29th April 2011 - When Portal was first introduced to gamers via The Orange Box in 2007, it was an unexpected hit. It won countless awards for its accomplishments in gameplay innovation and narrative. It resonated with gamers from all across the spectrum of Hardcore and Casual. Also, it is the only game I can think of that has been virtually memed to death. For proof, just mention cake to anyone with an internet connection and they’ll probably know the reference. When Valve announced a Portal sequel, they set down a gauntlet of expectation with one simple phrase, “Portal 1 was a test bed, and Portal 2 is the game.” With the bar set higher than ever, does Portal 2 exceed the standard that its predecessor redefined?
You play as the mute test subject Chell, after defeating the rogue AI, GLaDOS, at the end of the first Portal. After being dragged back into the Aperture Science Enrichment Center and placed in stasis, an unknown apocalypse takes place. Unfortunately it isn’t explained or shown, only that you are woken up a hundred years after the fact. The one waking you up is a personality core called Wheatly, who is willing to help you escape Aperture once and for all. Easier said than done however, as GLaDOS reboots and is out to repair the Enrichment Center, and get her revenge.
Gameplay at its core should be familiar with those who have played the first Portal, for those who haven’t, here are the basics. You have a device that is able to deploy two interconnected quantum wormholes, or portals. Whatever goes in one of these portals goes out the other. Sounds simple, but that’s just the first ten minutes. The first Portal made great use of this simple mechanic, and the sequel delivers on upping the ante. In addition to portals, there are also pistons that launch whatever into the air in an arc, light bridges that travel through portals, laser beams, prism cubes, and different kinds of gel that can accelerate your speed or turn any surface into a trampoline. All of these new features don’t hinder or bog down the game, but are introduced logically as you go through the main campaign. That being said some degree of exploration has been lost. There are some Easter eggs to be found throughout the game, but the puzzles make it clear that there is usually just one solution to be had. It isn’t a major complaint but it is noticeable about half way through the game.
Speaking of length, Portal 2 delivers on its gameplay length. The first Portal was roughly two to three hours long, depending on the player’s savvy, whereas Portal 2’s single player campaign is somewhere around eight hours. That being said, there is the unsaid problem that taking something that worked for two hours and trying to quadruple its length can lead to the whole experience getting repetitive and dull. Thankfully, Valve keeps things going right along, introducing new gameplay variances right at the moment that a certain kind of puzzle has outstayed its welcome.
Another area that Portal 2 excels on is its sense of humor. There were more than a few moments where I actually had to pause the game to hold my sides after what happened on screen. Unfortunately, I cannot discuss the jokes because that would ruin their charm or spoil major plot points. What I can discuss is the tired Companion Cube and Cake jokes are not recycled or driven further into the ground. The material is new, fresh, and will probably get memed to death as well in time.
Another new feature to note in Portal 2 is its Co-Op campaign. The campaign’s story is separate from the single player, but not completely parallel, and involves GLaDOS doing cooperative tests with two robots, Atlas and P-Body. You and your partner are given fully powered Portal Guns and are sent out to solve even more complex tests. I am not kidding on that last part, two people, four portals going on, do the math. That said the co-op mode is beautifully designed. Cooperation is absolutely necessary for you to complete each test or else you’ll just go around in circles. There is Split screen co-op and online co-op, both of which function really well with no lag or server problems that I can tell.
Most notable for the Playstation 3 version of the game is the integration of Valve’s digital software distribution service, Steam, on a console. As of right now, you’ll still need PSN to buy and download games, and the lack of voice chat with those online and having to put up with fat fingering in text gets a bit tedious. However, with this new addition, Playstation 3 and PC owners of Portal 2 can play cross-platform in co-op, and it is seamless. I honestly wouldn’t be able to tell who has which version.
Graphically speaking, Portal 2 looks amazing. Valve’s seven year old Source Engine still looks high end and it continues to impress. The model designs for Wheatly and GLaDOS are all amazingly human for being robot characters. The lighting is great; there is virtually no visual tear or slowing whenever there are portals active. There are a few too many loading screens however, and the loading time is just enough to break the flow of gameplay, but it’s a minor complaint.
The voice-acting in Portal 2 is nothing short of top notch. Ellen McLain reprises her role as GLaDOS, Stephen Merchant nearly steals the show as Wheatly, and JK Simmons does a good supporting role as the voice of Aperture CEO, Cave Johnson. The music is unique, a great mix of techno and orchestral score, a more organic version of Daft Punk if you will, and the sound effects of liquid splashing and portal placing sounds perfect.
Portal 2 had a lot to live up to in my eyes. It couldn’t just be a nostalgia trip for those who played the original, nor could it pander to a new audience and leave veterans disappointed. There had to be enough new and enough old to impress both parties. At the same time, it had to be a sequel that mattered. And despite the whole objective in Portal 2 being identical to its prequel, get out of a laboratory before an insane computer intelligence kills you, it manages to pull it off with some well placed story elements which won’t be said here for the sake of spoilers. At the same time, the PS3 version has the benefit of obtaining new map packs for free later down the line from the PC owners level editing tools. So, if you have to pick, I’d say PS3 version.
Portal 2 is an impressive, well made game that is sure to win a few Game of the Year awards later this year. The humor is funny, the gameplay is fun, and it looks and sounds great. Loading screens and some linearity aside, this is the closest to perfect I’ve seen so far.
AAG SCORE: 9.5/10
+ Funny dialogue
+ Amazing Co-Op and Single Player Campaigns
+ Great characters and voice-over work
+ Seamless Cross-Platform Gameplay
- Tedious loading screens
- Some puzzles feel too linear
Reviewed and Written By Tyler Chancey