Valve’s 2007 first person puzzle game Portal was a surprise hit for everyone. The game acted and felt like a first person shooter but you just didn’t go around killing anyone. Instead you solved puzzles based on some simple – and some not so simple – physics problems. Introducing us to GLaDOS – one of the most maniacal robots in Science Fiction since the IG 88 assassin droid – and Chell, a “silent partner” whom the player took control of and completed a series of puzzles without any real indication as to how or why, Portal was a revolution in gaming.
Portal 2 exposed Portal as the prototype it was always meant to be, however, introducing new characters and completely expanding, redesigning and reintroducing us to the story. Despite being set thousands of years after the first game it might as well have been the next day for character Chell, as she made her way through the very history of Aperture Science and you were given a history lesson nobody was likely to forget. But just what did we learn throughout the game’s mysterious second act?
As Chell advances deeper through the history of the company – from the profitable 50’s to the bankrupt 80’s – there’s hardly any time travel at all. Instead we’re given clues and hints to the past and forced – mostly due to the silence of our character – to figure a lot out for ourselves and consistently break down that fourth wall. This is just one of the most enjoyable reasons that you should play this game because Valve have created a way to keep you thinking about this game hours after you’ve completed playing it.
You’ll go back and attempt missions just to check hidden corners and cracks for that secret plaque – not because you have too – but because you’ll want too. Of course you’re also welcome to review this list and have a tiny bit of help getting you started in the right direction. Naturally, there will be spoilers!
5. One of the most entertaining parts of Portal 2 is undoubtedly the voice of ‘Cave Johnson’ (played by the legendary J.K. Simmons) as he directs you through the ruins of Aperture Science’s testing areas. Although you neither travel through space or time there’s an adventure through three decades of Aperture history as Johnson’s narration gives a lot of the insight into the particular companies history during these periods and pieces together a lot of cryptic answers to questions that allow the gamer to ‘break the fourth wall’ and better understand why certain things are in certain places.
Upon encountering this photo GLaDOS exclaims that these people look so familiar and if you’ve managed to put the pieces together by this point you notice you’re looking at something far more significant, GLaDOS as a human, before she was uploaded into a robot. There are a lot of theories pointing to Chell’s parents being Cave and Caroline and this portrait is a solid piece of photographic evidence showing a distinctive likeness between the trio.
4. Did anyone else think it was just slightly odd that there was a ‘Bring Your Daughter to Work Day’ included in Portal 2? The remnants of this rather bizarre event include what appears to be a Science fair featuring a number of alternative ways to harness power. As we progress through the room we’re shocked at the discovery of a potato which has seemingly been allowed to grow over the millions of years since it was first placed there and subsequently has large roots going into the ceiling. But if you take a look at the board next to this item you’ll see something quite shocking right in the corner. The project appears to have been designed by a girl named Chell.
Consider for a moment that this project is indeed the work of a young Chell. It meets with the requirements that her parents worked for Aperture (as hinted by GLaDOS) and is even more shocking when you think that their names apparently also began with the letter “C” – I’m not going to put this all together for you but if you’ve even been paying the slightest attention to what I’ve been writing then you should see the significance straight away. What’s even more unusual is that this suggests Chell is responsible for the design which essentially saves GLaDOS programme from deletion for a large portion of the game. It’s all a bit creepy isn’t it?
When we first encounter the earliest examples of Aperture they’re talking about the invitations extended to Scientist’s and Astronaut’s who have come to test with the program. In the next area Aperture has aged about 15 years, with Johnson mentioning they may be known to the homeless people who have volunteered to test because of the 1968 senate hearings into missing astronauts, hinting at the fact that this is part of the reason the company has run into difficulty. There’s also a photo of Johnson, looking significantly older than in his photo with Caroline, hanging in the lobby of the foyer in this area. Whats perhaps more significant is that while observing this Johnson makes a direct reference to ‘Black Mesa’ saying they can “kiss my bankrupt…” before being cut off by his assistant, Caroline. He alludes that his disgust is due to companies who have managed to steal ideas that he created. Black Mesa using Aperture technology? You never know…
2. Despite being an all powerful super computer GLaDOS obviously weakness appears to be Ornithophobia. There are many unanswered questions about the appearance of this solitary bird in Portal 2 such as how it got that deep into Aperture labs, how it survived, whether this proves the existence of intelligent life above ground and why the only living creature (asides from Chell) to be featured in Portal 2 is this solitary bird. At one point in the game it appears that the bird is looking over a nest although whether he – or she – is protecting eggs was left completely unexplained until the DLC at which point GLaDOS interacts with some baby birds in Art Therapy.
This in itself poses a more fundamentally important question as to where the birds’ mate is? The Caroline portrait and the possibilities of it’s meaning come back to us at this point. It also leads to a different theory which is perhaps even more fascinating: the many, many connections between Portal 2 and the Greek legend of Prometheus, who was “punished by the gods for giving the gift of knowledge to man…cast to the bowels of the earth and pecked by birds.” Many cultures have different superstitions regarding birds in the house. In traditional Irish culture, for example, if a bird flew into the house, it was a portent of death. Interesting that GLaDOS is being pecked by birds as Chell awakes from her fall into the bowels of Aperture science. Maybe you’re both already dead by this point? In fact, perhaps the whole game is a mythology based around death, which just sees Chell on a journey to the afterlife.
1. This reference takes the top spot on this list because of it’s ability to cross the boundaries between games and reality. Anybody whose ever picked up a personal turret from the likes of Forbidden Planet (or any other good alternative retailer) can attest to that. In the game you see turret’s being assembled and packed for shipment which almost seems pointless given the collapse of civilization (or so you’d assume) in the years previous. You might even wonder where the finished turrets actually go and if there are nothing but warehouses and warehouses of finished and packed turret’s ready to be shipped?
You see the turret box at various points throughout the game, but the side of the packaging with the most surprising information is only visible in the room where Wheatley tries to kill you with a circle of faulty turrets. According to this illustration sentry turrets were designed – or at least marketed – with the intention of nursery protectors. That might explain their soft voices and gentle tones. I also want to give full credit to the makers of the official ‘Turret Sentry’ action figure which features the same – identical – artwork upon it’s side. Full credit for detail. Personally I’m only disappointed you can’t get a real life sized turret to guard your nursery.
Life sized turrets have been made by fans and are available through certain custom outlets, but without those soft tones and the ability to attack intruders its just not the same.