Portal 2 never gets old, but even if you’ve played it a ton of times, there are still mods you can download and install to keep things feeling fresh. Here are our picks for the best Portal 2 mods you can’t play without.
Thinking with Time Machine
Besides having a really amazing single-player story, the co-op mode in Portal 2 is what keeps you going back. It can be all about killing your partner in the most treacherous ways, or finding the sweet momentum of teamwork. Either way, being one of those funny robots is always worth it.
This is even more true when taking into account the huge amount of user-made maps focused on cooperative gameplay. If you don’t want to play a story you already know and you’d rather play alone, Thinking with Time Machine is the Portal 2 mod for you.
With this very popular mod, instead of being a robot and messing around with a friend, you are Chell… twice. In addition to having the portal device, you also get to use a time machine in order to solve rooms and be a perfectly efficient test subject.
By pressing a button on said time machine (which looks pretty much like a tablet), you record your actions. Pressing another button will then trigger the creation of a twin Chell, who repeats everything you did. This way, you can do the rest of the work and become your own best teammate.
Undoubtedly, there’s a whole new level of strategy behind this mechanic. While playing Portal 2 with a friend would require real-time decisions and actions, Thinking with Time Machine requires planning and perfect timing so the interactions with your twin are actually successful.
Even though it lacks a bit of portal action since it’s mainly focused on time traveling, Thinking with Time Machine does add a new twist to Portal 2’s gameplay. Additionally, it’s a great opportunity to check out how far a mod can change its own base game with a little bit of innovation.
By the way, if everything above isn’t enough, there’s a lot of custom content: the time-machine pad, textures, and even an improved Chell model which allows players to see their own feet. That’s a huge detail and any Portal 2 fan will agree.
Portal 2 is an underground adventure, and even though every level is beautifully designed, sometimes you may have wondered how deep those labs actually were. What does Aperture look like to the people in the non-test environments? Well, Above Aperture, a 4 part mod, is based on that idea. As Chell, you take a trip to unknown parts of the Aperture Center from which you can see the sky.
I know it may not sound like a really big deal, but being able to see the sky while trying to figure out the puzzles in Portal 2 does feel a lot more like freedom. Don’t get me wrong, the whole underground facilities setting was extremely necessary for the story, but sometimes it got a bit too damp and dark. Definitely spirit-crushing.
In this custom-made extension, Chell gets to visit what looks a lot like an abandoned city with open-sky levels and outdoor transitions between tests. Even if it’s still Portal 2, it feels like a lot more. Besides cosmetic changes, Above Aperture does include pretty hard levels, which keep the Portal 2 spirit high and alive.
All in all, Above Aperture is a risky effort. Taking a beloved world and completely changing its setting could have angered many Portal 2 fans. Nonetheless, it’s a great option for players who are actually willing to keep being test subjects. Additionally, this mod also includes custom textures, models, and even music.
One of the great things about Portal 2 was how even though its levels were apart, and the game had numerous loading screens, it all felt part of one big thing.
And this doesn’t only include the Aperture facilities; making the game’s events feel like one big story is a work of art, mostly supported by GLaDOS and Wheatley. Achieving all of this without such memorable characters is as hard as anyone would imagine.
Going back to Portal 2 and facing a lack of a proper story and individual maps with unproven quality isn’t as charming as the game’s devs may have thought. Luckily, there are mods such as Dilapidation. This series of 6 episodes is definitely a product of love.
In Dilapidation, players are now an unnamed test subject who awakens in a dilapidated Aperture facility, right next to the remains of a stasis chamber. Once again the objective is to escape, and the only way to achieve this is by being a successful tester.
The great thing about this series of mods is that it feels like one big thing. It has a tangible continuity. As players progress and move between test chambers, the already ruined testing facilities keep deteriorating. It’s a really great way to keep things spicy, especially when parts of the wreckage become essential objects in the next testing room.
Besides all of the above, there’s yet another piece of great news about Dilapidation: it has a second series of three episodes in an additional mod called Reconstruction. As a direct sequel to Dilapidation, players will now have to keep their progress towards salvation while Aperture facilities are being reconstructed after GLaDOS becomes functional once again.
