Review by theBEAST137
"Valve's masterful sequel to its already incredible predecessor is among the greatest games of this generation."
The original Portal was first released in late 2007 as part of the Orange Box collection, and it took the gaming community by storm. With inventive puzzles, hilarious dialog, and a song that stole gamers' hearts, its no wonder why it won numerous game of the year awards. Now, Valve is releasing Portal 2, a direct sequel to the 2007 hit. Boasting better graphics, a much longer single-player and an added co-op mode, the question on many gamers' minds is this: Can Portal 2 live up to the high expectations set in place by its predecessor? The answer to this question is yes; Portal 2 lives up to its predecessor and succeeds it in every way possible.
The original Portal didn't have much of a plot: you played a character named Chell who is a test subject for Aperature Science who was trying to escape from not only Aperature, but also from the menacing artificial intelligence named GLaDOS. At the end of Portal 1, you defeat GLaDOS and get sent to the surface. However, with an extended ending of the PC version of the Portal, Chell is dragged back to Aperature Labratories by a retrieval robot, and this is where Portal 2 begins.
At the beginning of Portal 2, you [Chell] are awakened in a long-term relaxation chamber in Aperature Science by a little hilarious, British personality sphere named Wheatley. Wheatley's goal is to help you escape, however you soon find out that GLaDOS is still very much alive, and she is fairly pissed that you killed her years before. What follows is a wonderful series of twists and turns that involve hilarious characters, mindbending puzzles, and all the companion cubes one could want.
I won't ruin the story because the story is actually a surprisingly great element of Portal 2. Valve made the incredible Half Life 2, so its no wonder that storytelling comes as second nature. It is surprising, however, to see where they take the story as it relates to the Portal universe, as the original Portal was something I could not see them making a decent story out of. Thankfully, they succeed with flying colors, resulting in an ending that made me both sad and happy at the same time, both in the best way possible. They even through a little bit of satire to the player that if you catch it, will definitely make you laugh, just as the hilarious dialogue throughout will. You will definitely want to see this story through to the end. There is also another Jonathan Coulton song in the ending credits, much like the brilliant Still Alive from the original Portal. While Portal 2's song isn't as great as Still Alive, it is still funny, and brings a great and satisfying conclusion to the single player mode.
Also in Portal 2 is the cooperative campaign, which is a 5-7 hour campaign that takes place after the events of Portal 2's single player campaign. While it would be beneficial to play the single player first, there are no direct references to it from a story standpoint. Speaking of story, while Valve did promise a separate story for this mode, the bulk of the story occurs at the end, and even then it is relatively shallow. However, it does do a good job at explaining why you are there and what you are doing, and the puzzles that are included are a blast to solve.
What really shines in the Portal series is the puzzle gameplay brought by the usage of the portal gun, and it is back and better than ever. For anybody who hasn't played the original Portal, you carry with you a portal gun which allows you to shoot two separate portals in the environment. If you go through one of these portals, you are transported to the other portal, and vice versa. Through use of physics, buttons, platforms, and other elements, you must solve a series of puzzles that will ultimately result in going through a door and moving onto the next one. Each puzzle you solve is greatly satisfying, making going to the next puzzle all the more enticing. Not only that, but each new element that is brought in is very fun and rewarding, especially the repulsion gel, which when it is on the ground below you, makes you jump super high. There was not a single element that was brought in that I thought was not fun in any way. The levels in which multiple elements are brought together make for some incredibly satisfying results, and will make you want to play just one more, and one more, and one more until the game is over.
While there are still tests in Portal 2, much of the game takes place in environments outside of the testing realm. As you got a glimpse of Aperature outside of the tests in Portal 1, in Portal 2, you see just how huge in scope Aperature Labratories is. You will definitely be using the new zoom in the game, because many of the portals you will have to shoot will be very far away. It is quite impressive, and the puzzle elements inside of these levels are just as good as the ones inside of the tests.
While the puzzles are great in and of themselves, what really makes them shine is the absolutely superb pacing of the game. Each puzzle feels like it should be right after the previous one in terms of difficulty, and no one puzzle feels like it is too difficult to solve with the knowledge at hand. Of course, you will be stuck on some, as I was with a few puzzles, but the answer is always there on the screen; there will never be an instance where the game will feel cheap in any way. All of this is due to the incredible level of play testing Valve does with their games, which makes their pacing and overall development stand way out in front of most developers out there. You can even catch a glimpse of some of their development problems through the Developers' Commentary mode that accompany's all of Valve's games. Essentially, you can go through each level of both the single player and the cooperative campaign, and along the way will be little audio commentaries that you can choose to listen to or not. Each one of these is actually very intriguing to hear from, and it definitely adds replay value if that is the sort of thing you might be interested in.
