Welcome back to Aperture, old friend.
Portal Stories: Mel, is a free fan-made Portal 2 mod that takes place between the events of Portal 1 and Portal 2. It does require you to own Portal 2. Portal 2 however, does not need to be installed in order to play Portal Stories: Mel.
It is a result of four years of work by a team of modders (Prism Studios). Portal Stories: Mel (PS: Mel hereafter) has a total of five chapters, custom soundtrack, 350 unique in-game lines along with a custom story. That is not forgetting a bunch of new textures and assets along with of course, a whole new assembly of test chambers to solve and explore. It is definitely like a whole new Portal game to explore and enjoy. With some difficult puzzles. The cinematic cut-scenes are beautifully made, especially that ending cut-scene.
Fun fact: I downloaded this after falling for their April’s Fool prank thinking it would really be removed from Steam. Only realized it was a joke several minutes later. GJ to me
PS: Mel is a massive mod that will offer players six to ten hours of playing time. The game starts off that is reminiscent of Half-Life’s introduction (a nice long train/tram ride) allowing you to view the Aperture facilities, with commentary from the ever lovable Cave Johnson. Whoever voiced Cave Johnson in this mod, did a fantastic impression of him. The year is 1952, you play as Mel who is a female Olympian. Presumably summoned to assist in some tests at Aperture Laboratories.
After the long (and somewhat tedious) train ride, you are let out where you can explore briefly before heading to the main Aperture testing building. Imagine my surprise where I saw they actually build a whole TOWN within a salt mine to house their facilities and mainly housing for their employees. THERE WAS EVEN A BAR! Sadly you cannot truly go inside to explore the various buildings besides the one (obvious) building that you can enter. It was lovely to look around the town at night however. It was quite breath-taking. You do see various employees working but you cannot talk or interact with them.
In true Aperture style, it does not take long for something to go terribly wrong once you take a nap inside your personalized rest chamber. When you awaken, the first thing you will see is the facility in shambles. There is overgrowth everywhere. Long story short, it looks like a war-zone.
Oh and there is a personality core that tries to trick you into thinking he is Cave Johnson. He does give it up eventually and admit the truth. Turns out he needs your help to rescue him before he runs out of power. In return, he’ll help you get out to sweet beautiful freedom. Seems like a fair enough trade. He gets to live and you get to leave. Only…there seems to be a murderous A.I on the hunt for you two. Just another day at Aperture.
The game will assume that you have either played Portal before or have a fair idea of what to do. It does not give you a build up into solving puzzles. Instead you grab the portal device and thrown head-first into solving puzzles. Be warned, they will be challenging and stay challenging for the rest of the game.
Speaking of puzzles, I did notice there seemed to be an inconsistency between versions of the game. I freely admit now that I did get stuck often solving the puzzles in PS: Mel and had to resort to watching YouTube for walkthroughs to get an idea of what I needed to do. I noticed that many of the videos seemed to be of an older version of PS: Mel or looked similar enough to what I was seeing, but missing elements of a puzzle that I had or did not see. My friend, Magasuperstick who decided to stream this game on Twitch based on my recommendation, got stuck on a puzzle and when he sent me screenshots for some help; I noticed he had a completely different room set up from what I had.
There was one test chamber that gave me serious trouble. I believe it was the first chamber of either the third or fourth chapter. I completely stumped on how to solve it and went to YouTube for a solution. I noticed immediately that most people seemed to have an extra room that became accessible once you entered the chamber (after Virgil’s testing of the room). I think it was actually Virgil’s first test chamber. Everyone in the videos seemed to have this little side room appear, I did not. I never had that room appear and I am pretty sure it was needed to actually successfully solve the puzzle. I was forced to use the console to bypass that chamber. Not sure why I was missing that room if it was part of the test chamber. I did check to see if the game was missing anything by revalidating it. It came back stating that there was nothing missing.
So I am not entirely sure what is up with the seemingly different test chambers.
The portal device definitely has a make-over with a completely new skin, explained as the device being the first successful portal device. Adding the explanation on why the portal device looks different with the little trophy plaque was a nice touch. I loved it.
As a Portal player, while I did not mind puzzles that featured laser pits and pits of liquid instant death: I did prefer to be able to solve puzzles via experimentation without worrying about dying and starting over again. Sadly, most of the puzzles in PS: Mel is very much the deadly fatal type with lasers, acidic pits and turrets galore.
It was interesting how Prism Studios implemented new ways to use the portal device such as using it to put out fires as a prime example. As well as a lovely reference to Portal 2 where you corrupt the turrets to target the evil A.I. that seeks to eliminate you at the end game.
Portal Stories: Mel is a great unofficial prequel to Portal 2. For a mod that is free-to-play, it is extremely well made with lots to explore and test chambers to solve. It does come with the traditional evil A.I and a personality core that accompanies you for much of your journey. I did enjoy the little new idea of being able to fight fires with the portal device. I very much enjoyed the 1950’s Aperture facilities in terms of look and design. I really liked being able to see Aperture- Science Innovators in their peak before they all fell into shambles (or murdered by GlaDOS). I wished we could explored a bit more in the beginning, but Prism Studios did make up for it by allowing you to have plenty to explore in later chapters. The chapters were longer than I expected them to be but it was not a big deal.
Not a big fan of the test chambers constantly being fatal but oh well. Fans of the Portal titles should definitely give this mod a try, best of all: its free!