Note: Reviews for Portal 2 (PC) and Portal 2 (Xbox 360) have been written by different authors from different countries, so their views may differ. Please note that this is an individual review, not a supplement to the PC versions’ review.
Expectation is the silent killer of the gaming industry. Thus the irony that so many sequels are laden with an insurmountable hype they can’t possibly contend with. The original Portal came out of nowhere and was unanimously praised for its unique gameplay and witty script, but the sequel was always going to need to match these same expectations twofold as a result. The amazing thing is that Portal 2 really does match the hype. It was everything we wanted it to be and more. It has a few issues here and there, but no more than every other truly great game we’ve ever had the pleasure of experiencing.
Those who’ve played the original will already have a firm grasp of the basic tenets of Portal 2. For the small gaming minority who’ve been living under a rock since 2007 (shame on you) the game plays out as a first person puzzle title where you need to solve various test chambers by using the Aperture Science Portal gun. The Portal gun fires out two portal that then allow you to pass through them. It’s easier in practice than I make it sound. Now that I’ve catered for the two people who haven’t heard of Portal, on with the review.
The game starts off in much the same way as the original, with Chell waking up in the Aperture Science research facility once more. This time it’s different though, with a small spherical robot chap named Wheatley accompanying you this time. Fear not Glados fans, she does make a return in a central role and is a much more fleshed out character than she was before. In fact, every personality you meet in Portal 2 is incredibly well written. The game has one of the wittiest scripts I’ve heard in some time, and packs many more jokes into a condensed period of time than the original. My only slight issue with the humour is that it isn’t quite as subtle as the often silently barbed sarcasm of Portal 1. However, this is a small price to pay for the unrelenting nature of the gags in Portal 2.
One of the main fears fans had regarding Portal 2, was that it would play too much like its predecessor. This isn’t the case thankfully, for the majority of the game at least. The game still runs on the source engine, so there isn’t a huge amount of variety on that front, but the puzzles have been altered enough from the original to keep you guessing. Additions like light bridges, death beams, the slippery propulsion gel, the bouncy repulsion gel and the portal conducting conversion gel all make the puzzles even grander and more devious than they’ve ever been. The game also sets a brilliant level of challenge with some good brain teasers that never become frustrating. The exit is always in plain sight and the solution is never too far off or obscure. My only criticism is that the new puzzle objects don’t feature particularly heavily in the opening of the game. In fact, following the plot-driven introduction, the first real chunk of gameplay feels exactly the same as Portal 1: Pearly white test chambers, Glados and all. Had this been done later on in the game it could’ve been a nice nostalgic gesture, but being placed so early on it just felt like deja vu. I found the game had no pacing problems after this, but I considered the opening to be a false start in terms of gameplay.
What is the real gem in the crown of Portal 2 is the new co-op mode. Tying in loosely to the single player story, Portal 2’s multiplayer features a completely separate set of challenges requiring twice the brain power, twice the dexterity, and twice as many portals at any one time. The co-op challenges are every bit as well designed as their single player counterparts, often requiring more forward planning and head scratching. Because of this, communication between you and your partner is key. Valve have included several features to help with this information exchange, aside from standard text and voice chat. You can ping objects you want your partner to interact with, or walls where you want them to place their portals and they will be alerted of your needs via their HUD. You can also hold the tab key to look through their eyes at any time to see what they’re focusing on. You can even start various countdowns for some of the timing based challenges you encounter along the way. The co-op is just barrels of fun in every way, and the defining new feature for Portal 2. The only major issue I hold with it is the lack of split-screen (yes, I know I beat this particularly stick a lot, but bare with me.) This probably isn’t the case with the console versions, but the PC version I was provided with offered only online multiplayer. This frustrates me on account of it actually being possible within the game, provided you know of a work around that involves using the command console in game. If it’s easy enough for users to work it out, why haven’t Valve just properly implemented it? I understand controls are a concern, but it’s not exactly tough to plug a USB joypad into your pc. Provided you have a close friend you’re willing to team with close at hand, Portal 2 will provide you with some seriously good co-op times.
Portal 2 does a good job of visually distinguishing itself from its predecessor, despite sharing a common engine. The first thing to notice is the animations, which now seem smoother. The robot characters you encounter move in a more realistic fashion than before, and the Aperture Science centre looks awesome as it decays around you. This same decay is what also defines the style of Portal 2, with a crumbling, desolate facility opposing the clinic sterility of the environments in Portal 1.
The audio too feels like a significant improvement on all fronts. The music is a bit more prominent and, even though it occasionally boarders on sci-fi cliché, it still helps to ramp up some of the game’s more tense sections. Particular note must go to the voice acting. Glados naturally gets a commendation but Stephen Merchant, of Ricky Gervais show fame, as Wheatly is a stroke of comedic genius. It’s also impressive how the voice clips seem to perfectly sync up with what you are doing in game and when you are doing it. It all increases that all important sense of immersion.
Portal 2 has one key Achilles heel however. It is, much like its predecessor a very short game. Quality takes precedence over quantity in Portal 2 with the campaign, as incredibly enjoyable as it is, lasting only around the six hour mark at best. When you throw in the co-op challenges the game is lengthened somewhat, but this is still minimal in comparison to the amount of content we expect from our games nowadays. Though the game’s achievement list deserves credit for its challenge, diversity and sense of humour in spite of this. If you want to get all the achievements on offer, expect Portal 2 to last you a little bit longer. It is all definitely worth noting but, that said, you can’t put a price on quality entertainment; and that’s exactly what Portal 2 is. Sure, the game only last six hours but the memories will last a lifetime.
Portal 2 is a creative and engaging little slice of gaming heaven that can truly appeal to all kinds of people. It is one of the best games I have played all year, and it will probably become one of your favourites soon enough if you give it a chance. If you are concerned about value for money then, by all means wait for a price drop. The moment that price hits a level you’re comfortable with though, make sure you purchase it. Portal 2 is a game that you will not regret playing in any sense of the word.
This game was reviewed on the PC.
Even funnier than the original, Well developed story and characters, Provides background to Aperture Science, Animations are brilliant, Incredible voice acting, The same great gameplay, Puzzles are challenging without being annoying, Co-op is a fantastic and necessary addition
Sometimes too similar to the original, Occasional pacing issues, Less subtle than the first, Some will still feel it's too short, No split-screen co-op on PC
The full featured game we always knew Portal could be, number two offers everything that made its predecessor so unique and much more. Its few mild niggles are made negligible by its unique gameplay and well developed script