Review: Portal 2

The long-awaited sequel to one of the best games of 2007 is now in my hands (not physically, I got it through Steam). Portal 2 is one of those few gems that stands up to the hype it generated. It takes everything that worked with the first game and adds more.

Portal 2 sees Chell (the protagonist from the first game) return to the Aperture Science laboratory after a seemingly considerable amount of time has passed (Check out Portal 2: Lab Rat comic to get filled in on the details if you have not already). The lab, now falling to ruin, forces players to once again think outside the box to navigate a treacherous landscape. The narrative reveals much more about history of Aperture Science, explaining some of the mystery of the original game while also offering a few tantalizing clues about its connection to the immensely popular Half Life series of games.

Definitely one of the biggest draws of the game is the simple yet brilliantly executed concept of creating portals that connect two spatially distinct surfaces. The player, rather than shooting down obstacles or hacking them with a sword, must instead think their way out every situation, only being able to create portals on certain surfaces. It is a refreshing change from the general run of games; The rush you get from figuring out the puzzle more than makes up for the lack of firepower.

So, what is the difference between the two games? What makes Portal 2 so great? On the surface it wouldn’t seem like much, as the game mechanics are essentially identical to Portal. The Source engine was updated to accommodate some new elements, but game-play really is not changed at all. If you played Portal you can pick up Portal 2 with no effort. However, a big change that was made was incorporating new environmental factors that give you new way to think about the environment you are navigating. These factors come in the form of colored gels that display some interesting physics bending properties, much like the portal gun itself. A blue gel repels your character from the surface it coats with a force equal to that with which you struck it, allowing you to bounce and reach areas that are normally unreachable with the portal gun or to bounce certain obstacles out of the way. The orange gel (I guess Valve likes this color scheme) create a slick surface that accelerates your character along it, to gather up more momentum for large jumps or gravity defying portal antics. A third white gel allows you to create new surfaces to place portals on. These three new additions alone probably would have been enough to satiate fans of the series, but Valve decided to give much more.

The familiar Weighted Companion Cube and gun turrets return and are accompanied by new features like Hard Light Bridges, surfaces that can be extended over gaps and Excursion Tunnels, tractor-beam-like devices that can push or pull you in any direction. All of these additions come together to create so many new dimensions in the solving of puzzles. No longer are you simply moving from point A to B, you are also trying to figure out how to best combine the portals with these other features while still keeping the game play simple and enjoyable.

And then Valve decided to give us even more, adding a storyline that is just as entertaining as the first one, if not more so. Portal 2 introduces two new characters, the lunatic CEO of Aperture, Cave Johnson, and the bumbling, inept Personality Core, Wheatly. GLaDOS also makes a return in a much more up-close-and-personal sort of way. The new characters serve to fill in much more detail behind Aperture and the development of the portal technology as well as GLaDOS, and add much to the atmosphere of the game, being voiced by actors J.K. Simmons and Stephen Merchant, respectively.

The game design itself should be mentioned, as Portal 2 is significantly longer than the first one and much, much more expansive. The levels are designed to give the players the feeling that they really are in massive underground research facility. Even portions of the test chambers, which return as well, often utilize the outside of the chamber, adding new challenges to the puzzles.

The co-op mode flows seamlessly from the new game-play elements and encourages player cooperation in a way that I have not seen often in games. Rather than just encouraging the mutual slaughter of enemies, the co-op mode presents you with a series of puzzles in which each person is key element of solving it, and you absolutely cannot complete a puzzle without your partner’s cooperation. The Aperture story also gets expanded on, a nice touch that helps bring co-op into the fold of the Portal world rather than just feeling like extra content that was tacked on.

In essence, Portal 2 does what a sequel should do. It expands on the franchise, adding to it rather than changing it, keeping the elements that make the game successful and paying service to the fans with very little pandering or hand holding. If I rated games with a numerical score, I would definitely give this game some ridiculously high number, but I don’t, so I will just say that this game doesn’t need to rest on it’s laurels. It brings something new and most importantly, fun, to gaming. If you like gaming at all, even if you are not familiar with the Portal or Half Life universe, go out and get this one. It is well worth it.

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