Review: Portal 2
Bam! Easy review; cash in the bank. Moving on now…
(No. Do the review. –Ed.)
Ok ok, fine!
Portal 2 is the sequel to Valve’s 2007 hit Portal which came as part of The Orange Box bundle which I’m fairly sure most people initially purchased for either Team Fortress 2 or Half-Life 2: Episode 2. Portal was a pleasant little puzzle game that placed players in the fall cushioning springy shoes of Chell, a jumpsuited gal who has found herself trapped within the massive and dangerous halls of Aperture Science Labs. Egged on by the insane AI GLaDOS (who comes across as Hal’s snarky little sister), Chell was forced to endure an insane obstacle course of physics puzzles that were solvable only with the assistance of a quantum tunneling device known as the Portal Gun.
By firing the Portal Gun at walls, players could create physical portals between distant points which acted as physics defying wormholes. The momentum of objects passing remained as they passed through portals, allowing Chell to fall a great distance into one portal, and then be fired out of its counterpart at the same speed. The game was somewhat short, though it included Advanced Chambers. These challenging maps could be played apart from the game’s main campaign and they helped flesh out the gameplay some. The game performed well, selling around four million copies before it went up for sale on Steam. Portal’s story ended with Chell apparently destroying GLaDOS and escaping to the surface, only to be dragged away by an unknown assailant. Aperture Science is a massive underground facility akin to the Cube labyrinth from the Cube movies.
Portal 2 has Chell awakening after hundreds of years trapped in an Aperture Science stasis chamber, only to find that facility has fallen to ruin with plants growing throughout the facility. Guided by Wheatley, a somewhat klutzy personality core (eye-shaped computer) voiced by British comedian Stephen Merchant, Chell seeks to escape the ruins of Aperture Science, and in the process GLaDOS is accidentally resurrected. At that point, hilarity ensues. Portal gave players nineteen puzzle rooms to work through as well as a lot of maintenance tunnels filled with dangerous industrial equipment. While fun, it was also unfortunately short. Portal 2 fixes that by providing a much longer experience. The single player campaign takes Chell through four versions of Aperture Science and brings her in contact with Portal 2’s biggest new addition, gel. Introduced as a failed experiment, these liquids drastically alter the game world by changing the nature of any surface they’re sprayed across. Blue Repulsion Gel acts like Flubber, allowing Chell to bounce violently across it, red Propulsion Gel speeds her movement up, shooting her across the level, and white Conversion Gel allows portals to be placed on any surface it covers.
Portal 2 also introduces Cave Johnson, the eccentric billionaire, science advocate, and founder of Aperture Science. With a personality that’s a cross between Steven Colbert and Dr. Benton Quest (the dad in Johnny Quest) Cave’s interaction with Chell is mainly in the form of ancient prerecorded messages that play throughout the certain levels of the game (much like GLaDOS’s interactions with Chell). Like GLaDOS, most of Cave’s lines are both disturbing and hilarious, with many of them either displaying Cave’s utter lack of scientific understanding, or telling the tragic story of Aperture’s rise and fall. While the writing is great, what really brings Cave to life and makes the long dead inventor a winner is the voice of J. K. Simmons. While you may remember J. K. Simmons from shows like Law & Order and Oz, he also played J. Jonah Jameson in the Spiderman movies. Early rumors had Cave actually replacing GLaDOS as Portal 2’s main omnipresent voice in charge of egging Chell on. Having played Portal 2, I actually think I would have preferred it that way. While I would have missed the entertainment value of GLaDOS’s return, I can honestly see J. K. Simmons carrying an entire game all on his own.
Normally, I hate co-op gameplay. Aside from a few exceptions, I normally see any sort of multiplayer mode as a waste of precious developer resources that would have been better spent on either refining the core game, or providing more single player levels. However, Portal 2 is one of those rare cases where I have to admit that I was wrong. In addition to the single player campaign, Portal 2 also comes with a rather addictive co-op mode that places players in control of Atlas and P-body, a pair of robot test subjects.
Rather than have players fighting each other deathmatch style, Portal 2’s co-op mode makes players work together to complete some of the hardest puzzles in the game. Part of what makes these rooms so damned difficult to complete is the fact that even with voice chat turned on (which is built into the game) it’s damned near impossible to describe the solution to a complex physics puzzle to another person without the aid of a dry erase board. To ease this burden, the developers provided players with incredibly handy flags. With the tap of a button, you can mark spots in the game world, or set count down timers. These allow you to, once completely frustrated with your friend’s utter idiocy and failure to understand what you mean by “place one portal on the widdershins side of the rotating platform and then shoot that hanging thing as you fall”, simply mark the spots where you think the portals should go. I was disappointed that I could not choose which robot I got to play as (its random each time you start a co-op game), but I was thrilled by the fact that the game saves your progress every time you complete a room. That way, rather than being forced to replay through all 5 co-op courses every time, you can quickly log on and play a room or two with a friend after you get home from work before life’s other demands require your attention.
There has been a bit of fan anger regarding the co-op mode though. By completing certain achievements, players can unlock hats, skins, and flags with which to adorn their little robot avatars, much like in Team Fortress 2. What has pissed some gamers off is that these embellishments are ridiculously expensive with the entire set costing $85.64 (though it’s only $34.99 at the moment). New skins generally run at $4.99 each, hats at $2.49, flags at only $0.99, and a pair of safety glasses which will run you $7.49. I would like to point out that REAL safety glasses can be bought for almost half that price. As these items really don’t have any effect on the game, I can’t help find myself not giving a damn about the backlash over their existence. What does annoy me though, is that you can also purchase new gestures (interactions your robot does to show off, like high fives and waving) in the game’s store for about $1.99 each.
At $49.99 in the Steam store, some buyers might feel a bit gypped as the game is somewhat short. Then again, the original Portal currently costs about $9.99 on Steam, and I can easily see Portal 2 having at least 4 times the amount of content as Portal had. So all in all, I don’t exactly feel cheated. Portal 2’s available on PC, PS3 and Xbox 360, so no worries there. However, PC and PS3 owners are in for a treat as Portal 2 is the first game to use the new PS3 Steam software. This means PS3 and PC owners get cross-platform matchmaking, gameplay, chat and achievements/trophies.
Portal 2 is a damned fine game and it’s nonviolent, challenging and addictive gameplay should appeal to the majority of gamers. There’s currently not a demo, but for ten bucks you can probably pick up a copy of Portal from somewhere and that would essentially serve the same purpose while providing you with a great game at the same time. That aside, my advice is that if you haven’t already, you should go out and Buy It.