Portal fans were eating well for a while. The first game, which introduced portals as a puzzle-solving concept, launched in 2007 to much acclaim and was followed three years later by the equally beloved Portal 2. This expansive sequel added a lengthy co-op mode, new mechanics, and an intriguing continuation of the Aperture Science mystery. Aside from the very brief Peer Review co-op DLC, the excellent Bridge Constructor Portal, and appearances in the likes of Aperture Desk Job for the Steam Deck, there has been little else Portal-wise for us to feast on.
However, there have been many impressive fan-made mods over the years. Portal Reloaded introduced a third portal, which cast you forward in time to dilapidated versions of the game’s test chambers, opening up a whole new way of thinking outside of the box. Then there was the narrative-focused Portal Stories: Melbut, which ramped up the difficulty without having to add new mechanics. Aperture Tag replaced your portal gun with a gel gun, allowing you to fire repulsion and propulsion gels to solve puzzles. But none of them quite felt like the real, Valve-developed deal. That was until Portal: Revolution.
Eight years in the making, this new mod from Second Face Software is substantial enough to have its own Steam store page and clocks in at around eight or nine hours. Despite its name, it doesn’t completely revolutionize the Portal concept. Instead, this is a fully voice-acted expansion that details a key event between Portal 1 and 2. Much like Wheatley in the second game, Stirling is another personality sphere companion who will accompany you throughout your journey, followed by another, Conly, in the second half. Where Wheatley and GLaDOS were enemies, Stirling instead enlists your help in restoring GLaDOS to her former glory.
Stirling is perhaps the weakest aspect of Revolution, as he is essentially a budget Wheatley, complete with predictably sarcastic quips and dry humor. It’s been done plenty of times before, and when Conly enters the fray, she is a much more genuine character who injects a different style of comedy into the almost narrator-like role. Complete with the mute test subject protagonist, it’s the same old formula we’ve seen in both games so far.
Despite being a mod, Portal: Revolution is refined to the point where it could feasibly be DLC from Valve itself. In fact, it makes me long for the studio that Valve used to be: the consistency, the boundary-pushing mechanics, the personality. Every Valve game was an event. Much like those classics, I encountered no bugs in Revolution, its pacing is tight, and the puzzles are consistently strong. You don’t need to be a Portal whiz to progress either, as the difficulty ramps up gradually. You’re given a portal gun capable of shooting blue portals from the get-go, but you can’t create orange portals until around the halfway mark, meaning you’re forced to use pre-placed ones. Sometimes this makes for a much simpler puzzle, but the limitation is often used to great effect. Creative thinking becomes mandatory when gels are introduced because some of the solutions here are so far removed from anything you may have experienced in Portal 2.
This is possible thanks to the engine at the heart of Portal: Revolution, which is a “custom version of the Counter-Strike: Global Offensive Source Engine branch using licensed source code provided by Valve Software”. As a result, it allows the team to “introduce many mechanics and improvements to create an experience which would be impossible in Portal 2”.
The most impressive of these is the addition of pneumatic tubes. You can use these to transport turrets, cubes, and even yourself at times. They add another dimension to puzzle solving, one that isn’t quite mind-blowing but is still fresh enough to stave off any repetition.
The highlight here has to be the level that takes place outside of any designated test chamber. Conversion gel makes its return – the one that allows you to place portals on surfaces you otherwise cannot. You’ll eventually find yourself in a gigantic warehouse with one leaky conversion gel tube right at the bottom. You must place portals to gradually coat more and more of the room as you search for a way out, with no hints about where to go next. It’s less puzzle-solving and more full-on exploration.
I don’t want to spoil where the narrative goes with Stirling and Conly, but suffice it to say it fills the gap nicely between Portal 1 and 2, making Revolution a must-play for fans and puzzle game lovers in general. It is a Valve-quality mod that isn’t quite Portal 3 but could be the closest we ever get to that much-wanted sequel. It also proves there is still so much room for the series to innovate and grow. Your turn, Valve.