Among the incredible amount of mods available for Portal 2, it was only a matter of time before users became aware of how the game’s mechanics could be turned into something completely different. Collective imagination should never be understated, especially over the internet. Gelocity is an incredibly fun example of how Portal 2 can be changed into something else.
This mod, as may have been guessed from its name, is a series of 3 maps (Gelocity 1, 2, and 3) which, instead of being puzzles, are huge racing tracks covered with the different experimental gels from Portal 2 (especially the propulsion gel, for obvious reasons).
Each one of these mods allows racing against a friend along intricate and fun circuits. Of course, portals aren’t completely out of the picture. Each track has its own set of tricks that require portals to be used in a rush, and with considerable accuracy. Additionally, portals can also be used to deviate and even kill your competitor.
If you’d like more of an individual kind of challenge, Gelocity also has its own time trial tracks, designed for solo racing and beating your own record.
Portal: Alive and Kicking
This is a very ambitious project which plans to recreate the whole original Portal game using Portal 2’s much more versatile and improved version of the Source engine. Portal: Alive and Kicking will not only allow new players to enjoy the first Portal, but also let longtime fans have a completely new approach to their beloved masterpiece.
The big highlight concerning this mod is the following quote by Jeep Barnett, a software designer for Valve:
“I’m often nit-picky, but even with my intimate familiarity of Portal I can see that nothing has been overlooked. Every tile on every panel has been revisited with loving detail. Not only have the visuals been updated to match Portal 2, but the weaker puzzle cues have been improved. I’m really looking forward to what they’ll do with the Behind the Scenes areas.”
Portal Stories: Mel
This mod tells a completely different story focused on a test subject named Mel. Just like Chell, Mel is supposed to survive by completing tests, and will even have a completely new personality core as a companion. The events in this mod are said to be set between Portal and Portal 2.
Besides looking completely gorgeous, Portal Stories: Mel is also set to have a huge narrative component. Just take a look at the trailer: Is that Aperture during its prime? Are we going to live through its downfall? These questions should be enough to make any Portal 2 fan shriek in excitement.
There are countless Portal 2 mods in Steam’s workshop and tons more being made as this text is being written. This feature offers but a small selection of some mods that have become popular enough to stand out.
Nonetheless, it’s far from being an exhaustive list and I definitely encourage diving deep into whatever new or old options are available. Even if it sounds corny, imagination has no real limit and there are literally thousands of reasons to go back to Portal 2.
Aperture Tag: The Paint Gun Testing Initiative
One of the more unique aspects introduced in Portal 2 was the colored gels that let you paint different areas of a room to various effects, like increasing or decreasing your momentum. If the gels were your favorite part of Portal, well you’re in luck, because there’s a mod totally dedicated to using them.
The Paint Gun Testing Initiative exclusively uses a new item called the Aperture Science Paint Gun Device, and you can probably guess what it does. It lets you paint the room at will. There are 27 original maps to solve with a brand-new campaign and character. You’ll even have access to an in-game level editor.
Aperture Tag is a unique twist on the Portal 2 formula, and its focus on gels within well-thought-out maps is sure to be a nice change of pace for any fan.
Wake Up puts you into the shoes of a brand new Aperture Science Volunteer Test Subject named Suki. As you wake up in yet another strange test area, a voice calling itself the Aperture Science Emergency Leaving System tries to help you find a way out.
The mod takes advantage of all the aspects for puzzle solving found in Portal 2, introducing them into a new setting in different ways. With an interesting mystery at its core, and some smart puzzle designs, Wake Up is definitely worth your time.
Portal 2 has quite a few mods that add on new stories and areas to explore based on Aperture Science. Eidolon is one of those, but its biggest differentiating factor simply boils down to its aesthetic and visual design.
Eidolon is a far cry from the dilapidated test areas of the original games, filled with debris and boxy shapes. Here you see cylindrical shapes and sharp inclines, a direct contrast to what fans might be used to.
