Back in 2011 when Portal 2 was released, it was one of those games that I was sad to see end. Even though no additional single player DLC was released, the multiplayer did a good job of extending the core Portal experience. Still, the fact that there was no single player DLC had me a bit bummed out. When I heard about Aperture Tag: The Paint Gun Testing initiative those feelings started to fade away.
Aperture Tag takes place after the events of the Portal 2 co-op (or at least I think it does ). If you have not played through the Portal 2 co-op, there is no need to worry. Besides understanding the reason why you are back in the Aperture lab, there are no big tie-ins to the co-op or even the primary campaign. Instead of thinking with portals, this time you’ll be thinking with gels – more specifically the blue and orange gels that were used in Portal 2. As a refresher, the blue gel is Repulsion Gel, which will allow you to bounce when jumping on it, while the orange gel is Propulsion Gel, which will propel you in whatever direction you are moving. Your new tool is the Paint Gun, which allows you to spray the gels on almost any surface.
You start off with the Repulsion Gel, but it doesn’t take long before you are using both Repulsion and Propulsion gels in unison to solve the test chambers. Speaking of test chambers, while many of them are brand new, you will come across some chambers from Portal 2. It was interesting approaching these chambers with a different tool (The Paint Gun), and solving it differently. Players are eased back into the game – your first steps back into the facility teach you about dodging turrets, rerouting lasers with cubes, tractor beams and a few other concepts so you won’t stumble through your first few puzzles. All this is done through game play, so there are no boring tutorials to deal with.
Chambers start off simple enough: Start at entrance, get to exit. That soon changes when various elements are added. You’ll need to press buttons in certain orders, get various objects to various switches to open doors, etc. Many puzzles deal with figuring out a way to gain enough momentum to propel or bounce yourself to certain locations of the test chamber. As the game progresses, accuracy becomes more important, as overshooting may end up killing you.
Something I felt that was taken away from Portal 2 were speed and accuracy puzzles in favor of players using controllers. Aperture Tag brings these back to a degree due to momentum being a huge factor in many of the puzzles. You’ll find yourself setting up Repulsion gel on surfaces at an angle so you can bounce around an obstacle to get to a safe platform while using the Propulsion gel to make sure you get enough momentum to make the bounce in the first place. While Propulsion gel can’t make an object move, you’ll find that you’ll be using Repulsion gel to help move cubes at a distance, deal with turrets that may be in your way, or getting objects out of a tight spot.
In many of the puzzles, the ultimate solution isn’t that difficult to figure out; I need to get X cube to Y location, and activate Z switch. The fun part is figuring out how exactly to get over there. Even with puzzles that rely on hitting certain angles, you’ll notice that a certain part of a wall may be a different color – at least in the beginning. By the time you get to the end of the mod many of your hints are gone. Many of the games puzzles solutions are non-linear or have multiple solutions. This is great because it forces you to think outside the box as opposed to Portal 2 where if you saw a solution was just too hard you knew you were probably doing it wrong. With Aperture Tag you could be using the proper solution, but just aren’t doing it well enough.
There are a few new elements that you won’t find in Portal 2 besides the Paint Gun. There are walls that rotate, which you’ll usually find in speed puzzles. Something I never expected but found interesting was that the fields you walk through which activate/deactivate your gun are used as puzzle elements as well. Some fields will completely turn your gun on or off, but some will activate one gel while deactivating another – adding a level of complexity to the chambers. There are also fields that you can move through, but objects and gels cannot, and vice versa. Toward the end of the game, I had a few head scratchers that took me a while to figure out, but once I put everything together it was very fulfilling to solve.
While playing, you’ll want to pay attention to each room. Places that may seem like they lead to nowhere or are decoration may actually lead to some cool stuff. I won’t ruin it, but there are at least two endings to the mod, and the only way to get the second ending is to do some exploring. Just like the puzzles, you’ll need to think outside of the box to reach these locations.
In Aperture Tag, you aren’t just thrown into test chambers. Just like in Portal 2 you have a robot that acts similar to a proctor as you progress through each test, Nigel. I can’t say the dialog is on par with Wheatley and GLaDOS, but Nigel did have a few lines that made me chuckle. The good thing is that he isn’t annoying, because they could have made the entire game a bad experience. In addition, the music you listen to is all original and fits very well within the Portal universe. You can check it out here.
I really enjoyed playing Aperture Tag. Even though you’re thinking with gels this time around, the game play and overall atmosphere fit very well with the world that valve build. With a little bit more polish this mod could have easily been official Portal 2 DLC. The mod will last you for a few hours, and the $7.99 asking price isn’t much compared to what you get. I’m glad I had the chance to play it and I’m looking forward to see what this team can do in the future.