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Portal 2 Review

danielrbischoff By:
GENRE First Person Shooter, Puzzle 
E10+ Contains Fantasy Violence, Mild Language

What do these ratings mean?

"Science has now validated your birth mother's decision to abandon you on a doorstep."

I wasn't abandoned on a doorstep. The odds are good that Portal 2's protagonist Chell wasn't abandoned on a doorstep either. But I'm not about to discuss odds with an AI such as GLaDOS, though. If you haven't played the original first-person puzzler, Portal, you'll likely miss out on what makes Portal 2 so amazing. So go ahead, go play the game.

We'll wait. (There'll be spoilers of the first game in this review anyways.)

click to enlargeSee? Wasn't that amazing? It was impossible to avoid every Portal meme, joke, and character back in 2007... or 2008. Or 2009. Maybe in 2010 you were safe, but it was too late even then. Valve's monstrosity of a hit came out of The Orange Box, and while much has been made about the dollar value of a standalone sequel like Portal 2, it's safe to say that you have to play Portal 2.

I won't shove you out the door without an explanation. You deserve better than that. Still, you should be ready to grab your wallet, purse, or change jar and pay whatever it takes to play Valve's physics-bending mind-expanding machine. Portal 2 is more of what made the original so good, but it's also more than what made the original so good.

After Valve updated Portal's ending to illustrate Chell getting dragged back into the Aperture Science facility, it became clear that GLaDOS had a whole new set of tests. Chell wakes up after what appears to be centuries with a knock on the door of her relaxation chamber. Basically she's been in cryogenic sleep. What a bitch it must be to remain a pawn of the megalomaniacal AI you thought you destroyed.

click to enlargeChell has help, though. A personality sphere by the name of Wheatley has woken her up to help escape the facility and leave the destroyed GLaDOS to rest. Unfortunately, Wheatley is a bit of a boob. Instead of helping you escape, he reawakens GLaDOS and pushes you far off the path to freedom.

While you solve to save your life, you'll meet an extended cast of characters, like Cave Johnson, Aperture Science CEO. What's startling about the extended narrative in Portal 2 isn't the new voices. Instead, players will find their very surroundings to do more talking than any characters with speaking roles. Narrative details and backstory fill every nook and cranny in Aperture Labs. New puzzle mechanics like repulsion and propulsion gel, excursion funnels, and hard light bridges make the manipulation of each new test chamber more dynamic and entertaining than the last. The experience is in the surroundings.

Even more startling is the fact that learning these new mechanics and implementing them in the subsequent chambers feels even more natural than what I'd imagine learning to walk feels like. Valve's buttery-smooth implementation of narrative, mechanics, humor, voice-work, and gameplay can get addictive.

click to enlargeThat's why I was so frustrated when the single-player campaign ended. Yes, it took me roughly 8 hours to complete. Yes, that's on the short end of the typical blockbuster gaming spectrum. Yes, okay, it's short! It goes without saying that I was left wanting more, but that's what the best games do. If Portal 2 could maintain such a high quality through a longer experience, I'm sure it would have.

In a way, Valve does give you more of a great thing with Portal 2's co-op mode. Two players can tackle even more challenging puzzles with two sets of two portals. Teaching the player how to interact with one set of a portals was amazing in and of itself, but Valve manages to keep up the lesson plan even after doubling the class size. Puzzles truly need two perspectives from two different people to solve, like when one player can see the entirety of a maze and the other is forced to navigate it in the claustrophobic first-person perspective.

Co-op is only made better by the integration of Steamworks on the PlayStation 3. My computer is a little outdated but the fact that I can chat and play with Steam friends across the PS3, PC, and Mac platforms is the icing on Portal 2's... cake (sorry). The service works so exceedingly well in fact that I'm left pining for a re-release of Team Fortress 2 on the PS3 with mouse and keyboard support. Valve, won't you please shut up and take my money?

click to enlargeSo the game is obviously getting an A, right? Did you not see that coming? Maybe a total lack of reading comprehension just validated your birth mother's decision to abandon you on a doorstep instead of science. That was mean. I'm sorry for being so cruel. Maybe. So before you all jump down my throat like you did last time, I will say this: There are far too many loading screens. The Source engine looks good for its age; at 7-years-old and with a new coat of spit-shine, Portal's use of lighting, colors, and foliage is impressive. But the loading screens between each puzzle are still irritating.

Impatience aside, Portal 2 is an exceptionally well-crafted, intelligent, entertaining, humorous game. You will laugh. You will feel like a freaking genius. You will want more. And yes, you will probably be hearing quotes from Portal 2 for the next three years.
A Revolution report card
  • Great voice work for Wheatley, GLaDOS, Cave Johnson
  • Quality over quantity
  • New puzzle mechanics
  • Strong single-player narrative
  • Co-op multiplies complexity and fun
  • Environment packed with goodies
  • Steamworks (on PS3)
  • Loading screens
  • +/- Left wanting more! MORE!

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