Back in 2007, Valve released the Orange Box bundle, the featured title of which was the long awaited Half Life 2 Episode 2 and Team Fortress 2. The bundle also included the first Half Life 2, episode 1, and an experimental game called Portal.
Portal was this weird first person platform puzzle game that was developed by a small team of 10 with almost no budget when compared to the other major games that year (BioShock, Halo 3, Call of Duty 4 modern warfare and even Half Life 2 Ep2.) It’s smart blend of clever puzzle solving, a mysterious laboratory and some of the greatest written humor ever seen in a game made it a stand out experience in one of the greatest years of gaming. It was from those humble beginnings and a bad case of Valve Time we finally get Portal 2, but can it meet the impossible expectations it’s fans expect, or just be another test run?
Portal 2 going to be a difficult game to review, not because I have nothing good to say, but because I want to avoid spoiling anything involving the game it’s just that great of a game.
To be honest, I am not even sure where to begin…
Portal 2 takes place right after Portal 1, (If you haven’t played Portal 1, please stop reading now and go play it NOW and come back…) linked with a comic avaliable for free to read on the Portal website. You are awakened by Wheatley, a bumbling personality core who, for reasons later reveled, wakes you up and tries to help you escape Aperture Science. The Labs have fallen in disrepair after the events of Portal 1 and you spend the first part of the game navigating familiar test tracks overran with foliage. Through a mistake, GLaDOS makes a return and promply puts you back through test chambers again while she repairs the lab. It isn’t long before you find yourself in the bottom of old Aperture Science exploring the history of the labs from it’s humble beginnings as a shower curtain manufacture to what it became in modern times. The story is full of twist and turns, characters are brilliant, the dialog is funny and the game ends with another new Jonathan Coulton song. Portal 2’s story and character’s are so well presented, I struggle to describe it because I simply don’t want to ruin the game for anyone.
In the gameplay department, jumping in and out of portals is just as fun as ever. The game adds a bunch of new twist that can be manipulated with portals like light bridges, tractor beams and gels that change the surface properties of whatever it comes in contact. The puzzles are brilliantly design and contain absolutely no filler content, you will no doubt feel like the dumbest genius ever after you clear each challenge. One major change from Portal 1 is that there are no twitch or timing puzzles in the game, all the puzzles in Portal 2 commit to the Braid style of puzzles (challenging to figure out, easy to execute.) This means you will spend more time scratching your head and less time trying to time your portal jumps just right for the 10th time after you have already figured everything out. Some minor tweaks to how traveling between portals works also makes going between portals a less disorienting and a more predictable experience than the first game. All this high quality work and playtesting adds up to make Portal 2 one of the most fluid and well designed games ever made.
The other major addition is Coop, In this separate campaign, you play as newly minted robot partners Atlus and P-Body in the Cooperative Testing Initiative. In Coop, the test are harder, they all require two people to complete, and communication is everything. Fortunately, Valve has put a lot of really smart tools like the ping and timer tool to make telling someone “Put a portal there!” actually mean something (I promise you will be yelling at eachother constantly.) While death means retry in the single player, (after all, you are a squishy human in that game) In Coop, death is just a normal part of a robots life, and players will have to often times put themselves in harms way and trust their partner won’t mess up and get them crushed. In those moment’s when your partner does mess up, the game is still a laugh riot since nothing is really loss and you just pop right back from one of the lab’s many tubes and try again. This great Coop mode doubles the value of the game and would have been worthy to been it’s own release, but Valve saw it fit to bless the world with two great games in one.
To answer my own hypothetical question from the beginning, Yes! Portal 2 not only met my impossible expectations, but exceeded them in every way, becoming one of the most polished and perfectly design video games ever made. If you can’t find something great about this game, you may want to consider a new hobby.
- Smart puzzles and best in industry level design
- It’s still funny as hell
- a Great cast of characters and voice talent
- Strong well developed story
- One of a kind cooperative game is like getting a two games for one
- Some hardcore fans might find the puzzles too easy to solve and execute in the single player
- No Steam support for XBox 360 (though you should probably blame Micorsoft for this one)
- Multiplayer customization is only available on the PC version and most of it cost real money to get… sigh