Portal 2 Review

Posted on May 9, 2011 by

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The original Portal is one of those games everybody seems to have played. It wasn’t some big blockbuster release like Call of Duty, although it was a first-person shooter that only lasted about three hours, the difference being that one of those games was a useless waste of time, money and productivity, and the other one was Portal.

So yes, we all know the memes. You can’t even mention cake anymore without some moron jumping in and yelling ‘the cake is a lie! the cake is a lie!’. Frankly, it’s old, and even the guys who made the game utterly hate the cake thing now. I can’t blame them. If I put my heart and soul into making one of the funniest, most devious, and cleverest video games ever, and all people could remember was a throwaway joke about some chuffing cake, i’d be a tad miffed as well.

The fact is, that Portal never really got an official release of its own. It came out as part of The Orange Box, a compilation containing Half Life 2, Episode 1 and the much anticipated episode 2, along with the fan favourite Team Fortress 2. Portal almost seemed like just a little throw-it-in to round things out. Sort of like how people went out and bought Zone of the Enders just to play the Metal Gear Solid 2 demo that came with it. And then, people played it. And it turned out to be the best part of the entire Orange Box. Who knew?

Whelp, three years later and here we are, Portal 2 on the shelves all by it’s lonesome, standing on it’s own merit. It’s a big deal now. So, where did Valve take this little 3-hour proof of concept game? What did they do to evolve it and grow it into an individual gaming experience? Oh, so much.

You’re Chell, once again. You wake up from stasis in a nice, if bland looking room and perform some basic tests to ensure that you’re still alive and well, look up, look down, so on and so forth, and then you hop back into bed. For 300 years. I’ve overslept from time to time myself. Of course, when you re-awaken after 300 years, things are a little bit different. Things are, in fact, falling apart. You’re shaken from your peaceful slumber by Wheatley, a personality sphere like GLaDOS from the first game, though less homicidal, and voiced by Stephen Merchant, giving him this general air of being nice but too bright. West-County accents have that effect, though ask an American and they’ll tell you any British accent makes you sound smarter. I suppose it probably does. Wheatley plans to escape the Aperture Science enrichment center, before it falls apart completely and blows up, and you’re going to help him.

At first, you wander about some of the old test chambers, which are dilapidated and overgrown with plant life and infested with birds, and it’s all quite jolly with Wheatley making jokes and getting used to the portals again, but then things get serious when you stumble into GLaDOS’s old chamber. She’s strewn all across the floor in bits after your last encounter, but due to some bumbling by Wheatley, she’s soon up and running again, and understandably upset about the whole ‘being murdered by you’ thing, while conveniently forgetting that she did try to kill you with deadly neurotoxin.

GLaDOS immediately sets about repairing the enrichment center and dumps you back into the test chambers with a portal gun, because even 300 years into the future, in a world where you are quite possibly the last human being left alive after the events of Half Life, SCIENCE MARCHES ON! The plot isn’t quite as straightforward as the first game, but if I went into any more detail from that point on, anything i say would be an enormous spoiler, and this really is the sort of game you need to experience for yourself first hand.

The gameplay is tighter than before, and Valve have broken out a whole new bag of tricks this time around, such as the three new  kinds of gels- Blue makes you bounce, Red makes you fast, and White turns any surface it’s splashed on into a portalable area. Throw in areal faith plates, which spring you across rooms, hard light bridges, laser beams and re-directing cubes and big swirly sucky vortexy things, you’ve got a lot of new toys to play with to really liven up the challenges and puzzles you face. Oh, and that’s just the single player.

Portal 2 comes with a whole separate Co-Op campaign, just as long as the single player, but with the added bonus of playing with a friend. In the Co-Op, you take the roles of robot buddies Atlas and P-Body, bringing a need to work together, four portals at once, and of course, the ability to hug your partner. Or shove them into a big spikey metal crusher. It’s up to you, really. They’re only robots. They’ll get better.

Graphically, the game looks fantastic, and while the source engine is really, really starting to show it’s age (I figure it’s only getting used in one more release now, Half Life 2 Episode 3, which I’m calling as being finally announced at E3 this year) it does it’s job excellently. The characters, of which there are now 5 (a noticeable upgrade from 2) are all excellently acted and voiced (well, with the possible exception of Chell depending on whether you do your own dialogue for the voiceless murderess), and the voice actors do a fantastic job of fleshing out a frankly pretty low-maintenance storyline, with the real stand-outs being Stephen Merchant as Wheatley and J.K. Simmons as CEO and Founder of Aperture Sciences, Cave Johnson, who may have been quite, quite mad.

You’ll delve right into the dark past of Aperture sciences, exploring long lost laboratories and test centers, re-discover some of the greatest scientific inventions that never came to light and you do it all with a smile on your face, because this game isn’t just funny, oh no, this game is downright hilarious. Funny is hard to pull off in video games, I know. But Portal 2 gets it spot on. This is a strong contender for game of the year, right here. Buy it, and we can work together, for science. You monster.

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Posted in: Games, Review