Didn’t expect a Sunday Steam review did ya? Neither did I. Enjoy!
This might as well be called Portal week. Spoiler alert: I’m massively updating my reviews on Portal 1 and 2 on Wednesday and Friday/Saturday. Those updates are long overdue and well deserved. But, I’m starting it off with a brand new review on the newly released Portal 2 mod. Portal Stories: Mel launched on Steam recently and I couldn’t let it go by without some thoughts from myself. Did I need to? No. But I felt like doing it anyway. So, here’s my review of this particular mod.
A Paladin’s Steam Review: Portal Stories: Mel. A Well Executed “Mod” and Tough As Companion Cubes.
- Genre: First Person Solo Puzzle Game
- Developed & Published by: Prism Studios (Based on Valve’s game)
- Platform Support: Windows, Mac, Linux
- Business Model: Free Mod
Copy purchased by myself
Overall Game Thoughts
Portal Stories: Mel is no standard Workshop mod. Mel features 22 fully custom-made levels, full voice acting, custom animations and cutscenes. All for the price of free. I got almost eight hours of play but they rate it at around 6-10 hours. It’ll depend on how good you’re at logic puzzles. It really feels like they went all out even with a custom soundtrack done by Harry Callaghan, whose Portal music video parodies you might have seen on YouTube. Said music was pretty good too. One little note here though: getting achievements for how you die really isn’t much of an achievement.
You’re Mel, an Olympian who decided to take up Cave Johnson’s offer to be a test subject. Mistake number one. Mistake number two was agreeing to be put to sleep for “a short period of time” for a test. Well, we all know what’s going to happen then. Mel is awakened many, many years later by a personality core: Virgil. Virgil needs your help and is willing to work with you to help you escape Aperture. So, escape the deep depths of old 1950s Aperture, survive the machinations of AEGIS and the rather difficult puzzles. Oh, who’s AEGIS? An AI that views you and Virgil as a threat to Aperture. We humans are really good at being threatening when all we want to do is escape. GLaDOS is nowhere in sight, so, you’ll be left wondering: what happened?
If you’ve played any of the Half Life series or previous Portal games, Mel seems to take a lot of inspiration from those titles. The opening scene has you in a cart going into the Aperture Laboratories facility much like Half Life 1. The end level feels very inspired by the ending of Portal 1. So does the character design of AEGIS. Structurally, Mel holds its own as a side-story to the main universe of Portal, even if it isn’t an official story. The voice acting is a bit wonky at times. Cave Johnson is perhaps the most out of place because it’s another actor trying to imitate him and well….it’s not the best impression.
Virgil is a different take on the personality cores. He’s a lot more grounded than previous ones I’ve encountered, no real eccentric personality quirks. Though he’s a nervous little ball of steel, he’s the type that you can trust to pull you through a situation. AEGIS on the other hand is an uncaring, solid and unstoppable personality. There’s no arguing with him, there’s just avoiding or out-thinking him. Which you’ll have to do quite a bit.
It’s not the most perfect story on the planet and it doesn’t stray far from the formula that Portal 2 created but Portal Stories: Mel still holds its own. Somehow, getting to explore more of old and new Aperture again is a treat. Even though we already did this in Portal 2, they somehow make it compelling again. It’s hard to lock down why that is. There is certainly a lot of dialogue to keep it moving along. Though it doesn’t hurt that it has been awhile since I played Portal 2’s campaign.
You’ll need to have played Portal 2 before you take this game on. These guys aren’t messing around. The puzzles are tough, even the first one, and while logic based, can be extremely trying at times. It didn’t help that some felt really unintuitive either. I’ll admit it, I looked up the official guide for solving the puzzles often. For the most part, I had the puzzles largely figured out but there was always that one step to the solution that I couldn’t get my mind around. I’m not sure whether to blame the mod or my own inability. Either way, this is a game designed for veterans.
So, if you’re not looking for a challenge, don’t take Mel on. The levels are all about the same level of difficulty, which is hard, and they don’t lighten up at any point. Well, except maybe the end levels….no…no they’re a little more frustrating than difficult. I didn’t like the usage of the turrets at the end. The basic idea is to use turrets to take out objects in a large room and do it within four minutes. Considering how easy those turrets are to knock over and you have a room full of objects to move around…well, let’s just say that’s something I’d like to not see repeated in the future. To be honest, the mod feels almost a little too long with how many puzzles it has.
Mel uses the same engine and settings menu that exists in Portal 2, so I won’t repeat myself. Go read the Portal 2 review for my PC Settings Menu breakdown. While it does use the same engine, I noticed an odd hitching to the movement that I couldn’t fix. It mostly went away as I progressed through the game and/or I ignored it. I also noticed some random slowdowns but I’m not going to blame the mod for it, I might have had the graphics settings a bit too high. No crashing or game breaking bugs were encountered in my playthrough. For the most part, (minus a Linux launching problem) the mod seems to be working fine for most other players.
For me, Portal Stories: Mel is what I really enjoy about the modding community. Though I don’t expect every single mod to come with this much creativity, time and effort, Mel has it in spades. If you’re looking for a new challenge in Portal 2 from the modding community but want a quality that feels on par with Valve, Mel is the mod to get. Well done to the developers, I enjoy my time with this one. Even if the puzzles were aggravating at times.
Thanks for reading!