Reviews: Portal 2

For better or worse: a game for the fans.

Chances are we'll probably never see a game like the original Portal ever again. To achieve what it did in such a short running time is nothing short of a gargantuan achievement well worth every accolade thrown at it. There was absolutely no "dead time" to be found, as if there were time for that in the first place. The sequel, however, in its admirable attempt to make for a more fleshed-out adventure, comes out the other end as an overly-ambitious, poorly-paced, and bloated product.

The gameplay is probably the only indisputable improvement over the original. Even without the occasional added element (such as the various gels that spit in the face of Newton's laws of physics), the puzzles seem tighter and more intense, made all the more impressive seeing as how it's not as tied to the idea of being a fictional training ground as in the first game. It's just more fun all around, plain and simple.

As a story, however, Portal 2 wears out its welcome with alarming speed. The kinda-sorta-frenemy-ish banter of GLaDOS becomes extremely tiring when it's overused to this extent, the dialogue rarely treads new ground for the character despite her transformation into a tuber. And don't get me started on wheatley. Everything about the guy seems forced... he seems tailor-made to appeal to Portal's perceived primary demographic of whedonesque geekdom. He's got a good voice actor, but you can surmise from his first scene what every subsequent bit of wheatley dialogue is gonna be like. But hey, maybe I should just be happy it's not that doctor dude from Half-Life 2 all over again.

where the story does excel, however, is in its surprisingly subtle approach to showing us the humble beginnings of Aperture Science. Through the humorously hammy archival recordings of Cave Johnson, Aperture's darkly comedic take on some of history's more... dubious... approaches to scientific research, you really get a sense of scope and history, delivered in a delightfully pro-active manner. It's more interesting than the main story to be sure.

More is certainly not always more, and Valve again struggle to maintain momentum throughout a 10+ hours campaign. Though made from a good recipe, it's too much of an awkward-seeming fanservice-y retread to make up for flimsy attempts at story expansion. A disappointment.

Let's be critical

The other reviews read much like a overly long love letters; and in my opinion Portal 2 doesn't deserve this. Let's start with the most basic element, the puzzles. They're easy and single player is challenging only when the maps are too elaborate or confusing. Co-op doesn't fare much better; the puzzles are slightly more challenging but the combined abilities of both players more than makes up for it. There are several Co-op puzzles that are fiendishly difficult, but they only show up in the last section and again it seems more like there was some sort of disconnect and we spent most of our time wandering around confused more than anything else. Graphics, sound, and controls are Valve standard and good. However let's pick a few bones with this story, which is the "most compelling part" of the game. It's bland. The jokes are okay and made me chuckle, but there was nothing that made me fall out of my chair laughing. And there are some unfortunate implications in making fun of orphans and fat people. Some jokes are literally nothing more than "Chell you have no parents and this amuses me fatty". The comedy and character interactions are good, but again they're nothing super amazing. What annoys me the most about this is that it feels rushed. Portal 1 was rushed and it was okay; that's because the story elements were essentially dressing on a very tight puzzle game. Portal 2 is a story game with some puzzles in between set pieces. It could have been vastly improved by the addition of another few chapters, where all the elements of the previous parts came together for some serious puzzles instead of glorified tutorials. And I'm not okay with the DLC model; Valve is a master at it sure, but this is content that should have been in the game to begin with, not released 3 or 4 months later. Is Portal 2 good? Yes. Is it fantastic? No. Is it worth $50? Hell no. Should you buy it at some point? Definitely.

An original and refreshing experience, but that's it.

Portal 2's gameplay is identical to its predecessor with nothing new added. The only thing left for it to build on is level design, and with this it certainly succeeds. There are creative gimmicks arranged well, with an excellent difficulty curve that challenges the player just enough for their expected skill level at the time, assuming this was their first Portal game. Even if it isn't, it catches up quite quickly. Turning my critical eye to it, I find maybe one or two flaws in the entire game with little room for improvement, given what they were going for. Most notably, unlike some similar games, it leaves you to figure out what to do on your own, and gives you no more hints than necessary. The logical leap required to figure out what the white gel does is mainly what I'm talking about, and for this I respect the level designers. The only boss in the game requires equal parts skill and thought, and is substantially more entertaining than the boss of the first game. The Coup De Grace Cutscene is the best thing this game has to offer, and that's saying something.

The visuals give you no more than is necessary. You can very easily tell what's around you, and nothing stands out as particularly ugly (these are all good things). The story seems somewhat predictable, with only one or two actual "twists". After that they went for an Excuse Plot. The dialogue is amusing, and never lets up on the humor, though a lot of it is insult comedy. Aimed at you. The voice acting is amazing, even as someone who rarely pays attention to such a thing I feel I have to note it here.

Yet, it still feels like a prototype. I was left wanting more, but for the wrong reason. The game seems to rely too much on its original gimmick to provide entertainment, and being a puzzle game, has little replay value. I can tell that in about 10 years time this game is going to be called one of the most overrated ever. If a sequel is made they should probably include more to the gameplay than puzzles.

