The original Portal was a nice surprise packed in with a fantastic collection of shooters. Its quirky humor and brain-bending puzzles were the stuff of legends, and it was hard to find someone who had played it that wasn’t cracking a joke about cake. With the sequel, Valve was tasked with justifying $60 for a sequel to a packed-in bonus. More than a few people, myself included, thought it couldn’t be done, but after spending over a dozen hours inside the halls of Aperture Science, my cynicism has been thwarted. Portal 2 is the Terminator 2 of gaming sequels and a must-own for anyone who enjoys a solid brain teaser.
Once again, you don the longfall protective boots of Chell as you awaken in the confines of the facility after the events of the first game. You are immediately greeted by Wheatley, voiced by Stephen Merchant. He quickly throws you through some training exercises, as you begin your epic journey to escape the facility. Immediately, you are introduced to the fantastic writing and comical tone that Portal has become known for. The dialogue is brilliant and every last line is worth hearing. Rarely does a game radiate such brilliance in this department, but Portal 2 raises the bar so high for comedy in games that it will likely be at the top for years to come.
Once everything settles down, it is time to get back to what makes Portal so unique: the puzzles. If you are unfamiliar with the game, that’s OK. Portal 2 has a nice ramp up in difficulty, so the earlier puzzles are not nearly as involved as the later ones. The portal gun is your friend; basically it creates two portals that you can use to move around the level. Physics also play a huge role as you can use momentum and other environmental objects in each chamber to open the exit. Sure, it sounds simple, and at first it is, but once the game feels you are comfortable, it throws in all sorts of variables that ramp up the challenge. Portal is one of those games that when you figure out the solution, you really feel a sense of accomplishment.
There are some new tricks this time around that change the dynamic and add more elements to the puzzles. The most prominent is the goo. There are two colors and each one does something vastly different. Orange goo creates a slick surface that allows you to travel at insane velocity while the blue goo is rubbery making you bounce off of it, like a massive trampoline. Incorporating these two elements into the mix makes for some serious brain teasers toward the end of the game that will have you creating bridges, dumping goo on them and using boxes and lasers to reach your destination. By the end of the game, your brain will be functioning on all levels and the solutions will be that much more rewarding.
The main campaign is roughly twice the size of the original game and focuses more on story and character development this time around. Filling in the blanks is a nice touch for fans of the lore, but without leaderboards or a proper way to go back to each unique chamber, replay takes a small hit. Thankfully, the always appreciated developer commentary and bevy of Achievements/Trophies for PSN, Xbox Live and Steam make a second playthrough rewarding. PS3 owners should also note that purchasing the game on that system will also give you a code to play and share game info across platforms on the PC. Steam is present on PS3, allowing you to play co-op cross-platform and even keep track of your achievements on both systems. Basically, you get two games for the price of one, which makes the PS3 version the one to own.
Speaking of co-op, Portal 2 plays host to a comprehensive two-player mode that has been designed from the ground up for multiple people. You play as Atlas and P-body as GLaDOS directs you through a series of test chambers specifically designed for two players. Having four portals at your disposal lends to some truly inventive puzzles and, in a lot of ways, this campaign is much more challenging and satisfying than the single player portion. You can play either split-screen or online and, as I mentioned, PS3 owners can even play with PC and Mac players cross-platform. Working together to solve the game’s puzzles is, by far, the most enjoyable experience in the package, and it is also surprisingly lengthy. As an overall package, Portal 2 is definitely worth your dough, especially if you intend to partake in the co-op experience.
One thing the series has not been known for is its visual fidelity. The aging Source engine doesn’t produce the most eye-catching visuals, but the design team has done an amazing job of working with what they have. The physics model is hard to match, and you really get immersed in the rundown look of Aperture Science. Panels and floors move into place as you traverse through environments and the frame rate rarely misses a beat.
On the other hand, sound is where Portal 2 shines. The dialogue from Stephen Merchant, J.K. Simmons and, of course, Ellen McClain as GLaDOS steals the show. The writing is top-notch, and you will actually be upset if you miss some of the quips and humorous banter. The sound effects are the same as the original game, but the soundtrack is enthralling. Each track has its own personality and the more quirky songs are once again catchy and hilarious. Overall, Portal 2 does an outstanding job of immersing the player into the world once again. Expect to see plenty of quotes from the game on your favorite social networks and podcasts.
Portal 2 is an outstanding sequel that did everything it needed to do to transition a bonus game into a full-fledged franchise. The series definitely has life in it and, if the developers continue to put this much love and effort into sequels, I could easily see it becoming one of the staples of the industry. If you enjoyed the original, this is a must-own title. If you enjoy puzzle games, go buy it now. Needless to say, I cannot recommend this game enough to anyone who enjoys a unique and entertaining experience.
Review copy provided by publisher. Primary play was done on PC and PS3.