Portal 2 Review

By Lo-Ping - Wed Apr 27, 12:06 am

Ah crap I have to come up with a cheesy intro to these reviews don’t I? Fine.

Well here it is, ladies and gentlemen: The follow-up to the best-selling Valve game in existence! Is the magic Still Alive in Portal 2 or does it just Want You Gone?

Last tuesday I was a very irritated person, my copy of Portal 2 was running late.  In recent years I’ve added Valve to my list of worshiped developers and P2 is actually my first day-1 Valve title, so you can kind of appreciate the feeling of relief and excitement when a huge orange glowing light pulled up outside my house at 8:30pm. It was so dark one could only see the running lights of this very late UPS truck in the driveway as our regular delivery guy known as ‘Bud’ leaned out the side a’la Polar Express to finally give me my damn game.

Showing great restraint by not jotting down the idea to make some kind of “Portal Express” joke, I started up the game and… had to leave the house for three hours for a tornado warning. The world REALLY didn’t want me playing this game, but for all the mild annoyances I had to go through, it was worth it.

The Single-Player.

Chell is awoken by a computer once more, not the familiar tone of Glados, but by a dull male voice.  Her new stasis pod is modeled to look like a cheesy 50′s seedy hotel room down to the fuzzy carpet and cheap bolted-down TV, this is the game’s tutorial section in which you are made to look up, down, walk around, the usual.

The interesting bit, is when you go to sleep…

In a flash several decades have passed and the room switches from light to dark, dingy, and in a state of disrepair, upon answering a knock at the door a whimsical personality sphere named Wheatley tells you how delighted he is to find you alive and he’s in need of some help. The room shakes and turns as he disappears into the ceiling until a loud crash tears away a corner of the room to reveal that your hotel room is in fact a rectangular container in a massive storage facility with the capacity to hold tens of thousands of people in stasis for god knows how long. Up above you Wheatley comments “I’m not supposed to be telling you this, but I’m in pretty hot water here…”

This is your introduction to both the game proper and the newest of two main characters. Wheatley is voiced by none other than comic genius Stephan Merchant. Merchant has done a bang-up job of giving life and personality to Wheatley, pretty much making him “Awkward Dumb Englishman” incarnate. Take every sneer and grin you had towards Extras, The Office (U.K), and The IT Crowd at someone bumbling into a stupid situation because of them being idiotic and/or awkward and you have half an hour with Wheatley.  One scene finds you picking around the bowels of Aperture’s turret production facility in the dark with Wheatley manning your only source of light. He goes on to tell you about a previous job oppertunity that he wasn’t chosen for and instead was forced to work with the “Smelly humans.”

Upon him realizing he is depending on a “smelly human” he goes off on a rant about “Ah, them humans, gotta love them. I mean their culture is just… ah it’s just great”

The other big character added into the spotlight is Cave Johnson, founder and CEO of Aperture Science, voiced by non other than J.K “Pictures of Spider-Man” Simmons. No spoilers but for a good chapter and a half you find yourself four kilometers deep in the earth picking your way through abandoned Aperture test chambers from the 50′s all the way up to the 80′s when Johnson was poisoned. Cave Johnson is the kind of character that befits Mr Simmons perfectly, he’s a loud and proud rich motherf%*#er and will not stand to be told no. He’ll make science his bitch and science will damn well ask for more, please. To quote Cave: “Science isn’t about the “why”, it’s about the “Why not?”

And returning for a glorious second game: our old friend Glados. She needs no introduction but to give you a little taste: Being the bumbling fool he is, Wheatley manages to accidentally turn the long-dead evil supercomputer AI back on. It is a truely momentous moment that tops many of what I’ve observed in gaming when this huge mechanical monster retracts back into itself, powering to life this yellow eye in her new re-designed head and glaring at you as you hear her now speech-impediment free voice greet you with “Oh, it’s you

That inflection, the sense of pure hatred in “you” gets me every time.  Valve took two characters who are essentially an eyeball and a big lump of plastic with a light in the middle and turned them into characters that are so expressive it actually helps that they are machines more than it hinders it.  I can honestly say, hand on heart, Glados and Wheatley are the two most emotive characters I have seen outside of a Pixar movie.

Obviously, being a Valve game it has a very good story that I cannot say another word about for fear of spoiling everything. Suffice to say it is well worth your time invested, unlike some other games out there *cough*rhymeswithfrysisboo*cough*

Gameplay

Portal 2 does a good job of easing you back into the gameplay mechanics of using portals if you played the original Portal , and introducing you to the idea if you weren’t among the Cake is a Lie era of gaming.  The first few levels are literally taken out of Portal but aged dramatically. They show that Aperture really is in decay and also it shows off how damn good this game looks. They re-designed alot of elements to look better and more tech-y than last time around thanks to the sequel taking a more detailed art design than it’s predecessor. Cubes feel smaller and much cooler looking, the portal gun itself has a cool energy effect when you pick up objects, and Aperture itself has gotten a facelift beyond the aging.

