. The opening scene of this game also leaves you in no doubt that your character is just a nameless subject to be used and discarded by the Aperture facility. You awaken as you’re being thawed from cryo-sleep and you can only marvel at the sheer number of similar subjects in their own chambers. Similar to how Neo felt when he first emerged from the Matrix. Even as you’re making your way through the 25 chambers on offer you get the impression of something sinister lurking beneath the surface. Something the original games excelled at.
What is Love?
This game does a lot of things right. It nails the atmosphere of the original games; it completely shakes up and revamps the mechanics while staying true to the formula. For me, though, I think the most amazing thing about this project is that it was all made by one person wholly out of love for the original games. It’s a passion project in its purest form. The creator, Jannis (also known as PORTANIS), isn’t even taking any kind of financial compensation for the project apart from the optional purchase of the soundtrack. This 5 hour, 25-level experience has been uploaded to Steam completely for free purely because one fan loves Portal so much and wanted to share the fruits of their labour with the world. If you needed any more reason to download the game, there it is.
In all this is one of the best experiences you can have until Valve learns to count to 3. The puzzles are challenging, but all have a satisfying “eureka” moment (PORTANIS even uploaded a full walkthrough of the game to YouTube in case you’re totally stuck), the atmosphere is top-notch, and it doesn’t outstay its welcome. It’s just more Portal. If you enjoyed the original games, then I see no way that you wouldn’t love this as I did.