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Great moments in PC gaming: Teaming up with Potato GLaDOS in Portal 2

Portal 2

(Image credit: Valve)

Developer: Valve
Year: 2011

Great moments in PC gaming are bite-sized celebrations of some of our favorite gaming memories.

GLaDOS is mean. GLaDOS is powerful. GLaDOS is the sole AI in charge of running an underground testing facility, miles deep and wide. GLaDOS is the ruler of her domain, a cluttered maze of robotic arms and sanitized panels and magic paint and dangerous (but potentially profitable) quantum physics experiments. But even ancient AI overlords have bad days. 

After the events of the first Portal, she has plenty of reason to be mad. I killed her and being killed probably sucks. And living through a death? Probably an even worse time. Imagine the hangover. So when Wheatley, a dopey personality core, wakes me up from hundreds or more years of cryosleep in a miraculously functioning Aperture Science, the dread hits immediately. Is GLaDOS still out there? Yes, she is. Still down for the count, but, welp. 

(Image credit: Valve)

It doesn't take long for Wheatley, the buffoon, the total lovable dolt to wake my old nemesis up, purely by accident. Now I'm mad and GLaDOS, her chassis shuddering to life, is mad—everybody's mad. But only one of us Mads is capable of systematically torturing the other. 

The scales are tipped all the way in GLaDOS's direction, much like the whole of the original Portal. The first few hours of Portal 2 are a nostalgic reunion between GLaDOS and me, cat and mouse, in a gauntlet of death chambers accompanied by a running commentary of teasing and taunts to really drive home the idea that I'm not a good person, not a good person at all, and nobody likes me.

It's a little too much like the first game honestly, but before it gets too cozy in centuries-old toxicity, Wheatley makes a fascinating mess of things. Again. 

With a little help, the guy goes and transplants himself into the Aperture mainframe, kicking GLaDOS out and stuffing her into a potato. It's cute and cruel, a total reversal, both symbolically and literally, between the power of Wheatley and GLaDOS. She, the smart one, is dumped into a potato while the potato-brained one gets run of the place. It's actually a clever play by Wheatley, who got the idea from a science fair put on by literal children we'll see later, and proof that not only can Wheatley learn, but he can apply knowledge—as long as it's delivered via glitter glued to decorated poster board. 

(Image credit: Valve)

Wheatley, too naive to deal with his newfound power, goes wild and sends everyone down a long, long, like so very, very long tunnel, and from then on GLaDOS is my unwilling partner in crime. It's a whole new context for our relationship and forced cooperation doesn't make GLaDOS any less chatty. While digging through the underbelly of old Aperture, we get her whole backstory and find out she's not only capable of love but was once a human and did love one Cave Johnson, and when we finally get back to the modern Aperture facility, GLaDOS's critique of Wheatley's shit tests and her own much more immaculate archived tests feels like a peek behind the curtain. She's basically forced into small talk by the passive nature of her new potato form. And, honestly, she's a lovely person. 

It's a crash course in test design, showcasing an affable kind of pride and intellect in Portal's former supervillain that humanizes the otherwise cruel and dispassionate AI. A new starchy perspective was all I needed (and GLaDOS needed) to realize that maybe dedicating a life to revenge ain't really living, robot or not. Baking GLaDOS into a potato was the perfect way for Valve to make her more than a bad guy, and in a way that doesn't retroactively stamp out her imposing, dominant energy. GLaDOS is still scary as hell, but Portal 2's potato pivot proves that sometimes talking to the monsters actually works out. 

James is PC Gamer’s bad boy, staying up late to cover Fortnite while cooking up radical ideas for the weekly livestream. He can still kickflip and swears a lot. You’ll find him somewhere in the west growing mushrooms and playing Dark Souls.