PC Gamer

Portal Stories: Mel is a massive mod for Portal 2 that will be released on Steam on June 25. Representing four years of work by a dedicated team of modders, it contains five chapters, a custom story and original voice work, lots of new assets, and of course a buttload of new test chambers and levels to explore and solve. In other words, it's entirely new Portal game.

The mod begins with a little Half-Life flavor (a long tram ride) and then a scene reminiscent of Bioshock: a stroll through a town built by Aperture Science to house its employees. It's 1952, when Aperture is still a plucky startup with a bright future, and the facility beneath the town is filled with scientists, though unfortunately they're all out of reach so you can't actually interact with them.

Let it go, Jake. It's just Aperture Town.

Aperture being Aperture, it's not long before something goes horribly wrong. Having been preserved in a cryo-bed, you awaken to find the facility in a shambles. The environments are massive and incredibly well designed with tons of detail, and there are a few professional-looking cinematic sequences. The mod assumes you know what you're doing when it comes to portals: there's no slow build-up to the puzzle-solving as in the Portal games themselves. You get the portal device and are immediately faced with some challenging rooms to solve, and they remain tough for most of the game.

As a Portal player, I'm a bit more fond of the types of puzzles without searing laser fields and acid pits: I like to experiment freely without worrying about dying and having to start over. Many of the puzzles in Mel, however, are of the more fatal type, to be approached carefully and methodically. Gels, cubes, lasers, switches, turrets, and force fields are the main tools and obstacles you'll face in the sprawling and complex levels. Naturally, you'll engage in a showdown with a malignant A.I. near the end of the game.

Using water and portals to fight fires. Fun.

As far as voice-over work goes, one actor provides a pretty good Cave Johnson impersonation, and another voices Virgil, the personality core who accompanies you through the majority of the game. I didn't find the humor particularly effective, and much of Virgil's dialogue feels like overkill as it's based around him encouraging you to find a way out of the facility. You'd be doing that anyway, right? At the very least, it's done with a lot of enthusiasm and an obvious fondness for the Portal series.

This massive mod is completely free if you own Portal 2, and provides around 6-10 hours of gameplay. Portal Stories: Mel will be available on June 25 via Steam.

PC Gamer
PC Gamer

Pinball FX2 developer Zen Studios teasedValve themed announcement last week, and today we finally know what they are up to. Pinball FX2 will be getting an official Portal themed table towards the end of May or beginning of June. While it's not exactly Portal 3, it's definitely an amusing and detailed return to the Portal universe crafted by developers who are clearly fans of the series. Watch the video above for our hands-on look at the upcoming Portal table for Pinball FX2.

For those of you unfamiliar with Pinball FX2, it's a free pinball game on Steam that sells individual tables as DLC. Tables can be demo'd briefly, but eventually need to be purchased if you want to play them for an extended period of time. Zen Studios has done many licensed and themed tables in the past, but this is the first time the developer has worked with Valve. The level of detail on the Portal table is impressive, and makes me hope that this won't be the end of Zen Studios' partnership with Valve.

PC Gamer
PC Gamer

Reddit has dug up some brief footage of the Portal environment Valve used to demo the Vive headset to GDC attendees recently. It's taken from a talk by Valve's Alex Vlachos on advanced VR techniques, which he used to boast about the fidelity the development team were able to achieve using high-poly models in a small environment.

The demo has you repairing Atlas, one of the co-stars of Portal 2's co-op mode. He explodes into his component parts and you have to fix him using the Vive's motion-tracked controllers. Maximum PC caught some of Vlachos' commentary during the footage.

"Because you're in this tracked space with this guy and you can walk up and he has all these moving parts. The moving parts alone are like 600,000 triangles or more. I forget the exact number, but there's a lot of triangles there which means you can get incredibly close to this guy and all these parts and see the shape and the details."

Valve programmer later Tweeted confirmation that the demo was built in the Source 2 engine. Valve also announced that Source 2 will be free, but users will have to sell their game through Steam (though are free to sell the game in additional ways if they wish).

We've tried the VR demo. Here's what it's like to play.

PC Gamer

At GDC today, Valve has been showing off a demo of HTC's new virtual reality headset. We're going to see the demo tomorrow morning, but we already know a lot about it from our colleagues' reports: it looks a lot like a new Portal. It is not a new Portal.