My personal opinion? Portal 2 is good but not great, but looking at the design I can tell I should like it more than I do. However, my biggest complaint is Wheatley's character. He's supposed to be the most moronic moron ever, yet this only applies for jokes and to give the player a reason to defeat the villain. Outside that, he seems to be characterized as a genius! WTF?

Perfectly Perfect

Portal 2 is possibly the best game I have ever played. The story is fantastic, with Ellen Mclain, Stephen Merchant, and J.K. Simmons all peforming a fantastic job. The game is the funniest I've ever played, with dark yet hilarious humor showing Aperture Science's lack of caring over the well-being of their subjects. The puzzles themselves are great: they always present a challenge, and while you may need to sleep on it, the solution always presents itself, and you realize that you overworked the solution completely. The game is a tutorial, always preparing you for future puzzles, but that doesn't mean the turtorial can't be hard. As for the plot, while it is sometimes predictable, it's mainly because of it's foreshadowing. If I'm discouraging you from buying Portal 2, then let me rephrase this: You have to buy it. Unless you are horrible at puzzle games, I demand that you buy this game. I can't stop talking about it, and even after replaying it three times, I still want to play it. You will not be disappointed; once you start playing Portal 2, you won't be able to stop.

Portal 2's single player story hits the funny out of the ballpark

It's hard to imagine a video game winning an award for high comedy, but that's exactly what Portal 2 ought to receive. Most games that attempt a comedic tone go for slapstick or farce, but Valve decided to take a different path here. First, by emphasizing the absurdity that is Aperture Labs' approach to Mad Science. Second, by developing compelling characters with strong motivations and inserting them into that absurdity. Third, by using voice actors of the highest quality and giving them the freedom to really get into their roles.

Stephen Merchant is an inspired choice for Wheatley. A professional comedian, he gives his all to the role — according to Valve, they'd give him five lines of script and he'd rattle off ten more out of his own interpretation of the character. He plays the loveable idiot (with a dark side) to perfection.

J.K. Simmons is hilarious as Cave Johnson, the insane founder of Aperture Science. The evolution of his character from a genius entrepreneur to a desperate businessman to an embittered, dying misanthrope is brilliantly conveyed in the recorded messages to his test subjects. One can see the entire history of this doomed company in these snapshots of a misunderstood madman.

And, of course, Ellen McLain brings GLaDOS to life as a maniacal, passive-aggressive villain who finds herself unexpectedly dependent on the player for her very survival. If anything, Portal 2 is about the Character Development of this lonely, tragic A.I., who discovers her hidden origins in the bowels of Aperture Science, overcomes adversity and humiliation, and learns... well, that she's been trying too hard all this time.

Valve's aggressive attention to detail and their world-class art team combine to make the environments of Portal 2 some of the most beautiful (and hauntingly creepy) I've ever seen. The game does an amazing job of conveying the sheer immensity of Aperture's facilities, with breathtaking vistas that I desperately wanted to explore further, only to be disappointingly constrained by the linear path I was forced to take. The puzzle-solving elements are excellent: challenging, but never so hard that you give up in frustration.

A clear favorite for Game of the Year; I only wish the Oscars had an award for Best Comedic Role in a Video Game.

Portal 2 is Still Alive!

Portal introduced us to our silent protagonist Chell and her fight to escape the deserted Aperture Science facility controlled by the insane AI G La DOS armed only with her portal gun. Portal 2 picks up roughly 300 years after the first game where Chell has been recaptured and placed in cryo-storage and is woken up by Personality Core Wheatly so that they can escape the run-down facility before the reactor core melts down. Chell is once again forced to use her portal gun to navigate the ruins of the facility and deal with the resurrected G La DOS. The story takes some very interesting twists and turns along the way and the terrific dark humor of the first game remains intact.

The gameplay from the original game returns in all of its mind-bending glory. Players use the portal gun to shoot blue and orange colored portal holes onto walls to traverse over deadly pits, transport Weighted Storage Cubes to switches to open doors and lower elevators and redirect lasers (or Thermal Discouragement Beams if you prefer). Additions to the gameplay include the propulsion and repulsion gels (in keeping with the Portal color motif they are orange and blue respectively) which do pretty much as they describe either sliding the player off at great speed or sending them bouncing high into the air. In addition, players must redirect light bridges and conveyer beams with portals as well. Perhaps one of the most exciting new features in Portal 2 however is the inclusion of co-op gameplay. Co-op gameplay gets its own storyline and characters, Aperture Science robots ATLAS and P-Body, each armed with their own portal gun and even more challenging puzzles for the gamers to solve. You can either play with a friend (split-screen or online) or team up with a random player. Good communication is vital to success however, and the co-op interface has several helpful tools to communicate with your partner including a small pop-up window to see their viewpoint though you may want to use a microphone as well.

In general the gameplay is challenging, but never really frustrating. The game does a good enough job of teaching players the basic mechanics as new elements are introduced that even newcomers will be able to pick up the nuances of the game fairly quickly but has enough challenge to it that even veteran Portal players won’t be able to just breeze through it.