Review: Portal 2 (PC)

The Bar Is Now Set at an Even Higher Level

I was mildly nervous about the release of Portal 2. I’ve long held that the first Portal is a perfect game. The length, the gameplay, the storytelling: all executed flawlessly. Not the best game ever made, or my favorite game by any means, but a perfect videogame for what it is. How could they make a sequel to such a game? How could they improve upon or just not ruin something so well-loved by so many? Well, being the tenacious bastards that they are, Valve not only quelled every last fear or concern I ever had, but manged to make the first Portal seem like a silly demo by comparison to Portal 2.

My short review would state simply that Portal 2 takes everything that was great about the first game, distills it into a fine liquid essence of pure joy, and pumps it directly into the player’s blood stream. Yeah, it’s that good. Portal 2 should leave every other game developer quivering in their long-fall boots, and set a new standard by which to compare all other games from now on.

For the uninitiated, Portal is about a mute human test subject known only as Chell trying to escape the aging facility of Aperture Science which lies under the control of a mad AI named GLaDOS (Genetic Lifeform and Disk Operating System). Your only tool is a portal gun that lets you shoot dual portals across white, clear surfaces, creating “bridges” in reality which you can step through, thus overcoming a variety of obstacles. Or at least, that’s what the first game was about. Portal 2 takes this concept, and launches it to entirely new levels.

Aperture Revisited

Whereas the first Portal‘s environments could be described as clinical, with white walls, clear glass, and ninety degree angles (ignoring the “back end”), the second is anything but. Aperture Science facilities come alive with incredibly shifting rooms and walls. They grow and evolve with the game’s story and momentum. Without ruining any of the (many) surprises the game has in store for the player, what starts off as the ruined remains of the testing chambers transforms time and again in the lab’s new incarnations.

Along with the familiar, the player will also explore vast subterranean environments that feature the remains of the older generations of Aperture’s facilities. Here the white walls and overgrowth of plant life are left behind for an industrial wasteland far below the surface of the planet. A throwback to 20th century interior design and architecture, you’ll find yourself climbing through one generation after another of the company’s style and decor, all the while facing mind boggling-puzzles that will challenge the most experienced gamer.

Testing, Testing, and More Testing

To say the culture of Aperture Science was about testing to the umpteenth degree would be something of an understatement. Portal 2 is all about testing, and besides the much-loved dual portal gun, we now have a range of new environmental tools to bend our simple human minds around. Bridges made of light can be shot through portals allowing Chell to create pathways where only empty space existed prior. Tunnels of energy work in a similar manner, but will propel the player and anything else that enters them in whichever direction they’re flowing in. And lasers can be manipulated with special cubes to trigger switches.

Portal 2 also introduces three colorful gels that are an integral part of solving about half the game’s puzzles. The concept, in part taken from the indie game Tag (which you can download from this link), allows the player to create surfaces that will propel you forward at high speeds, jump much higher than you could unaided by the gel, and, perhaps most importantly, create new surfaces on which to shoot portals.

You can’t just point and shoot these gels freely, but instead must use your portals to move them around the environment in many clever puzzles. The aforementioned energy tunnels can even be used to capture the gel in its liquid form and transport it across environments and through portals.

All in all, the puzzles in Portal 2 are nothing short of brilliant, and the minds behind them should be showered with gifts and prizes for their accomplishment.

But I Thought I Already Killed GLaDOS

First of all, no, you can’t kill a computer AI. It was never “alive” in the first place, despite what the song might claim. But yes, GLaDOS does come back in Portal 2, and actually goes through some surprising character transformations which I simply can’t discuss further without ruining many of the game’s wonderful surprises.

Despite her epic performance though, the spotlight is possibly stolen by a new character introduced in the game, a sort of “robot eye” named Wheatley. Wheatley is just downright hilarious. I simply can’t stress enough how often he will make you laugh out loud as he accompanies you through various parts of the game. Brilliant voice acting by The Office’s Stephen Merchant sets a new standard by which videogame voice-overs should be presented. As nothing more than a robotic sphere, Merchant infuses more personality and character into his role than most TV actors manage in season after season of television episodes.

Finally, the third voice you’ll be hearing a lot of is the former CEO of Aperture Science, the bombastically named Cave Johnson. Cave is what Bioshock’s Andrew Ryan would sound like if he were really funny and entertaining instead of just a narcissistic jerk. Caring only about science (and his lovely assistant), Johnson’s prerecorded messages add loads of character to the underground layers of the science facility. As the game progresses, so does the character, going from lovable magnate to a tragic and twisted figure who inadvertently set the path to GLaDOSes coming into existence.

Oh Yeah, It Has Multiplayer as Well!

No matter how brilliant the single player game, Valve have also outdone themselves with the co-op portion. You play as one of two lovable testing robots along with a buddy (or some random jerk off of the internet, yeah you heard me, you’re all jerks!) in a series of progressively more complex puzzles. With a dual portal gun in either set of robotic hands, you can now create multiple sets of portals allowing for the kind of challenges that will make you feel like a genius for completing each one.

The co-op is much lighter on the story compared to the single player campaign, but nevertheless is full of wildly entertaining humor and personality, as GLaDOS takes you through her many tests. The inclusion of a hat store akin to Valve’s Team Fortress game has irked a number of gamers who see it as brash commercialization in the well of purity that is the rest of the game, but thankfully the hat store has no impact on actual gameplay, and is easily ignored by those who aren’t interested in it.

The Final Verdict

Portal 2 is nothing short of a masterpiece in gaming. Every aspect of it is fun and refreshing. You will laugh, you will be moved, you will feel an almost euphoric sense that you’ve come across something so great that mere humans were perhaps never meant to experience it. Call me what you will (FAN BOY!), but never have I so thoroughly enjoyed a game as much as I did Portal 2.

5 Responses to “Review: Portal 2 (PC)”
  1. Tim says:

    I 100% agree with all that is written here! Loved Portal 1, worried this would ruin, was very much mistaken.
    Wheatley is amazing, Glados is once again hilarious, best game I have played for a while.

    my fav quote ‘ Most people emerge from suspension terribly undernourished. I want to congratulate you on beating the odds and somehow managing to pack on a few pounds’ but there are so many good ones

  2. Gregg B says:

    Well observed with the Andrew Ryan likeness Armand, I thought the same too a few times with all the crazy ass ethically questionable experimenting going on!

    Great review sir, slobber totally justified 😉

  3. Max says:

    Very much enjoyed this read, Armand. I had the same fears about a sequel sullying the perfection that was Portal. Alas, our worry was for naught.

    Not like we should be surprised though, Valve and all…

    Call me a fan boy too, but I wager that if everyone on earth played Portal 2 there would be world peace. The good kind, of course, not the inevitably doomed utopian sort.

    • Gregg B says:

      I was going to the say the same Max, y’know, you commenting AFTER me and all.

      It’s rare to play a game that has me laughing so consistently throughout it. That’s something I only ever really attribute to Tim Schafer games. “Say goodbye Caroline.” “Goodbye Caroline.” “Isn’t she a gem?”

      I’m glad I didn’t read this review before playing it though because I had absolutely no idea that the game would take you into Aperture’s history and that far underground. They were great surprises.

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