McGinnis: ‘Portal 2’ has the greatest villain you may not knowWritten by Jeff McGinnis | | email@example.com
With the release of “Portal 2” on April 19, gamers around the world are finally able to once again enter the world of Valve Software’s mind-numbing puzzles and genre-bending game structure. But for many, the return of “Portal” is a cause for celebration for one very simple reason: It means GLaDOS is back.
“Cake and grief counseling will be available at the end of the testing period.”
When we first encountered her in the original “Portal,” released in 2007, GLaDOS certainly didn’t seem like a villain. In fact, she didn’t seem like a character at all. As gamers began exploring levels in the “science institute” that provided the game’s setting, an odd, automated voice accompanied them from room to room, providing guidance and information. Since the game’s structure and physics were unusual, her presence helped acclimate players to the new elements “Portal” was introducing.
“Momentum, a function of mass and velocity, is conserved between portals. In layman’s terms, speedy thing goes in, speedy thing comes out.”
But as time passed and players got deeper into the game, clues began to appear that their helpful guide was not all she seemed. Her attitude toward any peril the gamer experienced seemed flippant and uncaring. Her demeanor darkened, and more lethal traps were placed in the player’s way — all in the name of “scientific testing,” of course.
And strange graffiti plastered everywhere — seemingly by a previous participant of “Portal’s” devious tests — informed that “She is watching you,” and, famously, that “The cake is a lie.”
“At the end of the experiment, you will be baked, and then there will be cake.”
It all led up to the game’s conclusion, where players learned that the voice was that of a sinister computer program named GLaDOS (Genetic Lifeform and Disk Operating System). She was, in fact, the only thing controlling the “testing” that went on at the lab, having apparently murdered the rest of the staff years earlier.
“Good news. I figured what that thing you just incinerated did. It was a morality core they installed after I flooded the Enrichment Center with a deadly neurotoxin, to make me stop flooding the Enrichment Center with a deadly neurotoxin.”
For all the gameplay innovations and intriguing puzzles provided by the original “Portal,” the game might have gone down as little more than a curious footnote if it had not been for the addition of GLaDOS to the mix. As performed by the extraordinary Ellen McLain (her voice modified and mixed to make it sound more artificial) and written by the Valve Software team, the character is a nearly perfect mix of deadly antagonist and hilarious commentator.
“Unbelievable. You, <subject name here>, must be the pride of <subject hometown here>.”
Her demeanor and story arc have inspired comparisons to other famous computers-gone-mad, such as HAL in Stanley Kubrick’s immortal “2001: A Space Odyssey.” But I would argue — film purists, be braced — that GLaDOS is a
more successful and engaging character than even HAL.
“Well, you found me. Congratulations. Was it worth it? Because despite your violent behavior, the only thing you’ve managed to break so far … is my heart.”
HAL was also a computer that was simply following its programming to its logical conclusion — the mission was more important than the lives of the crew, so it was OK to kill them. But GLaDOS goes far deeper as a character, with her astoundingly witty dialogue and genuine malevolence giving her more levels than even Kubrick’s legendary foil.
“You’ve been wrong about every single thing you’ve ever done, including this thing. You’re not smart. You’re not a scientist. You’re not a doctor. You’re not even a full-time employee!”
And as “Portal 2” is unleashed on gamers worldwide, players will once more be confronted by the subtle-yet-powerful presence of its usually-unseen-yet-always-heard antagonist. And if the trailers and sound bites released in advance are any indication, GLaDOS’s remarkable personality has been fully retained and enhanced for the new game. She’s still as evil — and hilarious — as ever. And fans would have it no other way.
“I think we can put our differences behind us. For science. You monster.”
Email Jeff at PopGoesJeff@gmail.com.