Aperture Tag: The Paint Gun Testing Initiative is a paid Portal 2 mod available on the Steam Store. Why test with portals, when you can use gels!
Unlike Portal Stories: Mel which was a free standalone mod, Aperture Tag is a paid mod (fan-made) that requires Portal 2 installed, otherwise it will not launch. Aperture Tag is extremely cheap going for about $3-4USD.
There is voice acting in the mod much like Portal Stories: Mel. Unlike Portal Stories however, there is no Cave Johnson or Caroline to grace us with their amusing dialogue and interactions. Instead, you have….Nigel. The personality core. Who will be your constant and talkative companion for the entirety of the game. Some people in the few reviews I have seen commented that they disliked Nigel’s voice actor, personally I thought his voice actor did a fantastic job in voicing the various emotions Nigel uses in his dialogue. Not the best voice acting job I have heard in a mod but definitely not the worst. It was surprisingly more than decent in my opinion.
Although I have notice the dialogue will get cut off abruptly before he can finish his sentence, especially in chapters three and four. Nigel did repeat one of his lines that he already spoke in a previous chapter, not sure if that was intended or a bug in the mod. Seeing Nigel on the large monitors in different environments was amazingly entertaining to see. More so than I thought it would be.
The setting and level design that Aperture Tag is set in is very reminiscent of the Portal, specifically Portal 2 universe. Considering it uses the same engine as Portal 2, it is to be expected. Even the soundtrack reminded me of the Portal 2 soundtrack.
In Aperture Tag, the main testing mechanic is not portals, but rather the two gels that many Portal players will recognize. You will only use those two gels throughout the entire game: the repulsion and propulsion gel. Fun fact, you can hold the mouse button to spew the gels out of the ‘paint’ gun indefinitely. If you enjoy painting test chambers in Portal 2, now you can paint everything without relying on portals!
There was good attention to detail, as I noticed the gels in the paint gun move with the player as they move around. I liked that little attention to detail, no idea why but gave me so much joy.
I thought the concept of using gels as a testing mechanic was actually clever and unique. It was something different for me and it opens up to creating new types of puzzles for players to solve. Including giving players to find different solutions to solve the puzzles, as there is more than one solution.
In chapter one, the puzzles were understandably easy as it only used the repulsion gel as the main mechanic. Chapter two brought in the propulsion gel, essentially tutorials introducing you to the different elements. Chapters three and four starts combining both gels into the test chambers and increase the puzzle difficulty plus complexity. I did like the idea of test chambers limiting what gels you can use, such as you can only have access to the repulsion gel or having to go through unique fields to activate one of the gels. Sometimes these will have a time limit. I did enjoy seeing some of the original Portal 2 chambers and solving those using gels, and the occasional puzzle that included portals. I think my favorite was seeing the “Aperture Exotic Location Staging” chambers, again, it was something new that I had not seen before.
The main thing I disliked regarding the tests in Aperture Tag was how some of them were heavily reliant on your sense of timing or pure luck. It may some of the chambers incredibly frustrating and took much of the enjoyment I was experiencing up to that point out. To me, that is not what Portal is about. It is not about having to rely on the sense of timing and luck. This was a massive negative for me. One such level comes to mind where you have a time limit. It relied entirely on your sense of timing which was flawed since the paint gun moves the same speed as the player does. Hence you either had to know what was coming up ahead or hope your reaction times are good enough.
While I did enjoy Aperture Tag to an extent, I felt disappointed in the end as it feels it did not reach its full potential. It repeated a lot of the same puzzle elements and then recycled some Portal 2 test chambers minus the portals. Did I enjoy them? Yes, because of the nostalgia I have for Portal 2. Recycling the actual test chambers does feel lazy on the developing team’s part. I did find chapter four’s “exotic location staged’ test chambers to be the most interesting in terms of level design. I was not a big fan of the tests that relied on timing/luck at all. However, I will concede that it did try to bring in a new testing mechanic which was different compared to other portal mods that I am aware of. I did find the ending somewhat disappointing with the singular ‘plot twist’. I am aware there is an alternative ending but I was unable to attain it somehow, so I have no idea if my game glitched out in the end or not. Although I did not encounter any bugs or glitches up to that point.
In the end, I have very mixed feelings for Aperture Tag. I want to like it for the unique testing concept and the whole ‘exotic locations’ test chambers, but the frustration I felt for the timing and/or luck based test chambers took much of my enjoyment out. Including not being able to experience the alternative ending which was something I badly wanted to attain. Compared to other popular Portal mods (Portal Stories: Mel & Thinking with Time Machine) which are free, Aperture Tag felt very lacking and it leaves me unsure whether it deserves to be a paid mod in the end.