Portal 2

10 Overall Score

Written by on May 6, 2011 in

 

Portal 2 has landed and GLaDOS is back, even angrier and more villainous than ever. “Sorry about the mess. I’ve really let the place go since you killed me. By the way, thanks for that.” I just love how much her sarcasm hurts like verbal arrows. Do you have what it takes to escape her clutches again and finally be rid of Aperture Laboratories? The last time we saw GLaDOS, she was a smoky pile of rubble. Despite her demise Portal still ends with a catchy tune called “Still Alive” sung by, you guessed it, GLaDOS herself who is surprisingly NOT DEAD. Since then you, Chell, have been in a stasis state stuck inside a cheap hotel room within Aperture Laboratories. Unbeknown to you though is that your journey is long from over. Enter Wheatley, the mysterious and “few crayons short of a box” AI which springs you from your stasis state to help you escape the facility.  Before long, GLaDOS has been reawakened, and both you and Wheatley are in over your heads. We don’t want to spoil anything, but we really enjoyed the events that transpire and the role reversal that followed.

Portal 2 does a great job of reteaching you the basics before letting you loose in the more challenging test chambers. As you traverse farther into the game you encounter new substances and tools which give the game a new level of challenge, allowing you to bounce to unreachable heights, receive a boost of speed, place portals literally anywhere, jump into tractor beams, and use energy beams to power machinery. Overall, Valve wasn’t messing around when they upped the level of difficulty. This being said though, often you will find yourself wrapping your brain around a puzzle to the point of pure frustration, only to discover that the solution was right in front of you the entire time.

The art style for the game is also a huge upgrade from the original Portal. Upon reentering the test chambers, you witness first hand the destruction you previously caused. Shattered walls, trash littered everywhere, and intense scorch marks from explosions tell the ominous tale of your past. This state of disrepair does not last though, as GLaDOS begins to tidy up upon her return to duty. As you enter rooms you notice the walls sweeping bits of glass into ducts, walls realigning themselves, and get the feeling that you aren’t alone as the rooms reconstruct themselves back to pristine condition.

The biggest thing that makes Portal 2 stand out so much though is the fact that it actually has a dynamic story. Whereas in the first game your main objective was to solve puzzles and escape the facility, Portal 2 throws in twists and story arcs that rival literary masterpieces. In terms of length, the single player mode has also been increased threefold, making this worth the $60 price tag. Several times I thought the game was about to end, only to have the rug pulled out from underneath me as a new chapter began. I was sad to see this game conclude though, and felt the need to start it over again instantly.

The tongue-in-cheek humor throughout the game is what really had me rolling though. The jokes and witty banter helped alleviate some of my frustration with the puzzles and the fact that I was a robot murderer, trapped in a giant science experiment. I loved every moment of GLaDOS’ sarcastic hatred towards your character, and the fact that she goes right for the jugular with her fat jokes makes me feel uncomfortable and happy at the same time. At the other end, performances from Wheatley, your companion, and Cave Johnson, the original owner of Aperture Laboratories, help to keep the laughter alive and bring the characters to life. I just love how Cave Johnson’s prerecorded messages convey his conceited attitude towards his employees. Traveling to each test chamber and listening to Johnson’s introduction to each challenge had me smirking at the poor dimwits who actually participated in these idiotic tests before myself.

“This first test involves something the lab boys call ‘Repulsion Gel’. You’re not part of the control group, by the way. You get the gel. Last poor son of a gun got blue paint. All joking aside that did happen. Broke every bone in his legs. Tragic, but informative. Or so I’m told.”

The only gripe I have about the single player is that you can’t manually select levels to start on without having to play through the entire chapter. I love getting achievements and would have appreciated being able to skip to specific sections/ chambers within each chapter. You have to rely on your save files in order to load the game at certain sections, but me not realizing this until I had finished the game have large gaps between levels. You can pick chapters in the developer commentary mode, but you still have to play through the entire chapter to get to the specific sections. I highly recommend the developer commentary by the way, as it provides interesting facts as to how levels were created, what the writers were going for in certain sections, and just overall great insights into the making of Portal 2.

 

Portal 2‘s co-op mode is a completely different experience than that of the single player. Giving you the option of playing online or locally with a buddy, you are tasked with completing test chambers as Atlas and P-body, two Aperture robots.

“My brain hurts!” We can’t even begin to tell you about how often we uttered that phrase while playing through the co-op portion of Portal 2. Patience is a virtue, especially when you’re playing with a friend or spouse. Being spouses, we learned a whole new meaning to “teamwork”. Portal 2‘s co-op highlights all of your flaws in communication, making this often a frustrating game (for us at least). Lauren had no experience playing the first Portal game and so it took a while for her to wrap her mind around the game’s mechanics. This is complicated because I, Loren, am far more experienced and Lauren felt like she was dead weight for the first couple test chambers. (It also didn’t help that GLaDOS was mercilessly mocking her) I have to admit that there were several instances where Lauren was angering me, so to make myself feel better I would sacrifice her robot character for my own good. It didn’t help that I got an achievement for doing so as well. I believe this is the reason Valve chose to have the characters be robots, making their deaths less traumatic.

The co-op in Portal 2 consists of four main chambers broken into eight levels apiece. While this may not seem like very many levels, often a level is made up of three sections. Each chamber has its own theme such as utilizing Hard-Light Surfaces, Excursion Funnels, or Mass and Velocity. You and your partner each have your own Portal gun which comes with its own respective colors/portals. One character has a blue and purple portal gun, while the other has a red and yellow portal gun. The real challenge is that only portals fired from your own gun link, so you can’t link your own portals to your partner’s portals.

The biggest strength that the co-op experience has is that you and your partner depend on each other and are able to express that in-game. The game helps create a sense of camaraderie by allowing your characters to interact through gestures like waving, playing rock-paper-scissors, or detaching your partner’s head. We found it especially amusing to mock GLaDOS in front of cameras.

The game also gives you a pointer with which to indicate to your partner where you want them to walk or place a portal. We found this very helpful because often our directions of “Place a yellow portal on that wall” were too vague or we didn’t place a portal at the right height. Another helpful tool was the timer that counted backwards from three. Often we would need to synchronize our actions and having the computer count down for us made us feel more like a team.

One nice thing that helped Lauren with co-op is the fact that it’s not story-driven and you don’t have to have any knowledge of the original Portal in order to play through the sequel’s co-op mode. The game does a great job of introducing the basics through several tutorial levels. The only real gripe we had was that this type of game isn’t Lauren’s cup of tea, and it was a bit of a push to get her excited to play. Other than that, this game is pure perfection and I feel like a reluctant mouse in a maze, who just happens to love solving these puzzles.

Did Valve deliver the same mind-blowingly awesome experience as the first game? To this question I assure you the answer is a resounding “Yes!”. Portal 2 is everything you’ve dreamed of and more. It may only be May, but I’m sure Portal 2 will remain my (Loren) game of the year all the way until 2012. If you like solving mental challenges and getting your hands dirty with science, then pick up Portal 2 today.

A copy of Portal 2 was provided to The Married Gamers for review and evaluation.

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Author: Loren Nikkel View all posts by
Hardcore Xbox and occasional PC gamer. I love to play multiplayer and co-op games where strategy is key.

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