Archive for June 1, 2011

Portal 2 Review

Posted: June 1, 2011 in Review
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Portal 2 Review

The original Portal raised the bar for puzzle games. Lasting just four hours, it introduced players to the mind-boggling concept of portal guns that create magic wormholes, as well as encouraging creative thinkers to try and break the rules.

Now Valve are back for a second go at breaking the brains of their players and the original game’s beautiful design is more or less left completely untouched. You’re still challenged to find a way from A to B, except now the number of variables has increased. Alongside un-portalable surfaces and weighted switches are new puzzles like laser beams, reflective boxes, gravity tubes and a variety of surface-altering gels that all need to be manipulated into serving your purpose.

Those who grasped the concept of portals quickly the first time around will be able to blast through the first half of the game with little difficulty, but the game’s gentle learning curve is deceptive, sneaking in some real head-scratchers amongst the simpler puzzles, often tricking you into over-complicating your thinking.

But the best part of Portal 2 is not the ingenious puzzles or the incredible mental gymnastics that solving them requires you to go through. No, the best part of Portal 2 is the sense of joy. Literally everything in this game is designed to have its players pumping their fists in the air, or howling with laughter, or both. Incredible set-pieces crop up with an intense regularity – be it seeing part of the facility collapse or watching the lab get built up around you as you walk through it – and the script is perhaps the best one ever written for a game.

Naturally, GLaDOS’s hilariously biting sarcasm makes a welcome return, but it’s Stephen Merchant who really steals the show as incompetent robot sidekick Wheatley. Whether it’s shouting unhelpful advice or rambling off on a tangent about birds, Merchant’s hysterical dialogue will act as a kind of magnet, pulling you on through the rest of the game if only to hear what he says next. Considering that there are only three voices to be heard throughout the entire single player campaign, the script is nothing short of a triumph.

While the dialogue is outstanding, it wouldn’t be half as entertaining if the core game wasn’t so good. The great thing about Portal 2 is that you’re never penalised for going at your own speed. You’re presented with a room and the exit. How you get there is completely up to you and the longer it takes to figure it out, the more satisfying the payoff.

On top of the excellent single player is an equally gripping co-op campaign. However, this does suffer slightly in that you need a partner of equal skill, otherwise it can become frustrating.

Portal 2 manages the impossible – by taking a damn-near perfect game and making it damn-near perfect in an all-new way. More than just a worthy sequel, Portal 2 is easily one of gaming’s greatest achievements. Consider the bar well and truly raised… again.

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