Portal 2: A Non-Scientific Review

In 2007, Valve released a collection of games titled The Orange Box. Inside were two of the most anticipated PC games of the time, Half-Life 2: Episode 2 and Team Fortress 2. Little did anyone know that a mostly overlooked first person puzzle game named Portal would become the standout hit of the collection. With its brutally challenging puzzles,well-written dark humor, and a catchy song from Jonathan Coulton, it quickly found a special place in the heart of the gaming community. It left everyone demanding more and Portal 2 is Valve’s answer to the masses.

Portal 2 is basically broken up and served to players in two different experiences. The first being the single player campaign and the second being a newly added cooperative multiplayer mode. Single player is more of what made the first game so great: biting humor and challenging puzzles. The writing lacks nothing and is in fact even better than the first game. The jokes are legitimately laugh out loud funny. Much like Valve’s other blockbuster franchise Half-Life, you will find yourself in the role of a mute protagonist being subjected to tests by a somewhat sadistic computer named GLaDOS. She will taunt you as you make your way through her various tests like a mouse in a maze, and it simply couldn’t be more enjoyable.

The puzzles in Portal 2 are challenging but not impossible. Rather than relying on quick shooting and good timing, Valve seemed to focus more on mentally challenging puzzles in this instalment of the franchise. This leads to some sincerely satisfying moments of gameplay. There is nothing quite like the feeling of solving a particularly difficult puzzle, and I pity anyone that cheapens those moments with guides or a walk-through

Not being a developer to simply repackage the same idea, Valve decided to not solely depend on the game’s namesake portal gun to provide solutions this time around. In Portal 2, things such as solid light bridges and gels that give special properties to surfaces have been added in order to broaden the game’s puzzle vocabulary. For example, you can use a portal to cover the floor in a blue repulsion gel that will allow you to bounce to areas that you wouldn’t be able to reach otherwise. Later in the game, all these different elements will need to be combined in order to solve some of the more complex problems you face. It’s truly a unique gaming experience and is heads above any other puzzle game on the market, including the original Portal.

My experiences with the multiplayer were also very positive. There is something rewarding about working together with a friend and solving the game’s puzzles. Maybe the best part is that these are not just recycled puzzles from the single player; the multiplayer has its very own set of puzzles that were designed to capitalize on the cooperative nature of the game mode. The co-op campaign will have you flipping switches and using physics to shoot your teammate to great heights in the name of science.

While the game features the typical voice chat, it also includes much in the way of added functionality so you can communicate with your partner visually. Now you can highlight a specific point to place a portal, or have an on-screen synchronized countdown in order to perfect your timing. The addition of these simple commands makes all the world of difference and makes being on the same page as your partner a breeze.

The problems I have with the game are few and far between, with some feeling downright nit-picky. The single player campaign is a little short, but that is always going to be a complaint for a good game as I have never personally thought, “Yeah, that was good, but it was about an hour too long.” Reports have the length being anywhere from five to ten hours in length. I beat the game in about seven hours and wasn’t taking my time, so I find reports of five-hour playthroughs a little far-fetched. If you played through it in five hours, you missed a lot of fun content along the way. I have a feeling many people will play through this game multiple times and I recommend that fans play through with the commentary mode activated. Between the multiple playthroughs and the co-op, this title should keep you entertained for at least a couple days.

The only other problem I had with the game was the frequent loading — in between every test chamber is a loading screen. With the first chapter or two, the rooms are rather small and the puzzles easy to solve; this leads to a lot of loading.  However, as the game goes on and the environments get larger, the loading does become less of a nuisance.

In the end, this game left me with a fuzzy feeling inside that only the rare combination of accomplishment and entertainment can provide. There is not a single aspect of the original game that is not augmented for the better, making Portal 2 the perfect example of what a sequel should be. There is little doubt that this title will be an awards show darling and is currently my pick for game of the year, but… the year is still very young.

[xrr rating=5/5]

This review is based on the Xbox 360 version of the game.

One Comment

  1. Posted May 13, 2011 at 12:29 pm | Permalink | Reply


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