Thinking with portals: a Portal 2 review
|November 24, 2011||Posted by L. Wollny under reviews, technology|
Ever since the announcement of Portal 2, the game had been collecting doomsayers like Rattmann collects Companion Cubes. After all, this is tampering with a classic game. So many things could go wrong. The original Portal was partly loved for its short length – it had no time to decay in quality – so any full length game carries the risk of becoming boring, or worse, gimmicky. Even the most resolute Valve devotee seemed to half-expect Portal 2 to be a truly awful failure.
And the most spectacular thing about Portal 2 is how, in the face of all this scepticism, it manages to be so solidly not bad.
As a game, it is incredibly hard to fault. The graphics are a great improvement on Portal, and easily add far more depth to the game. The play length (approximately 8 hours for the single player campaign) does not, as predicted by many, make stale what was valued so much in the original, but instead finishes in magnificent style just as the game begins to risk becoming boring. The story, however, is where the game truly shines. Since Portal was a spin-off from Half Life, and not expected to be wildly popular, the narrative elements were minimal, and found mostly in the form of hidden items. With Portal 2, however, a more thorough plot is offered (though not at the expense of black humour or fun gameplay). You are woken from your long slumber by Wheatley (voiced by comedian Stephen Merchant), a personality core separated from GLaDOS, who, whilst trying to help you escape, accidentally revives GLaDOS, who immediately resumes trying to kill you with testing. Hilarity ensues.
There is no loss of the classic dark humour of Portal, and GLaDOS readily provides copious amounts of it. It is perfectly gauged, and the weaving of this humour and the saddening story of Cave Johnson (the late CEO of Aperture Science) and the creation of GLaDOS is, at times, stunning. New to the game, however, is a slightly more slapstick humour brought to the mix by Wheatley. Instead of diluting the dark humour, this more childish humour is subjected to GLaDOS’s withering remarks, leading to a comfortable blend of old and new.
The gameplay itself is a large improvement. It’s longer, more complicated and involves new ‘items’ such as repulsion gel, a blue gel that makes you bounce. These new items are integrated perfectly into the game, and the puzzles in Portal 2 utilise much more of the portal mechanic. The game really begins to come into its own once the ‘tutorial levels’ are over and the training wheels come off. Some of the levels are genuinely challenging (something which felt mostly absent from the original).
The game also feels far more open than its predecessor – you get the feeling that there are multiple solutions to some test chambers. The crowning cherry on the (entirely fictitious, lie-based) cake is the co-operative setting, in which you take the role of either Atlas or P-Body, two testing robots. The portal mechanic is used even more innovatively here, with the option of four portals at once leading to some very interesting chambers.
More interesting than the gameplay in co-op, however, are the characters themselves. Atlas and P-Body are given distinct personalities and the player has the option to use emotes. Whilst they are mute, they make robotic chirping noises instead of speech, and tend to use body language. The level of characterisation these robots display leaves the mannequins of many games in the dust.
It’s impossible to go this far without mentioning the lack of Portal memes in this game. Not even once is cake actually mentioned, and whilst the radios still play the same song, references to most of the more memorable aspects of the first game are left out (except the Companion Cube. No one can cut that). Portal 2 seems set to bring a few new memes to the scene though, with one already taking root (“I’m sure we can put our differences behind us. For Science. You monster.”)
The main feeling you get with this game is that the developers have thought “OK then. You like Portal. Well, let’s run with this. Let’s take this engine, and have the most fun we can with it. Let’s make things bounce, and let’s make there be lasers, and paint, and floaty beams.”
This game is, above all else, fun. It takes a spectacular mechanic and a wonderful setting, and it does everything in its power to fully exploit these assets. It does everything it wanted to do with the first game.
Because at the end of the day, Portal 2 is a shiny, upgraded, fancy new Portal. This normally would be a criticism, but frankly that’s what we all wanted. Portal was short, snappy, and woefully under-developed. Portal 2 takes the idea that we all loved and makes a great, shiny beast of a game out of it. So whilst I can complain all I want that it’s just a polished batch of the same as before, that’s exactly what I (and I’m pretty sure everyone else) wanted.
Portal on steroids: 10/10
- Format: PC
- Other Formats: Mac OS X, Xbox 360 and PS3
- Origin: US
- Publisher: Valve
- Developer: Valve
- Price: £19.99
- Release: Out now (PC), 21 April (Everything else)
- Players: 1-2
- Does Chell talk? Sadly, no. You actually get more ‘dialogue’ and emotion out of the 2 co-op robots.
- Is it long? About 8 or so hours of single player campaign, but it doesn’t drag on at all.
- Is it big? The environment is a lot more open than the first game, with many ‘test chambers’ spanning large areas.