With Portal, Valve took the mechanic of shooting--something we're very familiar with--and used it in a whole new fashion. Using a gun that opened portals, Valve created a geometry-based puzzle game, the object of which was to use the openings to navigate increasingly challenging test chambers. With that starting point established, Portal 2 hits the ground running.
Portal 2 tricks you into thinking you'd never leave the unfriendly confines of the Aperture Science labs. Then the game blossoms, blowing down the very walls needed for its portals and opens up into a fantastic adventure. Breaking out of the test chambers feels liberating, answering the question: "what could I do with this portal gun in the world outside a test chamber?"
Peeking behind the curtain at Aperture Science offered an intellectual story that fits the puzzling pace just right. It's fun sci-fi, just campy enough, without becoming so silly it can't be taken seriously.
The crowning achievement of Portal 2 is its co-op mode. Working with a second player more than just doubled the complexity of the game. Solving a puzzle with a friend offered the same surprising, euphoric feel of the original Portal. For that feeling alone, Portal 2 stands as one of the high points of 2011.
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The Shacknews 2011 Game of the Year awards are based on a weighted scoring system between all staff writers and editors [here's how it works!]. Last week we revealed our "Honorable Mentions," which include the titles that did not quite make our overall 'Top Five Games of the Year.' This week we reveal that Top Five list, with our Overall Game of the Year award being announced on January 20.