Year of release: April 19, 2011

It’s not apparent just how funny the Portal series is when players first fire up the game, but like a good joke it slowly unfolds into one of the funniest and most rewarding games ever.

The original Portal introduced us to a seemingly simplistic world of puzzles and a calming voice with the ever-present prospect of cake in the future. Players take on the mysterious role of Chell, a human lab rat guided through puzzles by the mysterious and deceptive artificial intelligence (AI) named GLaDOS in a long-deserted test facility known as Aperture Science. At the end of Portal Chell is able to destroy the wily AI and momentarily escapes the facility only to be dragged back in and put into stasis.

Many years later Chell is again awoken to find that many years have past and Aperture Science’s facility has become dilapidated and overgrown. She accidentally activates the murderous GLaDOS again. Portal 2, while hiding under the guise of a puzzle game, manages to weave an interesting and compelling story through the use of very limited characters and repeated motifs. Portal 2 does the job of any good sequel by easing the character into play then offering something brand new. Players can get out of the test chambers and view the monolithic and crumbling buildings that previously made up the madman-inspired, black-project government funded facility to reveal a vast mechanical empire.

So if someone asked you if you like puzzle games what would you say? Chances are, if you’re like many gamers, most traditional puzzle games don’t offer enough variation much less story to keep anyone interested besides the masochistic sorts who torture themselves with such things. But Portal 2 at its heart is puzzle game. What makes it different is the level of detail and variability built into those puzzles. The designers took great pains to make sure players wouldn’t get fatigued or bored with the levels. While the mechanics of, shoot portal, lift block, direct laser, may be simple the various ways they’re used is what really sets it apart. Each puzzle was intended to be solved in one way, players know this going in, but we can’t help but feel like geniuses when we figure it out.

Portal 2 does the job of any good sequel by easing the character into play then offering something brand new. Players can get out of the test chambers and view the monolithic and crumbling buildings that previously made up the madman-inspired, black-project government funded facility to reveal a vast mechanical empire.

Where the original story of Portal was built around what Chell could see in her surroundings, Portal 2 pulls back the lens not only on the test facility but also on other characters as a way to tell a broader story. Players are literally dumped down into Aperture Science’s depths to discover the darkly comic history of the company and its founder. Eventually forming a shaky alliance with an almost-human AI and again having to survive the deathtraps of the laboratories eventually gaining her freedom into an unknown land.

So why is Portal 2 one of the best games of the last five years?

Because it not only ties in perfectly as a sequel but it is able to ask a few questions about the morality of machines by using comedy to come off as unimposing and doesn’t overwhelm the player with story. It gives us just enough to keep us interested while rocking back and forth between dark humor and grim questions about humanity. The game unfolds the various components of play in such a way that we feel, as a player, like we’re learning something.

The concept of showing the player how to play and letting them discover it for themselves is far more rewarding that telling the player how best to play a game. Besides the narrative, it’s a great puzzle game that is so rewarding you might convince yourself you’re a genius too.