Monday, 25 April 2011 14:44

Portal 2 (PC, 2011)

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Overview


ps3_portal2_shot1So, couple years back, Valve put out this strange little orange box which contained a couple minor little titles. Y’know, no-name stuff like Team Fortress 2, three flavors of Half-Life 2, and a little flea-speck that absolutely NOBODY noticed… called Portal. That particular utterly obscure title that I’m sure nobody other than me has ever heard of was based around a simple concept. You’ve got a gun. It does exactly one thing: make holes. Not bullet holes, like most guns. No, this little thing punches right through the fabric of reality and pokes through to another hole nearby. If you were extremely lucky, you might even have found the upgrade that let it make two different colored holes that always connected to each other! But hey, what good is a hole through reality to a gamer like you, I mean, it’s not like you could somehow use them to solve tests or anything, right…? Well, four million sales of Portal later, Valve’s released the highly anticipated sequel to that completely inconsequential little game, named… Portal 2.

USA Info Japanese Info Image
Title Portal 2
Dates April 19, 2011
Companies Valve, Electronic Arts
Creator
Genre Puzzle, FPS
Related Portal

Review


Portal 2 - Rating
  • Playability - 5.0
  • Graphics - 4.7
  • Story - 4.2
  • Sound - 4.4
  • Overall - 4.5

So, you’ve had your triumph, a huge success. You’ve torn your opponent into pieces. You’ve even thrown each piece into a fire, and strangely enough, she’s sincerely not even angry… After all, she’s still alive. What’s any good test subject going to do after surviving the ultimate test of wits and extremely long falls? Why, take a rest. A very long rest. Just don’t forget to set your alarm clock… whoops. Well, fortunately for Chell, she’s woken back up just in time to be saved by a strangely familiar looking little blue orb on a rail. By saved, I mean forced to ride while the blue orb crashes through just about every obstacle in the way with the room Chell’s in. Still, to his credit, Wheatly does get Chell to the relative safety… of the test chamber she woke up in in Portal. Why do I have a bad feeling about the way this is going to go…

The Good

  • Chell is back!

She’s just as talkative in this game as in the last… but so what? Taking on the persona of Chell again is as much fun as it was the first time, and for good reason: she plays exactly like she did the first time around, and I mean exactly. The same simple, effective control scheme is here to pick right back up with.

  • GLaDOS is back!

I’m not spoiling anything here that shouldn’t be very obvious from the advertising and hype from the game. Our favorite yandere computer girl is back for Portal 2, and she’s in fine form. The writers took the essence of GLaDOS’s sarcasm, passive-aggressive innuendo and insults… and remembered that you removed her Morality core at the end of the last game. Her lines are morbid and cruel and calculated, and it’s frigging awesome. That’s not all there is to the girl, though, and as the game progresses you start to see sparks of evolution out of her. Also, just like in the first game she’s a goldmine of perfectly delivered quotes that are bound to get stuck in your head.

  • There’s a much stronger focus on story.

Actually, that bullet point should almost read, “There is a story,” but that’s not fair to the first Portal. There was story in the first game, after all, just not much of one, and one that didn’t get started in earnest until fairly late in the very short game. In Portal 2, though, there’s a full-fledged storyline from the beginning to the end, and it’s actually pretty engrossing. At the same time, though, the core of what made Portal such a great little time-waster, its overall simplicity in both story and gameplay structure, remained the same.

  • More external contraptions to work with.

In the first game you really only had three things to worry about when it came to working out puzzles. Where to place your portals, how to get your block to the button, and how to deal with that damn energy pellet. Portal 2, however, features a much larger array of test-specific devices that need to be used to generate solutions. These range from tractor beams, to light bridges, to laser beams to springboards that send you flinging through the air. Of particular note are the three gels that are found in later stages of the game. One type of gel, for example, turns any surface it’s painted on into a super bouncy surface, while another boosts your speed on a straightaway and lets you get much more distance out of a leap than you might normally. The third type acts as a contact surface for placing portals, meaning you can paint a non-portal wall with the stuff and then put a portal where you couldn’t before.

  • The graphics got a boost.

You wouldn’t think that a game as simple as Portal would benefit from improved graphics all that much, but the world of Portal 2 is brighter, more vibrant, and more varied in form than its predecessor. At the beginning of the game, the Aperture test tracks are in truly terrible condition, overgrown with tangled creeper vines and tree roots and broken down walls. Over the course of the game, you get to see as the labs are restored, a bit at a time, to pristine condition. Early on GLaDOS is literally rebuilding test chambers right as you walk in, and you get to see her manipulating the individual robot-arm-mounted panels that make up the various walls moving back into place, or sometimes malfunctioning because they’re caught on something that needs to be cleared before they’ll be fully functional again. This is something you saw hints of in the first game, but the Aperture labs of Portal 2 are truly a living creature in and of itself, one that’s been wounded and fallen to sickness after untold years of disuse, but is growing stronger and better than before.