I reached out to Valve and asked for a comment on how the demo is being interpreted: CNet, for instance, said it "sounds like" Portal 3, while Tom Parsons of Stuff claimed that he had actually played a Portal 3 demo during his Vive hands-on. I told Valve that I was skeptical that they'd soft-announced Portal 3. Valve director of marketing Doug Lombardi responded, "We have not."

I followed up to be absolutely clear, asking, "The demo being shown does not represent a prototype or indicate any plan for a new Portal?" Lombardi replied, "Correct. Just a demo." So no, this isn't Portal 3. It's just a tech demo until we know more—and I suspect Valve is just having fun with some existing art.

PC Gamer

The above trailer is the work of Portal 2 machinima-maker 'Harry101UK'. The mod powering it is Portal Stories: Mel. It's a new story, based in the Portal 2 universe, about new protagonist Mel and the new personality core that she's travelling with.

The mod boasts custom textures and animations, and over 20 new maps. It's also been Greenlit—meaning it will be made available directly through Steam. And, unlike last year's Aperture Tag, it will be entirely free.

For more, head over to the mod's Steam page. Portal Stories: Mel is due out early-2015.

PC Gamer

If you search Steam for nothing and then sort nothing by user reviews you'll get a neat list of the most popular games on Steam among user reviewers, based on the percentage of positive reviews on the system. Portal 2 wins. Of 35,550 reviewers, 99% like the game. Make more games please, Valve.

If you prefer raw numbers, Dota 2 (94% of 280k users like it) and Team Fortress 2 (97% of 200k like it) come out ahead. Skyrim also does well. 98% of 78,842 users like Skyrim.

One Finger Death Punch, Crypt of the Necrodancer and Nuclear Throne have 99% positive ratings too, which is good, because those games are totally ace. In fact, the whole list is a brilliant resource if you're looking for ways to spend your spare Steam wallet pennies in the Steam sale.

Here's a shot of the top ten. What do you think?

PC Gamer
MOD OF THE WEEK

In Mod of the Week, Chris LIvingston scours the world of user-created adventure for worthy downloads. This week, a Portal 2 mod that fuels our dreams of an above-ground Aperture City.

Apart from a guard booth and a small shed in a field, most of what we've seen of Aperture Science has been carefully hidden underground. Perhaps if things hadn't gone so horribly wrong in their massive subterranean lab, Aperture eventually might have built a proper above-ground campus, like Google or Microsoft.

That's the premise of Above Aperture. You're on an excursion to Aperture City, a large above-ground compound littered with buildings and devious test-chambers. 

Yes, you're still as trapped as Chell ever was, but the open-air nature of most of the chambers and the little outdoor strolls you take between the challenges give it a different feel than the subterranean labyrinth we're used to. Aperture City, naturally, is abandoned and crumbling, and armed with only your wits (and a cool handheld device), you're trying to find your way out, or at least your way through

Above Aperture features some custom models and art, as well as a really nice piece of custom music. Not only are the maps lovely to look at, but they're pretty challenging as well. I spent a good deal of time in the very first level wondering just what the heck I was supposed to do. I could clearly see the spots I needed to get to, and I knew I had the tools to get there: my portal gun, a light bridge, and a faith plate. There were even clues in a few spots, little arrows painted on the concrete... anyway, it was a challenge, a nice twist on the standard game-play, and quite satisfying when I finally figured it out.

Light bridges are a big part of most of the puzzles, but there are other familiar elements: laser-beams and mirror cubes, a bit of gel, a few turrets here and there. The chambers are nice and big, and for me, they're the best kind: where you sort of wander around for a bit before you even try anything, peering at the walls and ceiling, trying to put the solution together in your head before you actually start firing the gun.

I really do like being above-ground, too. I know, it's just a skybox, and the maps may as well be underground anyway because you're trapped in them either way, but it still feels a bit more freeing being able to see the sky (though no moon, of course). It's also one step closer to my ultimate Portal dream: a huge GTA-style metropolis I can fling portals around in.

If you spot a radio during your travels, make sure to take it with you: there's a cool custom song hidden somewhere in the maps, and you won't want to miss it. (I definitely missed it my first time through.)

Above Aperture is in three parts which you can subscribe to here. I certainly hope there will be more of this adventure to come: the puzzles are pretty fiendish and the maps are very well designed, not just in how the puzzles function but in the overall atmosphere as well.

You can also check out more of the modder's Portal 2 workshop items here.

