About three years after Portal made a somewhat understated debut as part of Valve’s Orange Box collection, its sequel is back as its own fully fledged game. The original quickly became a game of note with its compelling puzzle based gameplay and quirky, humorous approach to the story. Packed with new gameplay features and an all-new cooperative multiplayer mode, Valve’s sequel, Portal 2, is an entertaining title that combines compelling gameplay with a good story and great presentation.
Like its predecessor, Portal 2 is part puzzle game, part adventure game, and part platformer. Plenty of titles attempt to span genres, but Portal just seems to do it so elegantly and Portal 2 continues this formula. The premise of the gameplay is essentially a series of puzzles where you must navigate the environment and various objects using your portal gun. For those of you that are not familiar with Portal, your gun creates portals on surfaces which you can use to warp travel, wormhole like, to get to areas you can’t get to by moving or jumping. These portals can be used in a variety of ways, many of which will really challenge your thinking to achieve your goals.
Players reassume the character of Chell, awakened from a sleep state several hundred years after the events of the first game. The game opens with some neat moments with immediate character development, and it sets a tone of sarcastic humour that will make fans of the first game very happy. The first few levels feel very similar to the first game, perhaps too much. I found myself initially thinking there really wasn’t much new to the game, boy was I wrong. I now realize that the familiar feel in the beginning was necessary as I got more into the game.
About a quarter of the way through Portal 2’s adventure things really begin to pick up. The story takes some great turns, you learn more about Aperture Science, and you’ll be entertained throughout. Some new gameplay elements are also introduced that really help evolve how puzzles are solved. Hard Light Bridges (think light bridges from Halo) can be manipulated using the portals to gain access to new areas, retrieve companion cubes, and even act as screens against fire from turrets. A second new item is a blue gel that can have supremely bouncy properties or stickiness.
The puzzles ramp up in difficulty as you proceed through the game. Many of them are quite challenging and will force you to think outside the box in a fantastic way. You’ll be forced to think laterally. The charm and story aside, the puzzles, and their eventual solutions, is probably my favorite part of the game. It’s just such different pace from all the shooters and twitchier games out there today. It’s cool and very refreshing indeed.
Portal 2 also introduces a new cooperative multiplayer mode in which players play as two new characters P-Body and Atlas. The coop mode is a completely separate story from the main single player campaign. This is a great addition to the overall package and doesn’t feel tacked on whatsoever. There is a small degree of character customization that you can do with your coop character which is fun. This mode screams DLC which I really hope we get on the Xbox 360.
Portal 2 is decidedly more organic than the first game. While the sterile, laboratory looking levels of the first game certainly do make an appearance, they have become more alive. The different puzzle rooms have obviously decayed during the timespan between when the two games take place and there is a ton of ambient room animations as they appear to try and reassemble themselves. This gives many of the levels life. There is also a large variety of environments, more so than the first game, that keep things fresh as you progress through the game.
The frame rate is rock solid throughout the game (which controls amazingly smoothly). There aren’t a lot of character models outside of GLaDOS and Wheatley. Their design is simple but effective. Wheatley looks a little too simliar to 343 Guilty Spark but perhaps that’s a nod to another cool gaming character. There is also a lot of subtle effects, especially with regards to lighting, that really enhance the atmosphere of the game as well.
Portal 2 continues to shine when it comes to all facets of the game’s sound. The dialogue, voiced largely by Stephen Merchant and the returning Ellen McCain as GLaDOS, is outstanding. The quirky humour that made the first game so great is back in spades. The quality of voice acting is top notch and really helps bring you in to the story. This is a perfect example of how quality voice acting can really add to a gaming experience. You will find yourself making sure you don’t skip ahead to levels just so you hear everything someone like GLaDOS has to say. The musical score complements the voice acting perfectly. It’s midi-like feel continues from the first game and is a perfect fit to the game’s setting.
Considering the success of the original game, there were high expectations for Portal 2 and at the end of the day it has it all. A great story, great characters, awesome presentation, addictive multiplayer, and overall great gameplay. Portal 2 is a first class experience and has significant legs that will keep you coming back. It is definitely one of this year’s best games.