  • It’s still a really simple concept at its core.

The thing that made Portal such a great game was that, in the end, it was a very, very simple concept. You have one tool at your disposal, the ability to make a passage between two fixed points that anything, including Chell, can travel through instantaneously. In addition, you can fall from any height and always be assured that you’ll land on your feet without so much as a hair out of place. Everything else about Portal, and now, Portal 2, was built around that simple concept. Valve was very smart to not screw around with that. All the block moving, laser redirecting, bounce and speed gel tricks, faith-plate tossing, button pressing mayhem revolves around the ability to solve puzzles by using portals to change the rules of the room. You don’t have to dodge incoming enemy fire (a couple very polite sentry guns aside), you don’t have to sneak through enemy lines, there’s nothing rushing you onward. You just need to look at what’s been provided to you by the test chamber and figure out how to use your ability to create portals to solve the puzzle.

The Bad

  • Redundant, meet redundant.

The opening area of Portal 2 lands you right back in the test chamber you struck out from in Portal. Twice. Which means that you’re completing (albeit run-down, overgrown versions of) puzzles that you’ve solved three times now. To a certain degree, I suppose that it does make sense to re-use them in their overgrown state to reintroduce players to Portal 2’s mechanics and provide a good, solid connection between the two games, but I’ve got to say I’d really have liked to see a truly new area here that served the same purpose.

  • Easy on the subtlety, please.

I know that Portal and its sequel live on the concept that less is more, but on a couple points I’d have liked to see the story more fleshed out. It would have been nice to actually learn something about Chell that we didn’t actually know, and how long WAS she there in stasis, anyway?

  • Too long, or (and?) too short.

The weird thing is, I’m actually happy overall with the length of Portal 2, but I just can’t shake this nagging sense that it missed the mark somehow. There’s one chapter in particular that seemed to drag on forever, which makes the game feel like it was actually too long. Paradoxically, though, it also feels as though Portal 2 is actually too short, as though there’s unresolved content, and as though parts of the storyline were rushed, but what really drives me nuts about it is that I can’t point to any specific examples within the game.

  • Et tú, Brute?

Really guys? That was the big twist? The one I saw coming about five minutes after pressing the New Game button? The one that I could have seen coming from the moon? While the story is pretty good and engrossing, it’s not the deepest tale I’ve ever seen told, and it’s not without its share of cliché.

Your Mileage May Vary

  • Less complex puzzles.

The puzzles in this game did feel easier. The only times I really had trouble was on a couple of paths that seemed to provide completely viable routes forward, but actually required turning around and backtracking. That might be a blessing for some, but then again it might not be.

  • We still know practically nothing about Chell.

She’s been with us since the very beginning, but all that we really know about Chell is that she wears funky braces on her legs, is really good at solving murderous tests, and that she apparently can’t speak. Personally, I think that Portal 2 could have done with some development about Chell herself along with the work they did on GLaDOS and the story universe. At least they could have given her some voice lines for the ending or something.

  • They changed Wheatly’s voice actor.

When Valve did the initial reveals that were shown around at shows like E3, Wheatly wasn’t voiced by a professional actor, but by one of Valve’s animators, Richard Lord. I thought he did an incredible job of it, honestly. The official performance by Stephen Merchant is alright, but not nearly as warm and fitting as Lord’s. Oh well.

Overall


So, overall I have to give kudos to Valve for Portal 2. While I’d have liked to have seen a longer game – I think, anyway, I still can’t quite decide if it was too long or too short – and some more fleshing out of the story, in the end Portal 2 does that all important feat for a sequel. It surpasses the original in most respects. The play control is as simple as it is solid, the graphics are great, the story is solid if a bit underwritten, and the experience is just there. They brought back a great antagonist in the form of GLaDOS, but instead of just reprising her role, they let her grow some while filling in a bit of her backstory. There is, perhaps, too much information hidden in non-game content that really should have been referenced somewhere in Portal 2, but overall it was a great job. I’d say that it’s a highly recommended game for anybody who played the first Portal, but even if you didn’t it’s just a great all around experience.

Additional Info

  • Writing: Groovy (+5)
  • Pacing: Groovy (+5)
  • Graphics: Groovy (+5)
  • Controls: Groovy (+5)
  • Voice Acting: Groovy (+5)
  • Soundtrack: Groovy (+5)
  • Replay Value: Groovy (+5)
Last modified on Monday, 14 January 2013 20:44

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