Games Review: Portal 2

In 2007, many gamers waited with anticipation for The Orange Box release from Valve, which would not only contain the long overdue Half-Life 2: Episode 2, but also the even more overdue Team Fortress 2. And great as both those games were, it was the third game in the box that ended up being the real star – a short, nearly perfectly paced first person puzzle game, called Portal. It spawned a loyal following, internet memes galore and left most people who played it panting for more.

Four years later, there is more.

I don’t want to spoil anything. Much of the joy of Portal 2 is in the discovery, both those golden moments of “aha!” and the darkly comic plot that comes with it, and so you’ll have to forgive me if I remain a little light on the details of where the game goes. Suffice it to say, it goes to places – it had to really, as rather than being a “pack-in” to another game it stands on its own, and that, I think, was the biggest challenge it had to overcome.

Portal was very short – a game that never overstayed its welcome, sat at a near-perfect length, and making a game over twice that length, but adding a separate co-op campaign, ran a lot of risk of repetition. You wouldn’t think it, though, playing Portal 2, as you change locations, scenery, and companionship throughout. Much of this is due to the new puzzle elements thrown into the game – before you had your portals, and a handful of environmental hazards, but now you have plates that fling you up in the air, light-bridges, tractor beams and “paintable” gels, all of which interact with each other, and you, and your portals in new and interesting ways. The game rarely throws too many of these at you at once, but it’s a huge amount of variety to play with.

The other big change, gameplay wise, is that there is less “twitch” in the puzzle solving. Several Puzzles in Portal had you firing multiple, midair chains of portals and there is practically nothing of that in its sequel, which prefers to let you painstakingly setup your environment with the tools at your disposal and then throw yourself, fingers crossed into the vast gulfs that separate many of the levels. And it’s always there with a sarcastic quip when you get it wrong.

And gosh is it funny. It was a surprise actually – I mean, Portal was funny, but it only had two characters, one of which never spoke. Here we have several more, and a lot of dialogue, mostly cued around the start and end of levels to let you puzzle in peace. There is even a story, some investigations into the background of Aperture Laboratories, and a number of surprising secrets revealed. But I can’t say too much. Spoilers.

The other big addition to the game is the co-op campaign. Here you and a friend tackle a custom-built series of courses with a portal gun each. Yes, that is four portals, and more importantly, two brains, meaning the courses are trickier, and require a bit more thought to get through. They are fiercely co-op, too. Most co-op games are pretty much about you playing side-by-side, but Portal 2 requires you to work together, constantly, to resolve the rooms and keep moving forward. Valve grants you a bunch of cute little emotes, too, plus a more practical “pinging” tool to indicate where you want your partner to drop the damn portal there, no, not that one, that one. There!  Definately play with a friend, but make sure it’s a good one who isn’t easily offended when you drop them in a pool of acid. Again.

I can’t think of much more to say, really. Or rather, I can – there’s loads that I want to say, but shouldn’t. Portal 2 is a great example of a developer making a game that it wants to make – there is little relation in it to most of the trends on modern games – and it’s a wonderful, whimsical, darkly humorous title that is completely its own thing. Its available on PC, PS3 and Xbox360, and I see no real excuse for anyone interested in gaming not to rush out and buy it.

GS Reviewer: Matt

Score: 5/5

More from the world of Geek Syndicate

One comment

  1. doki-chan /

    Imagine one’s surprise when, on looking about to see where the new exit is, to find oneself flying through the air and up onto a ledge.

    I will just add to the above: it’s slightly less “twitchy” than the first game (less on-the-fly manoeuvres, more set up all the dominoes instead), and the co-op is slightly more tricksy to compensate for the “two heads are better than one” scenario. Plus the “tab to see your partner’s viewpoint” is useful (although I find that a smidge harder as I have tiny fingers…)

    Wife of Grampus, signing off…. (and clip him round the ear – depending on the puzzle and our style of thinking, it wasn’t _me_ that had to be guided by him _all_ the time… 😛 )

%d bloggers like this: