“Return to Aperture Science for more brain busting tests at the hands of the deranged GLaDOS. Use your portal gun to overcome tractor beams, laser redirection and special paint-like gels to make it out alive.”
In terms of visual quality, it’s identical to the first Portal, but that’s not a bad thing as Portal’s graphics were smooth, clean cut and beautifully sterile – to fit with the theme of the evil Aperture Science facility, of course – and so it’s no surprise that this exact formula was brought in for a second round, only now the facility is in a state of decay since Chell’s last battle with GLaDOS and so our vision of what was once Aperture Science is thrown sideways as we awake in a seemingly brand new place with overgrown weeds poking through every available orifice and the sort of run-down factory setting that only Bear Grylls would have the guts to spend the night in. As the game progresses, however, some familiar environments return in a very exciting and welcome way, as well as a sweet, sweet, sweet surprise that might throw some of you too. There’s something about the look of the gels that makes them seem so textured that you can just ‘feel’ them in your hands by looking at them. …Just me then?
An outstanding score for sound?! Oh yes, most definitely. Putting aside the fantastic puzzles and renowned dark humour, the real genius in Portal 2 is Stephen Merchant’s performance as Wheatley the Personality Sphere. In one word, Merchant’s performance is thus: ‘incomparable’. It is the best voice acting I’ve ever experienced in any game. EVER. And I’m not easily impressed either. The Personality Sphere is a fairly hollow being by default, but Merchant proves to be the perfect sidekick with his encouraging, yet sometimes scatterbrain, dialogue and pitch perfect interaction with the player. Not only is it encouraging and scatterbrain, but it’s also hilarious at times, usually thanks to the flawless interaction with the player. My favourite example is during your first meeting with Wheatley – he asks you to say ‘yes’ if you understand him, followed by a pop-up that tells you to press A to speak. Pressing A, however, will make Chell jump in the air, followed by Wheatley saying, “Okay. What you’re doing there is jumping. You just… you just jumped. But nevermind.” It’s fucking brilliant because it messes with your mind somewhat as A is obviously the jump button, but because you’re unaware of what’s really going to happen, you press it with some trepidation only to have your suspicions confirmed. That doesn’t stop Wheatley from asking you to “speak” for a second time, though! Ahh, you crazy sphere. I was so fascinated by Wheatley that I found myself standing still at every available moment just to hear everything he had to say. It was most definitely worth it. You really feel as if you have a friend with you. Ricky Gervais would have made an absolutely awful robot, wouldn’t he, my dears? Aside from Stephen Merchant’s fantastic performance, Ellen McLain and J.K. Simmons put out some very strong performances as GLaDOS and Cave Johnson, respectively. (You’ll see a lighter side to GLaDOS along the way too…) Man, that ‘smooth jazz’ bit had me laughing for minutes! Oh, and there’s a soundtrack too! It definitely deserves a mention simply because a fair chunk of the track listing is comprised of the sort of foot-tapping banging choonz that undeniably get your heart racing and your fingers working that little bit quicker. Any soundtrack that has the power to do that must be rewarded greatly, so here’s to you!
Gameplay-wise, the core element is exactly the same as Portal; fire a blue portal, fire an orange portal and use yo’ skills to solve the puzzles. Only there’s a little more to it than that, but that’s for you to experience, my dears. It’s very clear that, during the design process, Valve took a lot of time designing the puzzles to utter perfection. I’m not saying that each and every puzzle is absolutely perfect in terms of being examples of utter, utter genius, but rather that they have been so tightly worked on that there really is just one way to solve each puzzle, unless your goal is to spoil the game by using cheap tactics that you found on YouTube or whatever. And it’s the fact that there is only one solution to each puzzle that keeps the game at such a good pace instead of there being multiple solutions, thus leading to all kinds of confusion with Companion Cubes and lasers scattered all over the place. There’s no doubt that every action has an equal and opposite reaction, and that every single interaction has a response, especially in Portal 2. And that is the mark of truly watertight-crafted game. Now, I’m never one to exploit something in a game to my advantage (unless it’s an awful game and all I’m going for is Achievements, though multiplayer exploitation is a big no-no) because I may as well give up gaming altogether if that’s how my rules turn, but I challenge any of these unfortunate players who revel in exploiting games to their advantage to play Portal 2 and not want to solve lots, if not all, of the puzzles without fucking around with exploits. I dare ya! That said, Chapter 8 does drag on a bit towards the end, but when Chapter 9 kicks in, all of that lost energy is slapped right back into place! And so, instead of adding a 12x scope, customisable camouflages, the ability to go akimbo with two portal guns and change the difficulty if the puzzles got a wee bit tricky, the portal-popping item in question has been left exactly the same and the wonderful formula it has always followed has been left alone, just as they should be. Valve clearly weren’t stupid enough to make laughable, unnecessary changes and stuck with the same brilliant formula that made the original so great. And, despite what you’ve most likely heard, Portal 2 is NOT short. Unlike most short games where much more could have been done – but the remaining content has been left for DLC or whatever – Portal 2 fits everything it needs to into a brilliant ten hour campaign. (Seriously, how the heck is ten hours “short”?!) Then there’s co-op, of course…
