It's hard to imagine a video game winning an award for high comedy, but that's exactly what Portal 2
ought to receive. Most games that attempt a comedic tone go for slapstick or farce, but Valve decided to take a different path here. First, by emphasizing the absurdity that is Aperture Labs' approach to Mad Science
. Second, by developing compelling characters with strong motivations and inserting them into that absurdity. Third, by using voice actors of the highest quality and giving them the freedom to really get into their roles.
Stephen Merchant is an inspired choice for Wheatley. A professional comedian, he gives his all to the role — according to Valve, they'd give him five lines of script and he'd rattle off ten more out of his own interpretation of the character. He plays the loveable idiot (with a dark side) to perfection.
J.K. Simmons is hilarious as Cave Johnson, the insane founder of Aperture Science. The evolution of his character from a genius entrepreneur to a desperate businessman to an embittered, dying misanthrope is brilliantly conveyed in the recorded messages to his test subjects. One can see the entire history of this doomed company in these snapshots of a misunderstood madman.
And, of course, Ellen McLain brings GLaDOS to life as a maniacal, passive-aggressive villain who finds herself unexpectedly dependent on the player for her very survival. If anything, Portal 2
is about the Character Development
of this lonely, tragic A.I., who discovers her hidden origins in the bowels of Aperture Science, overcomes adversity and humiliation, and learns... well, that she's been trying too hard all this time.
Valve's aggressive attention to detail and their world-class art team combine to make the environments of Portal 2 some of the most beautiful (and hauntingly creepy) I've ever seen. The game does an amazing job of conveying the sheer immensity of Aperture's facilities, with breathtaking vistas that I desperately wanted to explore further, only to be disappointingly constrained by the linear path I was forced to take. The puzzle-solving elements are excellent: challenging, but never so hard that you give up in frustration.
A clear favorite for Game of the Year; I only wish the Oscars had an award for Best Comedic Role in a Video Game.