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Monday, June 13, 2011
Portal 2 (9.8/10)
In my humble option, Portal should be one of those games that is mandatory... everyone should play it. Even if you're not a huge fan of 'puzzlers,' it's sheer ingenuity and humor make it worthwhile (it's actually been used in classrooms to teach problem solving skills). To be honest, it's difficult to explain just how mind-bogglingly different and unique the original Portal was, just as it'll be difficult to review Portal 2 without making constant references (and comparisons) to it's forerunner. But hey, GLaDOS is back baby! And I, for one, couldn't be more excited!
For those of you not familiar with Portal (SHAME ON YOU!) the idea is basically thus: you have a gun that creates two doorways or... wait for it... portals that allows passage instantaneously between them. Essentially, these gateways teleport your character (a woman known as Chell) through one and out the other. GLaDOS,' the mildly neurotic AI (now that's the understatement of the decade) shepherds you through a series of increasingly difficult tests at the Aperture Science testing labs, all the while promising cake as your reward. It culminates in her attempt to kill you via incineration after you have outlived your usefulness, and your subsequent defeat of the socio/psycho-pathic machine and destruction of Aperture Labs.
The only real complaint about the original Portal was that it was pretty short by conventional standards (you can beat it in about two to three hours), and by non-conventional standards most of us just wanted to keep playing and trying to solve more puzzles. Thankfully, Valve heard the call has brought us Portal 2: bigger, faster, deeper... but does that equal better?
Armed with a portal gun and aided by another, albeit different, neurotic AI named Wheatley (who reminds me a lot of Ricky Gervais for some reason) you once again play as Chell. Chell is the exception that proves the rule, the rare case where the 'silent protagonist syndrome' works in favor of the playable character rather than against her. While the physics involved in the portal gun are dodgy at best, the rest of it is actually fairly realistic. Emphasis on momentum is still key. Going through one portal at speed means you come out of the other portal with the same momentum, allowing you to bridge gaps if you can build up the required acceleration going in.
There are a fair number of additions Valve introduces in Portal 2 beyond just the momentum physics and standard portal gun. First, you have refractory cubes that can redirect lasers. Then there are light bridges that start at a fixed point but can then go through placed portals. There are some clever puzzles that make use of this, but be wary, you don't want to accidentally cut off the source of the bridge as all subsequent portals will therefore be rendered useless and you'll end up in the drink!
The same holds true for the 'Excursion Funnels.' These are tunnels that move you in stasis following the path of the tunnel. While you can't move against the flow, you can get out of them by moving laterally out of the flow. The trick comes into redirecting these tunnels to allow you to reach your goal, but also moving other objects (such as cubes, or even turrets) around the space to get them in proper position.
After an interesting plot twist in the single player campaign that lands Chell in some of the older Aperture testing facilities, you're introduced to some gels. There is the propulsion gel (which is speedy) and repulsion gel (which is bouncy). You'll often need to direct the flow of these gels onto surfaces allowing you to access other areas. These add a new layer of physics fun, especially when you have to use the two in tandem.
While I don't want to spoil any of the surprises the story offers, I have to say that I really enjoyed it. It's clever, it's funny, and most of all, it's engaging. Mysteries surrounding GLaDOS and Aperture Science are answered. There is some clever exposition, and GLaDOS' constant insults and frustration at my success not only made me laugh out loud, but also made me wonder about the nature of AI in the first place. There are even some cunningly hidden areas that expand on the narrative as well. Oh, and the end song, one of the highlights of the first Portal, is priceless this time around as well.
By far the biggest innovation to the Portal franchise is the ability to play with a friend. Co-op equals two sets of guns: twice the portals, twice the complexity of the puzzles, twice the confusion. And let me tell you, it's fantastic! As clever as the puzzles are for the single player, the difference is literally exponential. I enjoyed the teamwork aspect and figuring out some truly diabolical puzzles. There were several instances where, upon entering a new testing area, we simply turned in circles trying to figure out just where to even begin! My only complaint about the co-op is that when you get to the end sections and have to use all the different methods to solve the puzzles at your disposal (momentum, gels, light bridges and excursion funnels), those parts aren't as long as I'd hoped. Sure, they are elaborate (and trippy), but I just wanted more!
To be honest, there isn't a lot to complain about with Portal 2. If I had to find something, (the reviewer's curse) it would be the load times, which are frequent and often long. Another thing I noticed as I played the campaign was how there seemed to be a lot of distractions in Portal 2. There are more than a few 'follow the leader' bits as opposed to just solving more puzzles. I get why Valve did this, to expand the narrative (and necessarily as well). But it seemed to me that by attempting to artificially elongate the game without the gameplay, when the gameplay (i.e. puzzles) is what defines Portal, was almost glaringly obvious, and therefore harder to ignore.
On that same note, some of the puzzles seem almost intentionally misleading in parts. As opposed to finding the one piece of usable wall where you can place a portal there are often multiple ones you don't need. Sometimes this leads to finding alternate ways to solve said puzzles, other times you'll spend twenty minutes making things more complicated than they need be only to discover the simple solution and smack yourself in the forehead for not seeing it earlier. There is definitely a propensity to "over think" things here... just remember 'Occam's Razor': the simplest explanation is usually the right one!
The thing about the original Portal was simply the fact that it was so original, so out of the norm, that (most) people fell instantly in love with it. Add in the quirky humor and we were sold. But playing Portal 2, while thoroughly enjoyable, I can't escape the feeling that it's been done. It can't be as original as the original, if you see what I mean. Still, that's a hell of a thing to nitpick, isn't it?
To be fair, these are all minor complaints-the incessant whining of someone trying to find fault for the sake of finding fault. Portal 2, like its predecessor, is a must play for gamers and non-gamers alike. GLaDOS' thinly disguised psychosis is hilarious, as are her attempts to mess with you in both the single player and multiplayer. To be honest, it's the most fun I've had with a game in quite a while. And after all, isn't that why we play in the first place? My only fervent hope being that Valve will hint there is more to come at some point in the future.
Score = 9.8 / 10
Posted by Si at 11:16 AM