Review: Portal 2

You wake up in that familiar room once again, requested to do your exercises to ensure that you are in top condition. The room is inside the Aperture Science labs, deep underground. You are a test subject, but have not been awoken in years. However many years, you are unsure. This time, however, the room is a mess. The lights are out, and everything is everywhere. Someone knocks on your door. An unfamiliar voice.

It turns out to be an AI named Wheatley, who tries to help you escape. After making your way passed what remains of your enemy, GLaDOS, you accompany Wheatley down stairs to try and open up an exit. He activates her. GLaDOS awakens, and she is angry. But it’s okay. She’s going to put everything behind her, for science. You monster.

Chell and GLaDOS return in Portal 2, and GLaDOS is more antagonistic than ever. Every trial is also an attempt to kill you, but you have no choice but to move forward. Portal 2 is the sequel to Portal, a popular and famous game for its quirky, humour and unique puzzle mechanic. Unfortunately, the original was practically just a tech demo. Portal 2 is an attempt to make the title a truly complete game, and what it accomplishes is nothing short.

Publisher: Valve
Developers: Valve
Release Date: 21st April 2011
Rated: 12 (PEGI)
Platforms:  PlayStation 3 (Reviewed), Xbox 360, Windows, OSX

Upon my initial play through of Portal 2, I was instantly stunned by the incredibly structured narrative. For a sequel to a title that completely lacked it, Portal 2 is particularly impressive. Whilst the story is still essentially just Chell being put through scientific tests (for an unknown purpose) and trying to escape, the execution is incredible.

The humour is more frequent, and a lot more funny. Portal’s sense of humour can be hit-or-miss, as I know people that also severely dislike it. That being said, the numbers of people that dislike it are far and few between, but it seems to me that you either love the game’s sense of humour … or loathe it.

Not a single line of dialogue in the game is wasted, either used for the humour or for character development. The characters themselves are very strong. Chell is still rather mute and bland, but GLaDOS is still absolutely rich in personality. Accompanying the cast of the previous title is Wheatley, voiced by Stephen Merchant, who does an incredible job as the little personality core. Both GLaDOS and Wheatley have their own arcs, as well as the initial act of the game serving as to establish the characters.

Despite being AI, these characters grow and progress through-out the game as they experience situations beyond their purpose or expectations. I don’t want to spoil anything, but both characters feel very real, unique, and are, simply, just very strong characters. It is very rare to be confronted with such incredibly strong characters within a video game, with such real development.

The game is split into three acts. The first act serves as a re-establishment of the cast and setting, as well as the introduction to new characters. The second act develops the relationship between Chell and GLaDOS, GLaDOS herself, and gives closure on Aperture Science’s wacky history. The third, and final, act covers the end of Wheatley’s development, while concluding the story for both titles.

While the second act is possibly the strongest narratively, it is also the weakest for gameplay. The game has a rather repetitive formula, with Chell entering a room, successfully solving the puzzle, and then taking the elevator to the next room. The game avoids making this boring by changing things up frequently, but upon entering the second act the different trials of the game become longer and more tedious.

Each particular series of chambers focus on a specific mechanic. Upon beating these chambers, the player is tasked with solving puzzles with another mechanic. Some examples are beams of light that one can walk on (called Hard Light Surfaces), firing lasers into the appropriate place or an Excursion Funnel that beams you in one direction. Meanwhile, the second act involves the use of three different kind of gels (jumping properties, momentum increasing properties, and “stick-Portal-anywhere” properties). These gels can make the gameplay very fun, but feel very misplaced as the main focus of a test. As this also feels like the longest section, it becomes to get tedious nearer to the end of the act.

The game also features a wider variety of environments than the previous title. The facility begins in ruin and slowly gets fixed back to the clinical appearance of the original, but then things are changed as the player is forced into the underground section. The player also gets to explore more of the facility outside of the chambers as well. Graphically, the game looks better than the first too, despite using the same engine. It looks great and plays great.

Portal 2 is also an audible improvement upon the previous title. The voice acting is just as good, if not better, and the soundtrack is even more memorable. I actually spent time within one puzzle trying to stay on the red gel (for momentum) simply for the track that plays as you speed up. As per the previous title, Portal 2 also sports a humorous ending track. The track, titled “Want You Gone”, isn’t quite as quotable as the previous “Still Alive”, but it sounds and plays better.

Wheatley, voiced by Stephen Merchant, is a loveable moron new to the franchise.
With a lifespan of five to seven hours on the campaign alone, Portal 2 lasts long enough for a standard first-person campaign run; however, it also comes accompanied with a co-op mode with its own unique story and humour. Co-op stems over five different courses, each with a purpose. The co-op also contains some funny gestures for the two protagonists: P-body and Atlus (both robots). While it is about as strong, narratively, as the previous title, it makes up for this by having the more complex and challenging puzzles of the game. The standard lifespan for the co-op mode is about four hours.

Furthermore, Valve plan to continue to release new updates and maps for the game to enhance replayability even more. As an added bonus, players on the PS3 or PC edition are able to play with each other online thanks to Steam crossing over with PSN.

While Portal 2 isn’t as groundbreaking as the original, it is everything that the original should have been. It is a complete package and an unforgettable experience. The game deserves a retail purchase from anyone. This title is a great addition to anyone’s library and highly recommended; however, it is not for those who dislike  the concept of physics-based puzzles (perhaps due to the complexity involved) or for those who dislike the humour, as it would become frustrating.

As such, Portal 2 earns a solid 9/10. It’s an amazing title that should not be missed. It has been refined and polished so neatly, and is absolutely unforgettable. A brilliant experience to be had by all.