PC Gamer
Aperture Tag review


Aperture Tag is a mod for Portal 2 that removes the portal gun and replaces it with one that fires gel: repulsion gel, which makes you bounce higher, and propulsion gel, which makes you move faster. Jumping and running, in other words, replaces portals as the main tools to solve puzzles with. Unfortunately, there's no replacement for Portal 2's other elements, like enjoyable voice acting, excellent writing, and a well-balanced level of challenge. And, unlike most mods, Aperture Tag adds a price tag, meaning the first puzzle to solve is: should you pay for this?

There are just over two-dozen test chambers in Aperture Tag, though a couple are recycled from the original game, spiced up by having no portal gun to solve them with. The early game is slow to evolve, giving you only the repulsion gel to play with for a long while. I understand the modders wanting to ease me into the mechanics of the gels, but you can't play the mod without owning Portal 2, and if you own Portal 2, chances are you've played it and already know how everything works. A shorter refresher course would have been welcome.

Once both gels are unlocked, the game ramps up the complexity, though unevenly. I found a couple of early chambers surprisingly vexing while some endgame puzzles were so easily solved I felt like I'd missed something. Even when puzzles are good, they can be spoiled by poor design choices: in one chamber, I'd solved the room in my head but it still took a while to beat solely due to the way a faith plate-launched weighted cube landed, which seemed unfair. I'm happy to have my brain and reflexes tested, but not thrilled to have to repeat a sequence because a cube took a few bad bounces. A small handful of test chambers, however, are genuinely satisfying to solve, utilizing gels, blocks, buttons, mirror cubes, force fields, and yes, even portals (they do show up from time to time, but can't be placed by the player).

No portal gun, but still a few portals.

It ain't the paint
Repetition is an issue. One of the first tricks we learned playing with gels in Portal 2 was that laying down a line of speed gel and ending it with some bounce gel gives you an awesome, rocketing leap. Aperture Tag requires this on so many of its levels that it feels like a pointless added bit of work, as if the modders just ran out of gel-related challenges and kept reusing this initially enjoyable gimmick. Also, while it takes just a mouse-click to reposition a portal in the vanilla game, slathering walls and floors in paint takes time and isn't particularly fun to do repeatedly in the same chamber. This becomes a problem since the mod's later chambers almost exclusively feature toxic floors, meaning that missing a jump is punished by death, often undoing all your careful (or sloppy) painting and discouraging haphazard experimentation. That said, the auto-save system works pretty well, saving your game at multiple steps throughout some of the longer and more elaborate puzzles.

Do you love poison floors? I hope so.

One nice addition is the "Fizzler," an energy field that switches one or both barrels of your paint gun on and off, and figuring out how to properly paint areas when your gun has been partially or completely disabled adds another level to the puzzle-solving. The mod could have used a few more new ideas like this. I was hopeful after spotting what looked like a new brand of sentry turret early on, but it didn't act any differently, and by the end of the game the turrets revert back to their original appearance not to mention that with unlimited bouncy gel at your disposal, turrets are easily beaten. I didn't notice much in the way of custom art assets, either, and there's no real use of cinematic physics (such as Wheatley mashing enormous test-chambers together in Portal 2) meaning the mod is mostly a static series of connected test chambers, with one exception.

The centerpiece of the mod is a time-based speedrun that requires you to zoom down a series of twisting corridors and launch yourself off ramps at breakneck speed, projecting gel ahead of you to keep up your momentum and bounce at just the right times. While exciting and satisfying to beat, this sequence is hurt by the lack of preparation for it, featuring only one brief sequence of gel-racing earlier. Also, when you're rocketing along at top speed, the gel you're splattering ahead of yourself actually lags a bit behind, making it tough to tell if you're painting the landscape ahead properly. Even the modders seem to recognize this sequence is overly difficult: they've provided a big red button that lets you skip it entirely.

Not the most subtle of traps.

Several attempts at a story, misdirection, surprises, and humor are made, but all fall flat. The personality core leading you through the test chambers isn't exactly irritating, but his jokes certainly aren't funny, and apart from "generally upbeat" it's a struggle to even pin down what his personality is. I wasn't expecting anything approaching Valve's level of writing, story, or performance, but if a mod is going to include lots of talking, its character should have something more interesting to say.

This mod is for sale on Steam. I'm all for modders getting paid for their work, and clearly a lot went into this mod, but I'd say their price is a tad optimistic for what you get. In the Steam Workshop, there are a few hundred thousand custom test chambers to explore for free.

Details
Expect to pay: $7/ 5
Release: Out now
Developer/Publisher: Aperture Tag Team
Link: http://bit.ly/1qkNvz7
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