A fan-made, 7-hour Portal 2 prequel just hit Steam for free and it’s so good that I’m sad Valve stopped making Portal all over again

Remember when Valve made an ingenious pair of puzzle games about portals and then failed to count to three? Nothing new there, but it’s a shame Portal remains one of Valve’s forgotten children while the company aims to keep exploring Half-Life. These days, the hallowed halls of Aperture Labs only make an appearance when Valve needs a quick and quirky tutorial for its latest VR hardware or PC handheld. But the Portal community never stopped testing. They’ve been at it for years uploading new test chambers, original stories, and entire fan campaigns to the Steam Workshop.

This weekend, a big one dropped.

It’s called Portal: Revolution. It’s a completely original seven-hour campaign with new characters, mechanics, and a story that takes place between Portals 1 and 2. It’s a huge mod—so big that developer Second Face Software published it with its own standalone Steam page and thumbs up from Valve. Revolution was built on Strata Source, a “community-made branch of Source engine” officially licensed from Valve. Revolution is still very much Portal 2, you even need to own it first, but Second Face says the upgraded engine means it can do things that “would be impossible in Portal 2.” I’ve put almost two hours in so far, and I’m starting to see what they mean. Revolution isn’t just “more Portal.”

Though the beginning is. In a strange echo of Portal 2’s opening, you play as an unnamed Aperture test subject awoken by an AI core named Stirling decades before Chell is unearthed by Wheatley. Stirling is a beaming, cartoonish maintenance core trying to put Aperture back together again after some “monster” destroyed it all, but he needs a human to help.

(Image credit: Second Face Software)

Props to the modders behind this: Revolution doesn’t immediately throw you into the deep end assuming you’ve been playing Portal 2 at an expert level for 13 years. In a very Valve-like fashion, the puzzles start small while Stirling’s fully voiced narration sets the stage. You find a portal gun that only shoots blue portals, throw a few cubes on buttons, and take lots of elevators.

The familiarity makes for a slow first chapter that lasts a little longer than I needed to get my sea legs back, but Chapter 2 began with a startling realization. I still hadn’t gotten my orange portal button. Actually, I’m in Chapter 4 now and I still don’t have it.

Every puzzle so far has forced me to work around anchored orange portals, and I kind of love it. Having less flexibility around portal placement makes for simpler puzzles in some ways. I’m getting overwhelmed far less than vanilla Portal 2 and I’ve yet to have a brain-melting moment where I angrily blast every wall in sight hoping to accidentally find an answer. The limitation takes an important variable off the board, but having less power over portals creates a different kind of difficulty as the complexity ramps up in chapters 2 and 3.

(Image credit: Second Face Software)

And where I’m at now, things are starting to get really interesting. I’m at the surface of Aperture Labs portaling around dilapidated test chambers below a crisp blue sky. I didn’t know Portal 2 could look this pretty. If only Chell could’ve puzzled under these conditions.

Mechanically, Revolution is finally incorporating more original elements. Blue and orange gel is entering the mix alongside new “cleansing” showers that instantly negate gel effects and clean coated cubes. Most recently, I had to douse a cube in orange gel to slide it down a ramp, something I can’t remember ever doing in Portal 2.

My only early gripe is the story. I’m having a blast seeing Aperture from a new perspective, but I’m not sure Stirling is an ideal traveling companion. So far his dialogue is dry, his jokes are mostly retreads of Portal 1’s corpo-dystopian humor, and he just doesn’t put the personality in “personality core” the way Wheatley and friends did in Portal 2.

(Image credit: Second Face Software)

Maybe that’ll change as I reach the halfway point of Revolution, but I won’t be disappointed if it doesn’t. I’m very impressed by Portal: Revolution—if not for its high bar of quality and completeness as a mod, then as further evidence that Valve left a lot of meat on the bone with the Portal series. This is the Portal 2: Episode 1 we never got.

Portal: Revolution is free for Portal 2 owners, and if you somehow don’t have Portal 2, it’s on sale for $0.99 for the next few days.

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