AT LAST, WE CAN TAUNT GLADOS! Multiplayer was a huge surprise. A huge surprise. It has become a thing of trend that a yet-to-be-released game that you’ve been following for ages suddenly announces a multiplayer, but instead of thinking “Great! More game to love!”, the feeling is, instead, one that causes you to raise your eyebrows, pull a puzzled expression and get strange feelings in your belly at the thought of it. BioShock 2, anyone? That was a vomit pit of a multiplayer, that one. Although Portal 2’s multiplayer isn’t your standard deathmatch-ish multiplayer, it is, instead, a completely new co-op campaign that is totally separate from the single-player, which is an extremely fresh take on co-op campaigns because it’s nearly always the single-player campaign, only you’re playing it with some buddies. In the co-op campaign, you and your partner take control of ATLAS and P-body, two robots designed by GLaDOS in order to participate in the Cooperative Testing Courses for the sole reason that silly, silly puny humans have never managed it themselves. The co-op is wonderful – there’s no doubt about that, but what makes it extremely significant is the fact that without teamwork, there simply is no co-op. It’s not like, for example, Halo: Reach’s co-op where four people can be playing together, but requires just one of those people to complete the level while the other three players can simply put their controllers down, sit back and do zilch. Not really co-op that way, is it? Sure, there’s more than one person playing, but the rest of the players are just assets, whereas in Portal 2, you HAVE to work together in order to solve the puzzles. If the other person lays the controller on the ground, you’re 100% stuck until they pick that controller up and you start working together again. It’s just the way the puzzles are designed. There are, unfortunately, some negatives with co-op. Thankfully, the connection is perfect, so no stupid lag problems whatsoever. Nope, the problem with co-op is that if the two of you don’t have headsets and you’re relying on markers to tell each other what to do, it can get pretty damn frustrating trying to tell your partner what to do next by placing a marker on a wall or whatever. In Valve’s defence, they clearly tried very hard to come up with something that would allow non-headset players to communicate with each other, but it ends up doing more harm than good if you’re frantically pointing your marker at a wall and your partner is just standing there confused out of their mind. All in all, the co-op is fantastic if the two of you are communicating through headsets, but if you’re relying on markers and a dim partner, you’ll most likely be in for a world of frustration.
Portal 2 does an excellent job of taking both new and veteran players by the hand and gives them a big, fat hug as a welcome into the world of Portal. Saying that, it most definitely doesn’t take you by the shoulders and lead you through each puzzle like a breeze because it’s all up to you, the player, to do that. And that’s where the game feels very personal, like you are the focus. It’s about the player; how the player becomes the embodiment of Chell and how they bear the brunt of everything that’s being thrown at the poor girl. And so, instead of plaguing your eyes with eye-watering set pieces at every spare second that would otherwise take the sincerity and love out of the game, the game completely avoids that path and, instead, keeps everything at a very personal level. That’s all well and good, but something that really stuck in my mind and fascinated me was the amount of attention energy needed to solve the puzzles; the later ones in particular. If you’re going to sleepwalk through the game, then you’ll get absolutely nowhere, and what Portal 2 captures perfectly is the need for you to focus on the puzzles, test out some possible solutions and go through a rarely-seen-in-games process of elimination until the light bulb in your head explodes into life and you shout “Of course!” and proceed to solve the puzzle. What’s even more spectacular about Portal 2 is that it’s a game that, instead of leaving you frustrated because you’re finding a particular puzzle a bit tricky after a long day’s play, it’s so damn easy to call it a day and turn the console off without feeling unhealthily committed to solving the puzzle and torturing yourself in doing so. It’s then up to your subconscious to fit the missing links together, much like Braid. And so, because of this, Portal 2 did not evoke any kind of anger whatsoever; the puzzles were never too tricky, but rather a formula of trial and error. Sure, a few of them – particular the ones in the bigger rooms – appear overwhelming at first, but all of that empty space really is just empty space, and that’s most definitely not what you’re interested in. PLAY THAT SMOOTH JAZZ!
The game has replay value in experiencing all of those happy memories with Wheatley all over again on its own, and Portal 2 just to happens to be one of those games that you will want to play through a couple of times just for the sake of being able to, though that would get a bit boring after the fifteenth time or so. You then have the brilliant multiplayer which lasts around four hours; though, thanks to the inclusion of Xbox LIVE matchmaking – and if you’re feeling generous – you can play through it as many times as you wish with people from all over the world and become a true master of portal-ing. If you’re looking for more outside of those, however, you’re in for a bit of a disappointment, though the overall awesomeness of the game and everything within it more than makes up for what it lacks in replay value. AIN’T GOT TIME TO PORTAL!
Let’s face it – sequels are usually considerably poorer than their successor, right, my dears? You have BioShock 2 and the flat and disappointing Modern Warfare 2 to name a few, and what causes this phenomena is the dreaded ‘second album syndrome’, which is the instance where a second effort fails to reach the level that the first effort managed to, i.e., the BioShock and BioShock 2 dilemma. And so it’s very rare that a sequel manages to be BETTER than its successor, unless you’re talking about Geometry Wars 2, of course. With Portal 2, however, ‘second album syndrome’ can go fuck itself as the game has the ability to squash the first Portal underfoot with ease. It’s a friggin’ FANTASTIC game, but it’s Valve, so what do you expect? If you’re still unsure whether to give this game a go, my dears, I must say that Portal 2 is the best game I’ve played this year – and one of the best games that I’ve played in my life – and you would have to be a crazy foo’ to turn it down. GO, GO, GADGET PORTAL!
– Stephen Merchant as Wheatley is an absolute masterstroke
– A consistently brilliant, tightly crafted campaign with some of the funniest lines of dialogue you will experience in a game for a long, long, long time
– Banging co-op campaign
– Mobility Gels add a whole new dimension to the puzzles
– The, uhh… poor subtitle grammar offends me at times. Fuck it, it’s forgiven
Buy, rent or avoid?
A buy. Easy as. It’s, uhh… just– uhh… Just go buy it, man!
Final score: 9/10