Although I generally leave the reviews to my friend Pete at The Perpetual Bacon Machine (link: http://www.perpetualbaconmachine.blogspot.com/), I have spent a ridiculous number of hours this week playing Portal 2. As such, I think it would be remiss of me to devote so much time to a video game without letting others know if they should do likewise. Thus, I present to you my review of Portal 2.
It’s been four years since the original Portal. Or four hundred, if you’re going by the game’s timeline. And now, for the first time since Half-Life 2, six and a half years ago, Valve has released another full-length single-player game. Was it worth the wait?
GLaDOS is still alive, which should come as no surprise, and she’s more psychotic than ever. She begins to run you through a new regimen of portal-based tests as she rebuilds the Aperture Science facility, which has been broken down with age and overrun with vegetation. As silent protagonist Chell, you must do your best to stay alive from room to room, trying to make your escape.
Portal 2 introduces several new gameplay elements: bridges made of solid light, “aerial faith plates” that fling you halfway across the room, and gels that allow you to bounce off surfaces or run at incredible speeds. The game also shows you much more of Aperture Science, which is much more immense than the original game would suggest, extending for miles in every direction, including straight down.
Now let’s analyze the game on some specific attributes:
The single-player campaign for Portal 2 is roughly 3-4 times the length of the original Portal. My playthrough lasted somewhere between 10 and 12 hours (over the course of two days). You can easily play through faster than that, but you will miss many hilarious snippets of dialogue and hidden Easter eggs in the game. Portal 2 also includes a co-op campaign, with fifty all-new levels depending on two-player portaling and strategizing.
Portal 2 may be the scariest E-rated video game I have ever played. GLaDOS is more twisted than ever, possibly a result of removing her morality core in the first game. The game is downright dark at times, full of murderous threats and haunting recordings from Aperture’s history. But it is also hilarious, one of the funniest games of all time. Additional characters, computerized and recorded, give this game more distinct voices and styles of humor than the original. The story is well-handled, and the writers hand out new information patiently, sometimes letting you fill in the blanks yourself. The game twists and turns itself on its head, and has a climax that could have been ripped right out of a movie.
Where the original Portal’s level-design was clinically white and, at times, a bit monotonous, Portal 2’s levels are full of variety and beauty. The game designers have imbued the Aperture facility with character, so that even the walls sometimes seem to be trying to escape from GLaDOS’ control. Dilapidated and unfinished test chambers contribute to a sense of unease, and the cavernous, sprawling underworld of Aperture is reminiscent of Half-Life 2’s dystopic world.
The new technologies added to this game give more diversity to the puzzle-solving…which is good. After the first game, there is only so much to learn about how the portals work. New elements are added one at a time, keeping the gameplay fresh without overwhelming the gamer.
And now for some minor disappointments:
No Advanced Chambers/Challenges
I would have liked to see some additional features like the Advanced Chambers or Challenge courses that were included in the original Portal. The co-op courses require more thinking, but even these are not as tricky as the original game’s extras. However, knowing Valve’s fondness for updates and DLC, we may see some more challenging map packs in the future.
No Need for Quick Thinking
The original Portal was primarily made for the PC, but as Portal 2 is being made with console gamers in mind, certain concessions had to be made to make up for their *ahem* handicaps. As such, gone is virtually every reaction-based puzzle. There are almost no timed tasks, mid-air portal placements, or REACT OR DIE moments in the game. This reduces the feeling of danger present in the original, as virtually every puzzle can be solved by planning and pre-placing portals, with little or no risk of plunging into corrosive acid or bottomless pits. Again, some more quick-thinking puzzles could be released by Valve in updates at a later date.
Sorry, Valve Fanboys, No Tie-In with Half-Life
Despite the hints and allegations, there is no tie-in to the Half-Life world, aside from occasional references to Black Mesa as Aperture’s primary competitor. Nor has there yet been an announcement of an upcoming Half-Life 2: Episode 3, which many were hoping for. Still, after the Orange Box, that’s not so much a complaint as a way of life.
The original Portal was an innovative surprise that revolutionized video games: a shooter without bullets that changed our perceptions of motion and physics. Portal 2…is not revolutionary. It is a better game than the original Portal; it is larger, more emotionally engaging, has a better story, better graphics, better environments, more characters, more gameplay elements, co-op levels, potatoes, and more. But it does not, and frankly cannot create the same paradigm shift that the original did. And that’s okay.
Remember that the title ends with a 2, and all that that entails. Portal 2 is a refinement, an expansion, an improvement…but it is still a sequel. However, that doesn’t stop it from being one of the best games I’ve ever played. At $40 (hooray, pre-order bonuses), this is the most I have ever paid for a video game…and I don’t regret it at all. See you on the other side…