So before I dip into the review of Portal 2 here’s an interesting little tidbit. When Valve released the Orange Box, they viewed the inclusion of Portal as a bit of a risk. A game that revolved around shooting a blue portal and an orange portal, a cake, an adorable cube with a heart in the middle, quirky little sentry turrets, and an annoying computer voice would ascend to such great heights. And while an FPS where your only “weapon” is a Portal gun and players solve logic puzzles was certainly unorthodox, that risk turned into quite the success story. The original Portal, originally a concept by students at DigiPen has become part of the Valve family franchises that includes Left 4 Dead, Half-Life and Team Fortress 2. But, it was that kind of unique style of gameplay that set Portal apart and made it the must-play title in the Orange Box compilation that came out in 2007. Be forewarned, there are a few spoilers beyond this point but nothing too crucial to the plot.
People absolutely loved Portal—the humor, the quirkiness, not to mention the Still Alive song at the end of the game’s credits. Valve sold bucketloads of merchandise—including everyone’s favorite (mine included) the stuffed companion cube. Fast-forward 3 and a half years, with massive hype and anticipation comes Portal 2. Luckily for fans, it surpasses the hype and exceeds every expectation that you set for the game. And while the replayability is a little low, the value that players will get from this title with both single player and co-op campaigns more than makes up for it.
Without giving too much away, and trust me you don’t want me to, players once again take control of Chell, who has been in a suspended state for hundreds of years while the Aperture Science facility has turned into ruins including GLaDOS, the insult flinging antagonist from the previous title in the series. One of her personality cores, Wheatley, accidentally awakes GLaDOS and once again, we’re subjected to testing in the Aperture Science testing chambers with our handy dandy—PORTAL GUN!
Testing in the chambers makes for quite the unique experience and I never felt like I was being spoonfed the same process chamber after chamber. Returning are old favorites—turrets, weighted cubes, and you’ll find yourself using your portals to increase your momentum, but the new additions of the flubber-esque blue goo, the orange goo to make Chell move faster, the white goo to create portals on surfaces that you cannot create portals on. Additionally, there are Redirection Cubes that can reflect Thermal Discouragement (aka lasers), and Hard Light Bridges that you can use to transport objects and move across large gaps to enrich the new testing experience in Portal 2. Difficulty wise, it varies—I only found myself getting caught on one or two puzzles, but you’ll figure them out and likely feel rewarded for figuring those out more so than the puzzles you solve in one to two minutes. (Do not, I repeat, do not consult a strategy guide—you’ll be cheating yourself.) Those who felt short-changed by the length of Portal’s single player campaign will be satisfied with the campaign length, which was one of the things that hurt review scores—it took me about 9 (hilarious and challenging) hours to complete with the completion of each achievement taking it to at least 10.
The co-op mode is a welcomed addition and extends the game beyond the single player campaign’s nine hours. I chose to play with a friend in person, although I would imagine the online experience is just as fluid. Players take on the role of one of two testing robots, and in similar fashion to the single player campaign go through various test chambers. Players must work together, using avatars to direct their partner towards objects they should use or where certain portals should be set or they can use gestures (of course voice support is there as well). Working together to solve test chambers is sometimes difficultly hilarious (especially with the person in the room with you) and is a great addition to the Portal series and adds 9 additional hours to the overall package.
Remember how GLaDOS made Portal absolutely hilarious? She’s back again, and with quite the sharp tongue. She delivers hilarious insults, and overall adds some personality to the silent Chell. There are very few games, let alone television shows that make me laugh out loud, but I found myself laughing all through the single player campaign. Portal 2 has a great story, and is extremely well written and entertaining. I was engaged the entire time—story arcs made sense and the various plot twists in the game (both written and visual) were a pleasant and unexpected surprise. Players of Portal will also be satisfied with the references to events in the original game, again both visually and dialogically. The inclusion of Stephen Merchant, former co-host of the Ricky Gervais show as the voice of newcomer Wheatley was skillful casting on the part of Valve and is one of the best voiceacting performances I’ve seen in a video game. While visually the game is nothing to call home about, the things that are there are well done and enhance the game’s overall cinematic presentation.
After beating both the single player and co-op campaign, there isn’t much left to do. Sure, you can go through the game and finish the achievements and trophies, or play through the game again with the developer commentary on (which might I add is quite a treat for Portal fans to really get into the heads of the developers), but if you’ve beaten the puzzles, you’ve beaten the puzzles. A level editor would be a welcomed addition—something ala Little Big Planet where users can share their created content online or, be able to integrate user created puzzles into the single player campaign to provide some variety. Again, a pipe dream, but one that I could see being put into a future title.
With that being said, lack of replayability does not take away from the fact that Portal 2 is not just a great game, it is a contender for game of the year. A rich, satisfying and at times mesmerizing experience, you’ll feel a sense of accomplishment as you defeat those painstakingly difficult puzzles and you’ll laugh as GLaDOS tries to intimidate you from completing them. The story is captivating—and contains some of the best voice acting and writing in a video game to date. All of these elements makes Portal 2 beyond fun, some kind of different word that only the writers of the game could come up with, because whatever type of satisfyingly exciting experience this is, it is pure, unadulterated video game genius.
REVIEW SCORE: 9.5/10