What is so incredible is how well Valve was able to transfer the top-notch puzzle gameplay so that two people can play. The cooperative puzzles in this game are outstanding. Each and every one is mindbending in its own way, however never in a cheap way. Not only that, but the puzzles definitely require a lot of communication and teamwork to finish. Without both, it will take a long time. This is by no means a bad thing, however, because the design in the levels makes it so that when you two do find out the solution, you will be greatly satisfied. Every single puzzle in the 5-7 hour cooperative campaign is incredible fun, and, like the single-player, perfectly paced. To not play this cooperative mode would be like not playing an integral part of the game.
The sound in Portal 2 is top notch; it is absolutely incredible. The techno style music that sometimes plays in intense levels sets the mood very well, and is always played in the rights spots, never where it may feel like it is tacked on. Even the smooth jazz and classical music that is played for comedic effect is timed perfectly and is actually pretty good music.
What really shines in Portal 2's sound department is the phenomenal voice acting and writing of the game. This game is hands down the funniest game I have ever played. The dialogue is written incredibly well, and is delivered perfectly both in timing, and in the quality of the voice actors themselves. Ellen McLain returns as the voice of GLaDOS, and her bluntness of the recited lines makes for some of the type of great dialogue that players loved from the original Portal. Joining the Portal 2 crew this time around, however, is Stephen Merchant as Wheatley and J.K. Simmons as Cave Johnson. Both of these actors do an absolutely incredible job in portraying their characters, and each of them deliver hilarious dialogue that had me laughing out loud the entire game. Stephen Merchant especially did an incredible job at bringing an amazing personality to Wheatley, making him a character that you will absolutely love when he speaks throughout the entire game.
Valve continues to use their in-house engine Source, which began with Half Life 2 back in 2004, continued with the Left 4 Dead series, and is being used with Portal 2. Despite the numerous updates to the engine, it is definitely showing its age when comparing it to such engines as Cryengine 3 and Unreal Engine 3. However, what Valve has been able to do with this engine in this game is remarkable. Environments look as beaten up as they should, the plants that you will see growing on the walls look great, and the lighting is superb. The textures look great, especially on the PC version, and the game follows its art style well. Even the scope that the engine is able to produce is enough to make some jaws drop to the ground.
What really shines with this engine, however, is the physics that it is able to reproduce. Everything moves like you would think, especially in the opening cutscene, and everything is perfectly consistent throughout.
All this being said, Portal 2 is definitely not the best looking game out on the market, however it certainly is not the worst at all. Frequent loading screens do damper the experience a little bit, but never so much that it will damper the game as a whole. It does its job and it does it well, and it amazes me to see how well the Source engine has grown and how well it has aged in the past six or seven years.
The length of Portal 2 might be a shortcoming to some, but I think that it is absolutely spot-on as to where it has to be. The campaign took me eight hours, but it never feels like it overstays its welcome, which is a surprise given the two hour length of the original Portal. Also included is a cooperative campaign which took me roughly five hours to complete, however I can easily see myself playing with different people and seeing how well they can adapt to the game. Also included is the Developers Commentary, which I talked about briefly earlier. If you are interested in this mode, it can entice you to play through again and hear the developer's side of the story.
What is also included in the PC version right now, not yet in the PS3 nor the 360 version is the Robot Enrichment section. Much like Team Fortress 2, what this section is used for is to buy clothes, hats, and new skins for your cooperative players. While many people are getting up in arms about this, I personally don't mind it, certainly not as much as I mind it in Team Fortress 2. In TF2, since it is competitive, you might be able to have a slight edge if you get a certain item that helps you out more. In Portal 2, however, since there is no competitive mode, nobody will ever have an edge over another because they bought a visual upgrader to their own character. What also makes me okay with this is Valve's commitment to bringing free DLC to PC gamers, and from what I know, PS3 gamers as well (not sure about 360 at the time of this writing). Valve needs to make money somehow, and if gamers will buy the clothes, let them. It will only bring more amazing products out of Valve's game development side. Add DLC onto user-created maps which so densely populated much of Portal 1's appeal on the PC, and you have a game that can make it last as long as you want it to last, assuming you like the puzzle gameplay.
Overall, Portal 2 is a fantastic game, and easily the best game of 2011 so far. The story mode is perfectly paced, full of mindbendingly awesome puzzles, and filled to the bone with hilarious dialogue that will have you laughing out loud. Add this onto a cooperative campaign that is great, DLC that is sure to be great, amazing voice acting, and a commitment from Valve to make the game as good as its potential can make it, and you have a brilliant game that will make many all-time great games lists. Aside from the somewhat frequent loading screens, the only thing I didn't like about this game is that its single-player mode, full of hilarity and epic puzzles, ended. This is definitely a game that every gamer, whether it be on 360, PS3, or PC (although the PC version is definitely superior) should pick up.
(not an average score)
Reviewer's Rating: 5.0 - Flawless
Originally Posted: 04/27/11
Game Release: Portal 2 (US, 04/19/11)
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