Eidolon isn’t particularly long or horribly challenging, but it works as a sort of palate cleanser between jumping into really difficult scenarios and puzzles. If you need a change of pace, definitely check this one out.
Memories is yet another mod that significantly changes up the Portal formula. The big twist here is that Memories is an episodic series, with each episode containing a distinct setting and theme linked together by one story.
This setting really mixes up the look of Portal and the feel of the gameplay in a few ways, like having to place portals in a forest environment, or in space. The basic concept of each episode involves you starting in a hub room. Then, you’ll have to use portals to travel to other rooms and gather eyeballs to bring back in order to continue on to the next episode.
The episodic format makes Memories stand out from other Portal 2 mods, and the visuals and music do a good job of making each one distinct.
In 2012, a charming little indie game called The Unfinished Swan released, which required players to paint the world in order to reveal it, showing the way forward. Head takes that concept and runs with it, implementing the mechanic from The Unfinished Swan in Portal 2.
It’s impressive to see the art style and mechanics of The Unfinished Swan adapted into the Portal 2 engine, and like a few of the other mods, Head is a nice change of pace from the usual fare found in the game.
Alternate Dimension of Illusion
Like Eidolon, Alternate Dimension of Illusion is a mod that’s really based around its visual design, except this time the visuals also tie into the design and layout of actual puzzles. The mod uses non-Euclidean geometry, which essentially makes structures much bigger on the inside than they appear on the outside.
This leads to some really mind-bending puzzles that require you to think outside of the box, and look at the actual geometry of the areas you’re solving puzzles in. The blocky structures in this mod are an interesting change, and the geometry puzzles can certainly be a challenge you aren’t used to.
Co-op was always one of the most appealing aspects of Portal 2, and there’s no gaming experience quite like solving portal puzzles with your friend. Robot Pride sets itself up as testing chambers back from the golden days of Aperture Science. The chambers are specifically designed for the testing duo of Atlas and P-Body.
The mod description labels the five chambers in the mod as medium-to-hard difficulty, and for the most part, they’re a tad bit more challenging than what you’d find in the main game. If you’ve been itching for some more levels to knock out with a friend, Robot Pride is a perfect mod to grab.
Colours is yet another co-op Portal 2 mod, with four different map packs themed around unique color schemes. These contain original and unique textures, sounds, music, and more, all in an effort to give players a visual and auditory experience.
Of course, being able to bring a friend along for the ride helps, and oftentimes, the color scheme ties directly into the theming of the puzzles as well. For example, red focuses on lasers. Fans on ModDB seemed to take to Colours quite well, and each map pack can take you anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour to complete.
Portal Reloaded is among the newer entries on the list, as it just officially released in April 2021. This Portal 2 mod has players going through a special test course deep within a previously forgotten area of Aperture Science. The twist here is that players will have access to a Triple Portal Device, allowing the creation of three portals at once.
The third portal is a green one that actually affects time. It links past and present, allowing for some truly mind-bending puzzles. The mod contains 25 puzzles in total, new voice lines, new music, and more.
Even in 2023, Portal 2 mods continue to pop up. Portal: Revolution introduces a narrative that takes place after the original game, allowing you to explore the dilapidated remains of the Aperture facility.
Not only is this a fresh concept, but various new mechanics are also folded into the mix, such as an additional laser cube variant and multiple puzzles that can be solved through the use of only one Portal-Gun. Considering that it has been more than a decade since we’ve last seen an official release in this franchise, mods like this one are perhaps the closest we’ll get to a Portal 3 for quite some time.
Not sold on the creations above? Fine then, make your own damn map!
PuzEdit performs exactly as advertised, serving as a more fleshed out alternative to Portal 2’s native functionality. It’s still being tinkered with behind the scenes here and there, but for those who prefer their customization to be more in-depth, this may present itself as an attractive option.
For more updates, you can also check out the PuzEdit Discord. Perhaps your input could even help shape the future of this mod? If you’ve got some great ideas, there’s surely no harm in putting them out there.