Portal 2 Review
An exemplary puzzle game that will have you chuckling and banging your head against the wall all at the same time
Valve has an undeniable knack for creating compelling and intriguing game worlds, and the massive underground complex of Aperture Science is certainly no exception. The relative lack of context and background information paired with the seemingly rich history of the facility means that instead of the game simply explaining to you the purpose and history of Aperture Laboratories, you have to piece it together from the dialogue and environments of the game. These environments are far more diverse and dynamic in Portal 2 than in its brief but undeniably brilliant predecessor, and this goes a long way to making Portal 2 the special and unique game that it is.
Aperture has descended into disarray in the absence of Glados
Given that Portal 1 consisted of a series of test chambers, it isn’t surprising that Valve had to mix this formula up a bit in order to create a longer and more robust singleplayer experience. The direction that they took the singleplayer in, however, is quite interesting. While the element of testing in successive chambers is still there, you now get to see behind the sparkling clean walls of these rooms into the under workings, and even past iterations, of the vast and bizarre world of Aperture. At the beginning of the game you wake up after what seems like a very long time and find the facilities of Aperture in disarray. A new character (or robot rather) called Wheatley guides you through this decaying and overgrown version of Aperture until you stumble upon Glados who soon wakes up and begins the task of cleaning the facility and creating test chambers.
If you thought Glados was mean spirited in Portal 1, she is twice as cruel now due to the events of the first game. Her consistent deprecation of your physique, puzzle solving abilities and seemingly unfortunate future replace any form of praise, but while these remarks are cruel they are often very funny. The bumbling new robot Wheatley provides a great counterbalance to the dry, cruel remarks of Glados, and when the two are in a room together some of the funniest moments of the game occur. Other new characters who you find in the game are all equally well written and absolutely hilarious in their own ways. Remarkably all of these great personalities and characters are found in robots rather than humans, something wonderfully fitting with the world of Portal 2.
Haven't you ever wondered where sentry turrets are born
As you progress through the game and the wonderful story unfolds, you will learn of the purpose and the past of facilities without being told about them directly. Rather the environments of the game tell the stories themselves. As the game progresses new environments are encountered; they are all incredibly interesting, varied, and full of the game’s trademark wit. Each new area has you solving puzzles in a different way using different variables, and these puzzles are all superbly designed and are the major reason for Portal 2 being such a joy to play. It is difficult to suggest how challenging the puzzles in Portal 2 are since everyone has different abilities when it comes to solving puzzles with portals. How quickly you solve the puzzles on your first go will dictate how long the campaign lasts; for me it lasted about 7 hours and I got stuck a handful of times on some of the levels throughout the game. Typically a standard playthrough will last anywhere from 6-8 hours, which while much longer than the first game isn’t exactly impressive.
The puzzles themselves are fantastically varied; they start out simple and gradually become increasingly complex as more and more variables are introduced. Cubes, buttons and lasers all make their return from the first game, while light-bridges, springboards, gels possessing various unique qualities, and independent gravity tunnels all appear as new mechanics. Of course the portal gun is at the center of any puzzle, and it remains totally unchanged from the first game, but it is still a brilliant tool that is used in a variety of interesting ways. Also of note is the fact that the puzzles are no longer relegated to test chambers, as with the exhilarating final level of Portal 1 you will often use the portal gun to solve environment-centered puzzles. As you navigate the vast under-workings of Aperture laboratories you will solve situational puzzles that require just as much ingenuity as those in test chambers.
Once you have completed the excellent but all too brief singleplayer campaign of Portal 2 an entirely separate co-op campaign is there to play as well. This campaign picks up right where the singleplayer campaign ends, and it brings in many mechanics from the singleplayer portion without explaining them, so it is a good idea to play the co-op campaign after you have completed the singleplayer. If you found that you breezed through the puzzles in singleplayer without much difficulty, the co-op campaign will present more of a challenge. Each of the two players in co-op can shoot two portals, essentially doubling the potential complexity of each level.
When high-speed dance moves go horribly wrong
You will need to co-ordinate carefully and communicate comprehensively if you want to get through all of the available levels, of which there are about 40. While the game does a good job of providing different methods of letting you show each other what you are thinking via an in-game pinging system, voice chat is definitely the best way to go when trying to solve complex problems. Many puzzles involve both players having to perform an action with very specific timing, and while there is an in-game countdown tool, screaming “1, 2, 3, NOW” over a mic is usually more effective. Much of the fun from this mode also comes from messing around and shooting portals under team-mates are aiming lasers at them while Glados reprimands you all the while. There are a number of gestures you can perform to lighten the mood, and there are even items that can be bought via micro-transactions such as skins and hats (as in Team Fortress 2) but given the relative brevity and lack of replayability of the co-op campaign these seem like a bit of a cash grab.
A standard playthrough of the co-op campaign will last 4-6 hours, meaning that your overall time spent with the game will be around 10-15 hours. Given that there is almost no replay value, this means that you aren’t getting much bang for your buck. While what content there is in Portal 2 is of extremely high quality, you will be wanting more when you finish, yet there is no more. This is the Portal 2’s biggest problem: there isn’t enough of it. I can’t help but feel that a few challenge maps with leader boards would have helped to negate this issue, but as it stands Portal 2 is still a very good buy if you are a fan of the original.
There are times in co-op when suicide is the only option
Visually, the game looks quite good considering the age of the Source engine. A few blurry textures are made up for by fantastic animations and good lighting effects. As with all source engine games Portal 2 is very well optimized and doesn’t require top of the line hardware to run well on the highest settings. The only thing that lowered frame rates for me was the liquid-physics found in the puzzles involving gels. The audio in Portal 2 is really where the games presentation shines however. The music, which is mostly fast and electronic, works stupendously with the game, and comes in at just the right times. There are different cues for different music; for instance when you are bouncing on repulsion gel certain music will play, whereas when you are flying through the air from a spring board another motif will cycle. This gives puzzle solving a fun and fresh feeling as you whiz through the air while appropriate music plays.
The voice acting and writing in Portal 2 warrant special attention; the quality of these is easily on par with the highest quality Disney Pixar animated films. The voice work is really great and the three characters whom you hear from the most often will continue to spout such pure comedy gold that you would be wise to sit still and listen while they cycle through their repertoire. This is probably among the best voice acting and writing ever seen in video games.
Later levels often include a multitude of variables
In the end, if you enjoyed Portal 1, you will almost certainly love the sequel, and shelling out the full 50 dollars for the game will seem highly worthwhile. If you aren’t as wildly enthusiastic about the series, or puzzle games in general, you might find the amount of content to be a bit light considering the price tag. Regardless, what is here is of the highest quality, and the 10-15 hours you will likely spend with the game will provide no shortage of fantastic and memorable moments. Portal 2 is bigger, better and more varied that its predecessor, and is overall an extraordinary sequel and a brilliant and creative puzzle game.