Review by Crono09

Reviewed: 02/13/12

An excellent sequel that gives you everything you expect out of Portal

Every now and then, gamers come across a sleeper hit. A game is released that no one expected to be big, but it becomes a surprise success that floods the video game industry. That’s what Portal was when Valve released it several years ago. It took a first-person shooter and turned it into a puzzle game (does this make it a first-person puzzler?). This left the inevitable sequel with huge shoes to fill with fears that it would either trample on the original concept or carbon copy it. Fortunately, Portal 2 defied these expectations by showing that an overly hyped sequel actually can exceed its expectations.

The game takes place an unspecified amount of time after the original with Chell (the protagonist of both games) having been preserved in an Extended Relaxation Center. She is awakened by Wheatley, a rather neurotic and dense personality core in Aperture Science. He frees her from her cell to help her escape the deteriorating facility. In the process of doing so, the duo accidentally revives GLaDOS, the artificial intelligence that Chell defeated in the first game. GLaDOS puts Chell through a new series of test chambers involving the Handheld Portal Device (or portal gun) as Chell must now find another way to defeat her nemesis and escape from the facility. However, there’s a lot more to Aperture Science than Chell knows, and she may have inadvertently created a threat bigger than GLaDOS.

The core mechanics of Portal 2 are the same as its predecessor, and it makes use of a similar physics engine. Early in the game, Chell obtains the portal gun, which can be used to create two portals. Going through one portal will allow you to come out the other, regardless of where that portal is located. Objects and energy beams can also be sent through portals. Some of the more difficult parts of the game involve figuring out the physics involved with the portals, particularly those on the floor or ceilings. For example, you can fall into a portal on the floor to project Chell out of a portal on a wall at high speeds.

Some of the basic test chamber features from the first game have returned. For example, most test chambers require Chell to place a Weighted Storage Cube on a floor button. However, many new mechanics have also been added so that you don’t feel like you’re just revisiting elements from before. Thermal Discouragement Beams are red lasers that must hit a receptacle to trigger an effect. While similar to the High Energy Pellets of the first game, they have the advantage of being able to be redirected through certain types of cubes. Some of my favorite mechanics are Hard Light Bridges (which are essentially surfaces that can be redirected through portals) and Excursion Funnels (which slowly send objects along a particular path). It seems that as soon as you get bored with one mechanic, the game introduces another one or combines them into a new type of puzzle.

Probably the most significant new game mechanic is the various gels that Chell will come across. There are three types of these, and they come into effect about halfway through the game. Most surfaces can be coated in a gel to cause it to have a certain effect. A surface covered in Repulsion Gel will cause you to forcefully bounce off of it. Propulsion Gel will cause Chell to move much faster when she runs on it, allowing her to jump farther. Conversion Gel will allow any surface it covers to be conductive to portals so that you can portal to places that you couldn’t before. I found the gel chambers to be the hardest ones to finish, and they represented the biggest challenges of the game.

The story is divided up into nine chapters and is about three times longer than the original game. This gives more opportunity to develop the story. The story of the first game was amazing in its simplicity. When it came down to it, all you did was complete test chambers while finding hints of GLaDOS’s sinister motives, which culminated into your attempt to find and destroy her. An easy mistake that Portal 2 could have made would have been to have a similar story and try to sell the game based on the setting, a mistake done by BioShock 2. Instead of replicating the Aperture Science that you’ve already seen, the game focuses more on the story and interaction among the characters. Wheatley steals the show in most of his appearances, and the tension between Chell and GLaDOS keeps getting thicker. There are several twists in the story that keep things moving and are as surprising as they are comical, especially if you had not had them spoiled for you. You also get to learn of the origins of Aperture Science and its insane founder. All of this is mixed with heavy amounts of humor that, while sometimes corny, never becomes so ridiculous as to elicit groans.

Visually, Portal 2 is a huge departure from the original. The graphics have improved greatly, and to show this off, the first few test chambers are the same ones you went through in the first game. At the beginning, Aperture Science is in shambles from years of neglect. The overgrown vegetation and decaying architecture are a departure from the sterile chambers of the first game. After GLaDOS is revived, she makes visual efforts to clean the place up, and you gradually see the repairs she is making until it looks as good as before. Later on, you venture into an older part of the facility that holds the retro look you would expect, and even later, you see what happens to the facility when further disaster strikes. This evolution of visual style keeps you from getting bored with the way the game looks, and it further immerses you into the events of the game.

I only got to briefly play the multiplayer portion of the game, but I have to say that it lives up to the style and spirit of the single-player game. In this mode, the two players control the robots Atlas and P-Body. Each of them have portal guns, and they must use them to solve puzzles assigned by GLaDOS. Cooperation is necessary to get through the puzzles, but there are also plenty of opportunities to kill your partners. Since you are robots, there is no penalty for death; you just regenerate at the beginning of the puzzle. In fact, killing each other is part of the fun of the game. The problem with the multiplayer mode is that it’s not easy to play with a random partner. The level of cooperation makes it a lot more fun if you can play with someone you know. If you don’t know anyone else who plays Portal 2, you may be out of luck.

Portal 2 is a prime example of how to make a better sequel to an already excellent game. Valve didn’t resort to making an expansion pack with better graphics that reused the same old solutions. The sheer number of new game mechanics shows the effort that went into making something substantially better than the first game. The storyline was perfect for the game by furthering the story without trying to impress the player with a setting we’re already familiar with. There’s a lot more of game content, although I never found it to be quite as hard as the original Portal. Overall, Portal 2 is an excellent game that is essential for any gamer’s repertoire.

Rating:   5.0 - Flawless

Product Release: Portal 2 (US, 04/19/11)

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