Along with the new look and refined existing objects, the introduction of three gels and hard light bridges over the new full-length gametime really brings Portal to a new level. This game does what a puzzle game is supposed to do, make you feel incredibly smart 70% of the time, and like a completely helpless fool the remaining 30%.  The “Ah-ha!” moments are very rewarding and Valve has gone to great lengths to make sure there aren’t to many hair-pullingly hard puzzles.

The gels are a interesting addition to the game. Blue makes any surface bouncy allowing you to bound great heights or careen off walls like a pinball, orange makes a surface have less friction which allows Chell to slide around at double speed which allows for greats physics-defying jumps with the assitance of a portal and some ramps, and finally white allows you to paint any surface that will not accept a portal so it does accept one.

White is obviously my favorite. It’s apparently ground up moon rocks in gel form and man is it a bad-ass tool. I found myself “painting” the majority of a puzzle area with the stuff just to have that sense that I COULD put a portal anywhere. The way you deliver the gel is restricted by where you can put portals at the time. Essentially to paint something you have to have a portal under a gel dispenser on one end, and the other end on a wall/ceiling opposite the section you wanted painted. Instead of making pre-existing puzzles easier, the gel sections are designed AROUND the stuff to make the problem at hand more fun to solve.

Oh and it has the added bonus of making the levels look like a giant toddler with fingerpaint had just stormed through.

And on that note: let’s talk looks.

Portal 2 looks brilliant, the new look is amazing, amazing enough I didn’t immediately think “Ah, yeah, it’s Source.”. In actuality I didn’t believe the first person that told me it was Source, it just looked too good to be the same thing that ran Left 4 Dead or Portal 1. People say engines CAN be upgraded to look better but Portal 2 is the perfect example of this.

Yes, Call of Duty KINDA did it but be honest, it still looks sub-par even now. I’m actually quite glad that Valve stuck with Source for another game. You can complain all you want about the looks of past games but Source is a damn fine physics engine.  Everything acts the way it should just because it should, not because the designer decided we should be able to move it like in oh I dunno… Crysis 2 with it’s invincible neutral NPCs and immovable tiny objects.

I now come to the final section:

 Co-Op.

Co-Op mode stars Atlus and P-Body, two little robots that Glados runs through several testing areas. Simple and effective. The two-player puzzles that me and Rodney B ran through before the PSN crashed were very fun and challenging enough to feel satisfied in completing them.

The mechanics you have to learn to think with are quite fun, when you have two people involved all of a sudden half of the old problems in Portal are solved, and replaced with that many new issues. You have to be doubly certain your portals aren’t needed before moving through a Emancipation Grid, you should probably not push a button that will kill your partner, and above all else you NEVER talk while Glados is imparting her snide remarks at the end of each level.

When it was initially announced there were a few hushed words of “of course they stuck online in somewhere” and general negative thoughts but hey, some thought Wheatley was a terrible character because of the temporary voice actor heard at E3 2010. Passing judgement on a game too early is a stupid thing to do, go figure.

There are many more things I could love and hate about Portal 2 in this review, the music is great, the final song is pretty badass, it actually made a “you’re alone for a while” level that doesn’t blow donkey chunks, but your time is money. Probably moreso that mine, so I’ll wind this down with the following:

If you go out to buy Portal 2, heed this warning: If you own a PS3 or a computer capable of running Portal 2 and Steam, do not purchase the Xbox 360 version of the game. Thanks to a little selfish rule that Microsoft has, the cool cross-platform co-0p that PS3 and Steam have going on can never happen on Xbox Live thanks to Steam not being a Games For Windows Live extension.  Editor’s Note:  This review was written before the PSN was taken down and the author of the review wants to stress that Valve really did put more effort into the PS3 version,  even with the PSN down that is not a good enough excuse to choose 360, given the choice either way. 

In conclusion: Portal 2 isn’t the best game ever, a Holodeck is the best game ever.

Portal 2 isn’t an “experience” that is a story first, game second, that is Metal Gear Solid 4′s job.

What Portal 2 is then, is one of the best games ever made. Whenever someone purchases a new console and invariably asks that age-old question “So, what games should I get?”, this will be one of the titles several people will say at once, up there with Halo, Mario, and God of War. This game has the best character development I have seen in a long time from most of the movies I’ve watched recently let alone gaming, one of the best villains ever, and it’s made by a company that has made exactly Zero bad games.

Valve, once again, did everything just so. No corners were cut, the game wasn’t too long, it wasn’t too easy, it didn’t overstay it’s welcome. They took a great story and made parts of it subtle enough to warrant second and even third replays.

Like Ratchet & Clank, the Sly Cooper triology, The Saboteur, and every Halo, Portal now has the distinction of being one of my games I will never trade or sell. It’s that good, I very seriously suggest you at least give the game a try, but don’t come crying to me if you find yourself looking at your baked potato a little bit differently after you beat the game.

All screenshots are taken by fellow writer Rodney B on the Steam version of Portal 2 running full capacity, which has been shown to be slightly LESS good looking than the PS3 copy,  take that as you will.

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