Portal 2 Review

So, how on earth do you follow up to 2007’s Valve title, Portal? The immense pressure put upon the development team to expand upon the original concept of Portal is a massive job to be tasked with.  After the 2007 title became a cult hit, Valve poured it’s efforts into excelling the original and it has paid off. Portal 2 not only lives up to the original, It exceeds it by leaps and bounds.

Portal 2’s original premise remains the same as the original, that of  shooting portals to solve puzzles. However that’s about the only thing that Portal 2 shares with it’s predecessor. It’s unfair to compare both of the two games. In the original game there is an air of vagueness to the test chamber, the nature of aperture science and the climax was groundbreaking.

Despite having almost no narrative, the previous iteration of the series smacks you in the face with it’s comedic structure and of course the character of GLaDOS. It’s uniqueness hit the video game world by storm and by being packaged with The Orange Box, Valve knew that Portal would be getting into many gamers hands. More to the point it’s unfair to compare Portal to Portal 2 . The pacing, narrative and overarching structure of the games are entirely different. The only comparable elements between Portal and Portal 2 are the characters and the difficulty levels.

The aforemnetioned core gameplay of Portal remains the same. The first person view and the inclusion of a Portal gun are both present in Portal 2. You may remember in the original Portal you had an energy ball and you had to direct the ball into a switch to open the exit from the test chambers. Although this element is not featued in Portal 2, Valve has instead added in a variety of new elements to replace it and provide new challenges as a result. While I will not spoil what such elements are, I will say that they are exquisitely crafted and the puzzles with these used  in are fantastically done, and do in my opinion help make the game surpass the difficulty of the original Portal. A difficulty which gradually increases with each chapter, but then surprisingly dips near the end of the game.

The single player campaign is also noticeably longer than the original Portal’s. Clocking in at about 8-12 hours, Portal 2 ‘s campaign features some new characters and of course the welcome return of fan favourite, GLaDOS. You take the role of the silent hero Chell once more and meet a new character named Wheatley, the voice acting for whom  is done by British comedic actor Stephen Merchant, whose expert delivery and timing helps make lines between Wheatley and GLaDOS at times exquisite. Ellen McLain reprises her role as GLaDOS and in an attempt to “humanize” GLaDOS more, Valve has softened the distortions on her voice, so that now if you go back to the first test chamber in Portal you will find that GLaDOS sounds more robotic and stoic. Another new member of the cast is Cave Johnson whose excellent delivery once again allow him to provide several of the games memorable lines.
One of the other new elements of Portal 2 is that of collaboration and as such the game features a lengthy Co-op campaign alongside that of the traditional single player one. This campaign makes you and your friend tackle puzzles together using 2 sets of portals and naturally Valve has included a splitscreen option for local multiplayer and this works well despite the screen being split being vertically. However despite the split causing the occasional problem with the players field of view ,it really isn’t that much of a problem and so the impact on play is negligible. Another interesting, if mis-used feature that Valve has included is the option to “ping” your friend the location of where to put a portal or to look. Whilst this may seem to enhance the collaboration element, it is only useful if you do not have a microphone and are notalready talking to your partner in crime. These elements aside the co-op campaign has all of the features that the single player does but has marginally better puzzles than the single player due to the ability to have 4 portals at your disposal. As most people familiar with Valve and their products will know, the company has included their Steam client as part of the PS3 version,  thus enabling you to play with a partner on other platforms such as the PC. Not many other games have done this in the past and those that did were failures or have not worked properly. This time however, Valve has learned from it’s past mistakes and made this function a relatively painless procedure and as such you are able to connect via Steam and thus partner up with your PC playing friends without any problems.

I really think that Valve stepped up their game when it came to Portal 2 in terms of plot and pacing.  As already mentioned the original Portal had next to no plot and so for the sequel Valve have entwined the story and world of aperture science into the game with only a minimal use of cut scenes to direct the player and tell the story. which many other games use as a crutch to their story. I have to commend Valve for this, as unlike most games on the market, Portal 2 uses the game play itself to tell the story and does so through a mixture of atmosphere and mise en scene rather than outright breaking the immersion.  As a result of this the pacing of the game is quite even, with the game’s story being evenly spread like butter on bread and while there are only a few high octane moments in the game, the way in which Portal 2 makes the player think under pressure is fantastic and it is the use of  these such moments that make for the brilliant set pieces, which in turn help create some of the defining moments of the whole Portal 2 experience. The sound design is also non intrusive and feels very ambient throughout the entirety of the game with little sounds entwined within the game signalling you in the right direction and that your actions are correct. The same is also true for lights, a trait of Valve’s craftsmanship.

Atlas and P-Body, the two droids you play as in the Co-Op Campaign

 

On the negative side, Valve’s Source engine, which is now seven years old, is starting to show it’s age , the resulting use of old UI elements and textures mean that some parts of the game do not look up to the standard you would expect from a game of this consoles generation. For example the water and splash textures from Half Life 2 are still present in Portal 2, not only is this a poor choice on the graphic designers part, but also on Valves’ too. Portal 2 is on the whole a superb game and this oversight shows a laziness that was it not for the games other redeeming points and features, would be unforgivable.

Finally due to the proverbial “cat being out of the bag” for the real intent behind Portal’s mysterious world, the pressure was on for Valve to exceed expectations with Portal 2. I feel that it can be likened to if they went ahead making a sequel to Fight Club. Although the excitement and shock of the twist has been revealed, it continues to expand the world and introduces new elements to further it, all whilst containing the same charm of the original and exceeding it’s predecessor. Portal 2 will undoubtedly become a modern classic, with it’s quirky charms and flair, it makes the game exceed its predecessor in every way. The inclusion of the PC game with the PS3 game as a “double package” gives customers more a real sense of value for money. In my opinion, Portal 2 has lived up to the hype and as a result you are given a game that you would be hard pressed not to see as a game of the year contender.

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