Portal 2, the unabashedly clever puzzle narrative released in April 2011, has been hailed by critics as one of the best video games of the year. The game focuses on the plight of Chell, a human test subject trapped in the derelict facility of Aperture Science, surrounded by rogue A.I.’s, both malignant and benign. While Portal 2's storyline, graphics, gameplay, and voice acting talent are all superb, I’d like to address a somewhat unsung aspect of the game that’s definitely worth mentioning: the soundtrack.
Composer Mike Morasky is behind the understated genius that is the Portal 2 soundtrack. Morasky, who also composed the soundtracks for Left 4 Dead and Team Fortress 2, focused on the interactivity of the soundtrack. The ambient noises and tunes that seem to emanate from the walls of the now-deteriorated Aperture Science test chambers respond to your actions and movements. Performing certain tasks will trigger certain strains of music, leading to a growing crescendo of electronic praise to be heard only when you’ve completed the puzzle.
True to the game’s feel and subject matter, the score is entirely synthesized, including no organic instruments of any kind. The result is ambient sounds and erratic musical patterns that sound as if they were inadvertently created by whirring, busily working machines.
The soundtrack serves many purposes. Some tracks, as previously mentioned, exist purely to create atmosphere, whether it be through uneasy ambiance (“Technical Difficulties”) or through repetitive, needling motifs that keep the player on edge (“I Saw A Deer Today,” and “An Accent Beyond”). Other tracks reflect and underscore key plot events as they unfold, but still retain the artificial feel that the game requires (the protagonist is traversing through the bowels of an uninhabited facility, after all).
One such track is “The Courtesy Call,” which plays during the first few minutes of gameplay. The track begins with sinister chords that bleed into each other and then abruptly mount in urgency, as what sounds like warning sirens blare. A veritable rollercoaster of emotion, this track serves as the player’s introduction to the playing field; wary apprehension quickly morphs into hardened anticipation of the rapidly-approaching unknown.