Portal 2 Review
Game: Portal 2
Developer: Valve Corporation
Publisher: Valve Corporation
Available on: PC, Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 (Reviewed on Steam and PlayStation 3)
Writing a Portal 2 review is a particularly tricky thing to do. On the one hand, it’s absolutely vital to let everyone know just what this second installment to the IP Valve introduced on The Orange Box (2007) is all about. On the other hand, spoiling any part of the storyline is, in my book, something that should be punished with death. So it’s with great trepidation that we ask you to join us on this journey, to find out if Portal 2 is a worthy successor to the phenomenon that was the original title, or if the tale should have stopped cold as the final words of “Still Alive” played out.
STORY: Portal 2’s storyline does indeed continue after the original Portal, and if you’ve seen any of the pre-release trailers, you’ll know that certain characters make a return. There is a web comic (here) that explains what happened between the two games, but in all honesty, it’d be a tremendous shame to spoil the storyline to Portal 2, and in that regard, it’s the recommendation of GodisaGeek that you experience it for yourself, rather than let us tell you about it.
The one thing that is worth commenting on however, is the fact that Portal 2 is far more story-heavy than its predecessor. Fans or newcomers expecting “more Portal” will (in a story sense anyway) be utterly blown away by what Valve have done with Portal 2. Rich, deep, exciting and surprising, Portal 2 is everything you could ever have wished for in a follow-up to 2007’s Portal, delving far deeper into the history and past of Aperture Science, allowing for a far greater diversity of locations, puzzles and entertaining characters to come to the forefront.
GRAPHICS: While Portal 2 perhaps isn’t as drop-dead gorgeous to look at as Killzone 3 or Crysis 2, the fact is that it just doesn’t have to be. Portal 2 and its environments are all about clean, factory-like visuals, and what has been achieved aesthetically here is pretty nice-looking. When required, the lighting effects and shadowing are as good as anything else out there, and whilst the PlayStation 3 version looks damn fine, the PC (Steam) version is the best-looking version to go for.
Everything just has so much personality to it. Wheatley, a mechanical non-playable orb, has more personality in one digital blink than some main protagonists have in an entire story-arc. Of course, this is in no small part thanks to the writing and voice-acting, but nonetheless, everything you look at feels so alive, so organic, despite its mechanical nature.
AUDIO: Special mention should straight away be given to the soundtrack. Subtle when it needs to be and intrusive (in a good way!) and booming when required, it really is spectacular and feels as much a part of the overall experience as anything else. It’s testament to the quality of the title that even discussing the audio could be deemed “spoilerific”, and as such, it would be unfair to reveal certain elements of the soundtrack. Just be prepared however, as you are in for such a treat when it comes to the music of Portal 2.
All the signature noises you’ve come to expect from a Valve title are present and correct, as are some new ones, but the star of Portal 2 is most definitely the voice-work. Performance-wise, there isn’t a missed beat in the entire experience. As Wheatley, Stephen Merchant provides the voice of probably one of the greatest characters in a game to date, somehow managing to overshadow characters that by rights, should take the spotlight. A testament to quality of the writing and the skills of the actors and actresses involved, when it comes to voice-work, Portal 2 is flawless.
GAMEPLAY: The basic premise of Portal, and thus Portal 2, is that you have a gun that fires two oval portals, enabling you to walk through one, and come out of the other. You’ll use this portal gun to solve all manner of puzzles and get yourself out of tricky situations. Just like in the first title, you will use companion cubes to press buttons and use long falls to create big jumps. Every mechanic from Portal returns in the sequel.
Full credit is due to Valve, because in all honesty they could probably have just re-used these elements, and we’d all still have loved Portal 2, but instead, they decided to create a multitude of new ideas. The creativity on show is simply astonishing, and you’ll find yourself redirecting light-beam bridges and laser beams as well as using gels to change your velocity and create new surfaces for your portal gun to work on. There really is a bounty of riches when it comes to gameplay variety, and this time around the nature of the locations means that the puzzles are often harder, requiring you to think outside of the box and make heavy use of the zoom button.
Just like the first title, there will come moments of mental exhaustion which if you aren’t careful, may pave the way toward frustration. However, just as in the first game, if you take a break and come back another day, you’ll shock yourself at just how simple the solution is and how quickly you solve it and move onto the next.
MULTIPLAYER: Co-op is the order of the day, with cross-platform support for Steam and PlayStation 3 users being integrated in an absolutely seamless manner. Linked to the story mode of Portal 2, the co-op sees you and a friend take control of two robots, each equipped with a portal gun and sent out to complete yet more test chambers. The portal guns have the same properties as they do in the main story, but they are different colours to avoid confusion.
As with most co-op experiences, this is best played with a friend, someone you actually know and can communicate with. This is because if you are playing with someone random, your skill levels might not match and either party could lose patience. The Portal series is one that allows users to take the game at their own pace; some like to survey their surroundings, others to run around trying to solve things in the quickest way possible. Matching the two types of players together in a random encounter is a quick lesson in how two people can frustrate the hell out of one another.
Generally speaking, although you can play the co-op before finishing the main story, completing the story first will give you a new understanding of the co-op characters P-Body and Atlas, both with wonderful personalities that are full of humour. Once you’ve completed the first few test chambers, you will be able to select which area you want to play through via a central hub. The puzzles are slightly more fiendish in co-op, and even if you think you have seen all Portal 2 has to offer, playing with a friend will stretch your mental muscles yet again! You’ll definitely have to use the built-in function to mark areas for your partner, especially if playing with a random online user. The co-op is great fun, includes customisation options for your chosen robot, and with a bit of luck will acquire more test chambers in the future via DLC.
LONGEVITY: The main draw for most will be the single player campaign, which will take roughly 6-9 hours depending on how quickly you solve the puzzles. However, you will almost certainly play through it again, just to experience the characters and the universe it takes place in. There are numerous hidden easter eggs, trophies and achievements that you will get by discovering non-essential parts of the game.
Co-op is also magnificent, giving you a harder challenge. There is even an achievement (or trophy) for playing through the co-op again with someone who hasn’t touched it yet. You won’t find yourself bored with Portal 2 any time soon, even if you have memorised the puzzles when you are playing it for the third time.
VERDICT: Quite simply, Portal 2 is a masterpiece. A lesson to every other developer out there on how to tell a story in a video game whilst executing every gameplay mechanic to perfection. Masterful writing, engaging characters, wonderful music, and so forward-thinking that it even includes cross-platform, cloud-saving play between Steam and the PlayStation 3.
Utterly essential in every way, Portal 2 is going to be in everyone’s game of the year discussion when the time comes, and it damn well deserves every ounce of praise lavished upon it. Buy Portal 2, you deserve it.