Saturday 23 April 2011

Today's Review: Portal 2

In 2007, Valve released The Orange Box, so console gamers could finally play through Half Life 2 and its subsequent episodes. They also chucked in Team Fortress 2 'cause they were feeling generous, and a little game called Portal. Valve bought an entire game production team to make this after being impressed with a freeware game they developed along the same lines. And too right they were. Portal was an awesome game, with a massively original concept. You had to work your way through various environments, shooting portals onto surfaces in order to warp around the place and find a way out. This was also coupled with one of the most hilariously sarcastic bad guys ever created, and it has to be one of the only games that i've actually laughed out loud at while playing.

Now, Portal 2 is out. I've been waiting quite a while for this, and it's all paid off. Portal was easily finishable in about 4 hours, which would have put a lot of people off were it not bundled with four other awesome games. But the critical feedback and large fan base that the game created convinced Valve to develop a full length standalone. The game is longer, there's a co-op mode, new mechanics, and it's all bloody brilliant.

You start off the single player as the lady you led through the first game, who somehow has been re-imprisoned in the Aperture Science facility. You wake up from hibernation, stuff goes a bit wrong, and once again you find yourself escaping. Trouble is, you have to do so through test chambers, which is no bad thing at all, you get to play with more portals. Along the way you actually have an ally who talks to you in case you get lonely, the wonderful Wheatley, voiced by Stephen Merchant. I'd grown a bit tired of his voice lately, but he fits this character perfectly, and he was an absolute joy to have around during the game. 

But this isn't just a straight-forward "go through chambers, reach the final one" type affair. There are plenty of twists and turns throughout the game, which lead you into all different parts of the facility, and you'll learn a lot about the history behind everything. It can be a bit slow in places, but I had a blast all the way through.

But what of the puzzles? You've got your usual Portal elements, the turrets and cubes, but there's plenty of new mechanics in the form of different coloured gels, light bridges and floaty vortexy tunnels (excursion funnels apparently). These all give you many more ways to fling yourself around the environment and get where you want to go, and by the time all the elements are introduced they're put together in really fiendish ways, and it may take you a long while to figure out what to do. While the original Portal had to create difficulty by making you launch various portals while you were flying through the air and other such things, the introduction of these new things slows the pace down a bit. But that's no bad thing. The puzzles are original, in some cases challenging, and it wraps up the story in a wonderful little package. 

While I have completed the single player, I've only played the co-op mode for about an hour. From what I can see though, it's basically a set of levels revolved around each different object introduced in the story, but with the puzzles engineered for the use of four portals and teamwork. Could lead to some even more fiendish puzzles, and only time will tell on that front for me. But the commentary you get from your overseer is fittingly funny, and this mode can only serve to add even more hours to the time you've spent on single player, which was probably about eight hours for me.

Portal 2 is a great game. It's really a labour of love to produce a sequel that stays so faithful to the original, and expands upon it in unprecedented ways. All I can hope is that there's a third installment, because I couldn't bear to have cravings for portals for the rest of my life.

My rating: 5/5

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