“The cake is a lie”… Possibly the greatest inside joke of the gaming community, and it originated with hugely successful Portal. So how does Portal 2 stack up against the ridiculously high expectations for it? Extremely well. However, not “game of the year” well. Before I start the review, let me briefly bring new and perspective players up to speed on what Portal is.
You have a device that resembles a gun and can produce two “portals” on specific surfaces. The first portal you create makes an oval door for you enter in. The second portal you create makes an oval door that you exit from. You create Portals to get through a series of complex chambers. This is the simple premise of Portal, but what gave it such a cult following and rave critic reviews was in its beautiful art style, clever level design and extremely well executed story.
Portal only featured two characters. Yourself, playing as the mute female protagonist, Chell, whose only friends are cubes with hearts on them known as “companion cubes”, and an Articifical Intelligence named GLaDOS. The goal of the game was to complete a series of puzzles for GLaDOS as part of a “test” for a mysterious organization known as Aperture Laboratories. You were promised cake and grief counseling as a reward if you managed to complete all of the test chambers. Over the course of the game, GLaDOS’s motives are hinted to be more sinister than her original helpful demeanor suggested, and this is where the plot really takes off. Without giving away all the great moments that you should experience with the original Portal, I’ll say that what you end up doing definitely sets up the plot for Portal 2.
– Portal 2 –
If you didn’t play the original Portal then don’t fret too much over it. Yes, you’d catch all the nods if you do, but you’ll figure out what happened in the first game pretty quickly. That being said, the story in Portal 2 is just alright. Not as memorable as the original, but this game is also three times as long (single player portion). In my opinion it starts off at a good pace, then gets slow in the middle, but by the end the overall experience is still above the curve. You play once again the same mute female that you played in the original Portal. After the events that take place in the first game, Chell has been suspended for many years and when she wakes up…well she basically ends up having to do the exact same thing she did in the first game. Chell’s kind of like the John McClaine of video games. You’ll get to explore familiar Aperture as well as new areas that give you a cool look at how it all began.
Sound? The voice acting in Portal 2 is once again terrific with real emotion from each character. This is something that can really take you out of a game if done poorly, but thankfully that’s not the case here. The writing of the game is as witty as the original. There were definitely parts where I was laughing out loud at what the characters were saying. Voice acting is crucial in a game where your only interaction is with tiny robots and audio from A.I. It also helps that the main voices in the game are done by J.K. Simmons, Stephen Merchant and Ellen McLain. The music however is a bust. It’s barely there and when it is you won’t really pay attention to it. When you’re trying to figure out a puzzle that may be taking you an hour to do, having no music playing can make it feel very mundane. At the same time it does help make you feel alone in the big Aperture facility.
Graphics? Pretty good considering Portal 2 is using the same Source engine that was used in 2007 for the original. Minor tweaks to the lighting and water were made, but that’s about all I could notice. What hasn’t changed is the outstanding animation. This is where the game really shines in my opinion. Everything has such a realistic flow to it and even the environment has a life of its own. As you progress through each puzzle (especially in the beginning) you see the facility literally pulling itself back together after what happened in the original Portal. It’s a gorgeous site to see that can only be appreciated by playing through it. What I still appreciate the most is how clean your HUD is. What I mean is that unlike most video games, your screen is completely bare. All you see is the portal gun you hold and the reticle in the center of your screen. That’s it. Just one more thing to help make you feel like you’re really IN the game.
Controls? Perfect. Very responsive and SIMPLE. I haven’t played the original Portal in 3 years and was able to pick it up and immediately remember how to do everything. The learning curve is very quick. The real challenge comes from the the level design (you know, since it’s a puzzle game?). Portal 2 is a very linear game, but it has to be since there is a specific way to complete each chamber. Each chapter increases the difficulty, but you never feel like it’s impossible to complete. New things have been added to keep the formula fresh, but the most notable are three types of “gel” that you can interact with (the liquid animation is really great). One gel makes you run faster, one gel makes you jump higher and one gel lets you put Portals anywhere that it covers. Having to use these gels really increases the puzzle difficulty later on in the game.
If you hate puzzle games, DO NOT play Portal. This aint Call of Duty kids, so just because this is a first-person shooter doesn’t mean that it’s an action game that you can just run through. You will be spending hours on some of the chambers…unless you’re that kid from “The Wizard”…just keep your power glove off her, pal… ANYWAY, expect to get somewhere between 12-16 hours out of the single player campaign, depending on your play style and familiarity with Portal-esque puzzles.
The most notable new feature of Portal 2 is the fantastic multiplayer. This isnt a competitive-based multiplayer, but a true cooperative experience that should only be played with people who feel like communicating and working as a team (basically none of my friends because we just end up trying to kill each other the entire time). You play one of two robots that have to work together to get through some really challenging puzzles. The catch is that you literally cannot complete the puzzle unless both players are participating. The multiplayer is also an entirely separate story that will add another 12-16 hours of gameplay to the already lengthy single player campaign. Portal 2 also breaks an important barrier for online multiplayer in video games. For the first time ever PS3, PC and MAC owners can all play coop together on their respective systems (sorry Microsoft, you’re still the selfish kid). So if you own a PS3 and an Xbox 360, go the Ps3 route for that reason alone.
Portal 2 is a really fun game and still very unique by today’s standards. Unfortunately what keeps it from being a game-of-the-year contender is the inconsistent pacing, lack of music, and overall lack of replay value. There’s multiplayer, yes, but once you’ve beaten it you’ll know the puzzles. So the real question is will future DLC hold a player’s attention beyond the initial play through? We’ll have to find out.
I give Portal 2 a solid 4 out of 5 Planet Arbitraries
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