Portal 2 Review

Portal 2 is difficult to write about because I need to be objective with my thoughts about the game, and translate them into something that doesn’t sound like the caffeine-infused ramblings of someone who is head-over-heels in love with possibly the best virtual experience of 2011. I need to stay calm and expand my vocabulary beyond words like amazing, freaking awesome, hilarious, and brilliant. I will do my best, but I make no promises about my ability to hold back on talking about this amazing, freaking awesome, hilarious, brilliant game.

Valve’s latest masterpiece (and I truly do think the term is appropriate) was born of a game that seemed like nothing more that an incredibly entertaining experiment. We all wanted to see a follow-up to the Orange Box surprise, but a sequel was never entirely expected. The original game was bursting at the seams with surprises and revelations that could only be experienced as a result of a lack of expectations for the game. This is something of which Portal 2 simply does not have the luxury. Portal 2 is still full of many awe-inspiring surprises, but nothing quite on par with the original.

That is to be expected, though, and in lieu of a singing robot or the discovery that you are likely the only human alive in a self-sustaining, AI-controlled laboratory, Valve has opted instead to expand the history and characters of the Aperture Science facility. Along with the return of GLaDOS, you will meet other characters not worth spoiling here, and surprisingly, Aperture itself. Aperture Science becomes one of the most important characters of the Portal 2 experience, revealing a sordid history and even some revelations into what exactly GLaDOS is.

The story follows Chell and her continued battle against the maniacal AI of Aperture, and in that patented Valve storytelling style, the narrative is absolutely engrossing… by revealing almost nothing. Amid some of the best comedic writing in gamingry, there are little hints about Chell, GLaDOS, Aperture, and what might be going on outside the expansive laboratories. Nothing is ever told to you directly, and much of the backstory comes from recordings of dialogue dating as far back as the forties. Valve knows how to keep their secrets just tight-lipped enough to keep you moving forward, and the technique is in full effect here.

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One of the new and most prevalent characters in Portal 2 is the robot, Wheatley. Wheatley, along with likely having the most dialogue in the game, is also gifted with some of the funniest. GLaDOS earned a big spot in every gamer’s heart in Portal, but Wheatley does a damn fine job fighting for her spotlight. He is expertly voiced by English comedian, Stephen Merchant, and I don’t think he entirely understands what he has gotten himself into. Stephen Merchant is Wheatley now. I hope he isn’t looking to expand his voice work into other video games, because it is going to be impossible to separate himself from the hilarious robot.

Portal 2‘s play mechanics are familiar, but without feeling tired or retread. Other than a few training puzzles to get you back into the portal-creating habit, everything feels new. The puzzles are difficult, but never frustrating, and the transference of momentum to move from point A to B through portals is never too reliant on pinpoint accuracy or crazy acrobatics. Everything can be accomplished with enough trial and error, which is a good step to take after a few puzzles from the first game required some tricky platforming.

Outside of the test rooms, traversal (which is still puzzle solving) is based less on figuring things out, and more about figuring out where the portalable areas are. Portalable is not a word, but it is one you will find yourself saying often, especially in co-op mode. Exlporing the environment for the portalable areas gives the player the opportunity to explore each and every inch of Aperture, and luckily the facility is very interesting.

After making your way through the single-player game, or before, or during breaks, you can tackle the co-op, which is an absolute blast. Solving puzzles is entirely reliant on teamwork; voice communication is required, and both players need to be active participants. There are tools at the players’ disposal to initiate countdowns or point out portal positions for one another, but these are no replacement for the human voice.

Solving the co-op puzzles, which are generally more challenging than the single-player offerings, is incredibly rewarding. The puzzles will make you and your partner both feel like absolute geniuses. After each testing room, a little voice in the back of your head will softly say, "There is no way anybody else has been able to solve this yet. Only our combined intellect is able to bend around the dynamics of portal-based, team puzzle-solving." Of course, in actuality, thousands will have been successful, but the fact that the game convinces you to think that to yourself every few minutes is a testament to what Valve has been able to create. I am not holding my breath for the appearance of new co-op DLC, but pending an announcement, I can assure you that I will be counting down the minutes until I can download more.

When it comes to making video games, a strong argument can be made that Valve is among the best out there. They are like the Pixar of the videogame industry, setting the standard for others, never disappointing, and delivering product on a consistent, predictable schedule. That last fact actually only applies to Pixar, but you get the idea. Portal 2 is an absolutely worthy successor to the original, and it is, objectively, a better game. Nothing will ever replace the first time you solved a puzzle in the original Portal, or when GLaDOS began to serenade you during the end credits, but you will find yourself just as absorbed into the world and congratulating yourself on your personal genius every few minutes. Portal 2 is a perfect example of what video games should be, and there is no reason to pass it up.

5 out of 5


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Author: Kyle Hilliard View all posts by

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