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Portal 2 Review

Reviews - Multi Platform

Written by Jayce Diaz
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Back in 2007, Valve released the original Portal, a first-person puzzle game that surprised everyone who played it. It was fun, challenging, and maintained a dark sense of humor that gave birth to way too many internet memes. Nearly four years later, Valve has unleashed a sequel that promised to be more challenging, while providing even more laughs over a much longer game. Does it deliver? Read on to find out, but I'll give you a hint on my opinion:

Portal 2 freakin' rocks.

Developer: Valve Corporation
Publisher: Valve Corporation
Platform: PlayStation 3 (Reviewed), Xbox 360, PC, Mac
Release Date: April 19th, 2011
MSRP: $59.99

For those unfamiliar with the series, the Portal games focus on a mute "test subject" protagonist named Chell, who must navigate through a series of deadly puzzles and rooms armed with only a portal-creating gun. While the premise is simple enough, the gameplay becomes incredibly addicting when it begins to make use of the portal gun in new and interesting ways. To add to your worries, a genocidal A.I. by the name of GLaDOS watches your every move, taunting you and setting up traps. You bested her in the previous game, but your victory was short-lived; you are a test subject once again, but this time things are much more complicated.

Experienced Portal players will feel right at home in the sequel, with the usual flair of physics-defying puzzles and super-colliding super buttons. New to the series are the hard light bridges, the gravity streams, and the Aperture gels, of which there are three kinds: there is the blue repulsion gel, which bounces players around with a high velocity; the orange propulsion gel, which allows players to travel at breakneck speeds; and finally, we have the white portal conduction gel, which allows portals to be created on whatever surface it's applied to. They add immensely to the variety of the test rooms, and breathe some fresh air into the mechanics of the game.

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I was pleasantly surprised by just how much better the game is than its predecessor. I absolutely loved the original Portal, and this game trumps it in literally every category. The story, for example, is incredibly rich and full of surprises. The writers gave 110% on this project, and it shows. The Cave Johnson segment of the game, while not exactly what I thought it was going to be, was amazing, and did a great job with filling in some of Aperture Science's backstory without cluttering up the rest of the game. In fact, that segment even managed to pull a few heartstrings despite the humorous undertone of the situation. Overall, every twist and revelation had me at the edge of my seat just as much as the puzzles did.

Speaking of puzzles, prepare to have your mind completely blown once again. GLaDOS has concocted some serious brain busters in Portal 2. On more than a few occasions I felt the oddly enjoyable sense of being overwhelmed by the sheer size and complexity of some of the test environments. Once the initial shock wears off, you'll find that same sense of accomplishment waiting for you at the end of each room, along with some snarky remarks from your omnipresent mechanical host. The developers managed to implement the various puzzles devices in a few interesting ways. For example, the hard light bridges, which create transparent bridges out of sunlight, also double as barricades when placed sideways. When used this way, you can block the field of view of the turrets, and save yourself from a barrage of bullets. The gravity streams are another great multi-use tool. In fact, entire puzzles can be made from just them alone. When activated, they create a cylinder which streams all it encompasses to its destination point. They can be reversed, and can even be used to wipe out turrets and carry the aforementioned gels to different parts of a chamber.

I'd have to be crazy not to talk about Wheatley, Chell's sidekick-of-sorts who is interwoven throughout most of the campaign's story. Wheatley is a personality core who can travel freely throughout the Aperture Science compound. He doesn't like GLaDOS, and has made it his duty to get you out of the testing facility. He's just a fun, loveable character, and really adds to story in too many ways to count. They were smart to add him to the game in the ways they did.

Visually, the Source engine has never looked better. Shadows dance on the walls and floors. Synchronized panels move and descend like well-choreographed actors on a stage; it all just looks beautiful. Sure, the textures aren't what they should be when viewed up close, but as a whole it just looks magnificent. I have to hand it to the guys at Valve; they sure know how to breathe life and characters into otherwise lifeless objects. The way everything is animated gives everything remarkable character, and it really is a treat to see what they come up with next.

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Portal 2's narrative is not the solitary affair it once was; I was able to grab a buddy and play through the new co-operative multiplayer segment of Portal 2. The cross-platform feature of the PS3/PC/Mac versions wasn't yet available, so we played via split-screen. While the game does take a bump in graphical fidelity like this, it doesn't detract from the experience one bit, and isn't significant enough to complain. Clocking in around six hours, the co-op campaign is challenging, fulfilling, and incredibly fun. Some of the puzzles are so well-thought out and ingenious, that you can't help but feel a sense of accomplishment when you manage to solve something before your teammate does.

GLaDOS is incredibly witty and well-written here, and her cold, humorous remarks drive the gameplay forward. There isn't a whole lot of story-based narrative to be had (aside from the ending, which I won't spoil here), so her dialog is much needed and never seems out of place. There were a lot of deaths to be had while solving the various puzzles, and I don't think I heard her repeat herself a single time. You owe it to yourself to find someone to play this with, even if you normally avoid multiplayer modes. It's too good a campaign to pass up.

Communicating in-game with your partner is refreshingly smooth and easy to do. If you want them to lay down a portal at a specific point or look at an important object, just aim at it and press L2 (on the PS3). The area will be highlighted on their screen, even when it's behind a wall. This helps a lot when one player isn't able to find out what they need to do next, or if they can't see something that the other player can. Similar to games like Splosion Man, the game also includes a countdown ability to help with puzzles that require synced actions from both players. It really does seem like the developers thought of everything when designing multiplayer functionality.

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There is something I'd like to address with multiplayer, and that's with the characters themselves. Yes, they are as lovable as the advertisements and trailers make them out to be. However, there doesn't seem to be any rhyme or reason as to why Orange and Blue surprise GLaDOS with their human-like behavior. You'll complete a few levels, and they learn a new animation or taunt. GLaDOS remarks on how these new behaviors aren't robot-like in the slightest, and then you move on. It would have been cool to see Valve somehow tie the players' newfound appreciation for human emotion into the story, but as it is, it at least works to ties an emotional bond with your respective robot. Oddly enough, pulling a taunt off will pull the camera out into third-person perspective, which can feel a bit awkward at first. When you're near a security camera, it'll switch the perspective of the player to said camera, which more often than not leaves you unable to clearly see the animation playing out. Since these animations can be played as much as you want, pretty much wherever you want, though, it's not really something worth complaining about.

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In co-op mode, some rooms can be cleared fairly quickly, especially in the first two hours of playing. This leaves the players to sit and watch animated load times, which would be neat if they weren't constantly stuttering and jittering. These loading screens play back so haphazardly, that I wasn't even aware they had sound effects until I was almost complete with co-op mode. As you get further into the game, the puzzles are much larger and take more time to solve, so the loading issues become infrequent and eventually forgotten. They'll definitely wear out their welcome before that point, however.

Portal 2 is everything that gamers want out of a sequel; it's much, much longer with more to do and a hell of a story to back it all up. Multiplayer is great provided you find someone to play it with, and the overall experience will leave you with a giant smile on your face. Occasionally you'll run into a few hiccups like physics-based puzzles not working like they should, but nothing that would break the game or the experience. If you like puzzle games or just want to try something different, you need to experience what Portal 2 has to offer.

Overall score:

98 out of 100

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