Portal, the video game, was released back in 2007, bundled in as part of The Orange Box, Valve’s excellent value package of games for the PC and XBox 360 (and eventually PS3). I imagine at the time Valve thought the inclusion of Half-Life 2 and its two episodic sequels was the main selling point of The Orange Box, as well as a copy of the sequel to their popular multiplayer game Team Fortress. However the reviews and word of mouth for Portal grew and grew. What was a little added bonus to the bundle became the most talked about aspect. The first game was very short, probably due to the fact that it was thought of as more of an experiment than a standalone release. Having a first person shooter without a dangerous weapon and no real violence (except towards yourself) probably felt like a risk so money wasn’t pumped into it. Anyway, theories aside, Portal was very popular, so in 2011 gamers were finally offered a fully fledged Portal game in the shape of Portal 2.
Portal 2: Songs To Test By (Collector’s Edition) is an epic 4-CD collection which brings together the complete soundtracks to both games which were primarily composed by Valve but also include two original songs from Jonathan Coulton (“Still Alive,” “Want You Gone”) as well as vocals on several songs by opera singer Ellen McLaine (performing as the villain GLaDOS). Plus to sweeten the deal, those buying the CD version get an exclusive mini-comic titled “Turret Lullaby.”
One of the many strong elements of Portal was its soundtrack, so Portal 2 had a lot to live up to, but luckily it more than delivers. It consists of some wonderfully varied electronic music with moments of ambience, cinematic underscoring and a few more beat-heavy, almost danceable tracks.
There are dozens of great tracks here, but I’ll mention a few that stood out for me. “Science is Fun”, which opens the collection on disc 1, is one of the more ‘banging’ tunes, with a driving, head-nodding rhythm. “The Courtesy Call” is also quite heavy compared to some of the tracks, yet with orchestral elements in the background to retain the soundtrack feel. Much of the rest of disc 1 is fairly ambient with the quietly creepy “Haunted Panels” and the pretty “I Made it All Up”. “Music of the Spheres” on disc 2 and its re-emergence later have a Vertigo inspired vortex sound. Elsewhere on disc 2 you have the almost 8-bit “Bring Your Daughter to Work Day” which I quite like as well as a number of more intense tracks such as “You Will Be Perfect”.
The final track of the Portal 2 on disc 3 offers a rare upbeat moment with “Robots FTW”. This still has enough interesting glitchy production aspects and an 8-bit influence which prevents the track from sounding cheesy. Disc 3 also has Jonathan Coulton’s ‘sequel’ to the popular “Still Alive” track in “Want You Gone”. This isn’t as immediately loveable as its predecessor, lacking its simplicity but it remains catchy and memorable.
Disc 4 contains the soundtrack to the first game. This is generally more ambient than the second, but still has a similar sound and is equally as strong. It also contains the popular end credits song, “Still Alive”, which I mentioned earlier. Alongside the amusing lyrics (which probably aren’t as funny for those that haven’t played the game) it has an extremely catchy, simple tune that can get in your head for days if you let it.
Sprawling at 4 discs and over 4 hours in length, Portal 2: Songs To Test By (Collector’s Edition) is a lot to get through, but the music is all of the highest calibre and fans of electronic music as well as of the games will lap it up. Highly recommended.
Portal 2: Songs To Test By (Collector’s Edition) is out now, available in a 4-CD set or as a digital download.
To buy the soundtrack on CD in the UK head over to Amazon.
Or use this link for the digital version.
Listen to one of the tracks below:
And just because I love it: