Review: Portal 2 (Campaign)
By Nick Henderson on April 25th, 2011 (29 comments)
Valve is known for producing some of this industry's most ambitious and exciting games but are infamous for taking forever to do so. A mere three to four years since Valve stole our hearts with the phenomenon known as Portal, the game makes a return to the lime light with Portal 2. The original Portal blew minds with its mind bending puzzles and addicting portal guns and burned the title in our memory thanks to its genuine charm and boundless humor. No longer constricted to a bullet point on the box for Half-Life 2, Portal 2 breaks out of its shackles with its own full retail release. While I never doubted Valve's ability to pull it off, I was afraid that no amount of ingenuity would lead to a game that is touted as superior to the original. It turns out that Valve's bag of magic tricks is deep and my concerns were unwarranted. Portal 2 is genius. Keep reading to the end and there will be cake.
Portal 2 (PS3, Xbox 360, PC)
Developer: Valve Software
Release date: April 19, 2011
Reviewing a game like Portal 2 is a real challenge. How do I express in words what my eyes often refuse to believe on screen? The original Portal already excelled in taking expectations and flipping them on their head. By giving players a simple to understand tool (the portal gun) and limiting them by a few rules, players found themselves doing things that were never thought possible in gaming. Valve succeeded by taking the traditional, static puzzle-platformer and forcing the player into the middle of it where they could interact and experiment to find the solution. My first thought when Portal 2 was announced was: "What could they possibly do to top that?" After playing through the Portal 2 campaign, I can honestly say that Portal 1 feels like a stepping stone that was meant to prepare players for something bigger. By introducing the portal gun itself and teaching players how to think with physics (and portals...), the player was left with the skills that would be needed to succeed in Portal 2.
From a gameplay standpoint, Portal 2 feels very much like the perfection or extrapolation of Portal's original concept. While the core mechanic hasn't changed a bit, by combining it with a slew of new secondary elements, Portal 2 feels like breath of fresh air. In addition to the amazing physics based gameplay of the original, Valve has added anti-gravity tunnels and multicolored gel that can be applied to a surface and used for different purposes. Repulsion and propulsion gels affect mobility by allowing the player to bounce off or slide while the white gel is used to create portal-friendly surfaces. While understanding the laws of physics and momentum is a must, learning how to manipulate those forces to your advantage is even more vital this time around. If you thought the first portal challenged your critical thinking skills, wait until you end up in a test chamber with no portal-friendly surfaces at all and a single stream of white paint to work with.
Of course, you can't talk about Portal without mentioning the context (story) and the humor which are both in abundance here. Without sacrificing the simplicity and charm of the original, Valve has further expanded upon the strange but hilarious world of Aperture Science. Awakening from a cryogenic(?) state after being asleep for an unspecified number of years, Chell, the unlucky test subject from the original, awakens to an Aperture Science testing facility that has crumbled under the pressures of time and nature. With her reawakening comes the introduction of a new friend by the name of Wheatley, a shy but entertaining little bot who acts as your guide. After accidentally reawakening the evil Glados, the game takes a wild but welcome turn that plays out through the remainder of the game.
In true Valve fashion, returning characters are portrayed in a different light and awesome, new characters are introduced to keep the game feeling fresh. Pacing is handled brilliantly by applying the various mechanics in layers while the supporting characters carry the story forward. In some cases, the characters are so well written and so well portrayed that the player ceases to learn voluntarily and instead learns through osmosis while taking in the story. Thanks to such brilliant pacing and world design, the game culminates in one of the best "boss encounters" and "Aha" moments I have witnessed in a video game.
[caption id="attachment_16330" align="aligncenter" width="600" caption="Aperture Science is going through some.... changes"][/caption]
In the end, there isn't much to find fault with in Portal 2 except maybe the relatively short campaign (7-8 hours). The game is a shining example of level design and pacing done right and remains as one of the most innovative concepts in gaming. Combine that with the best writing and line delivery in the business and it's easy to see why Portal 2 is sure to be remembered for years to come. As a game critic, I find myself very reluctant to give any game a perfect score because in all honesty, there is no such thing as a perfect game. On the other hand, Portal 2 comes awfully close.
Score: 98 out of 100
(96-100%: Astonishing; not perfect but extremely close and rarely achieved)
I have been around since the very early days of 4Player but you may know me as “the short one” or the guy who is really into Dexter and that sweet new DmC reboot. I am a gaming enthusiast at my core and I love sharing my opinions on the subject with anyone who will listen. I am a cautious optimist and will try any game at least once. When it comes to gaming, I prefer to leave no stone unturned.
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