PC, PS3, Xbox 360, Review: Test subject Alex Roth really liked the first Portal game, so he couldn't wait to get his hands on Portal 2. See his thoughts on Valve's latest.
The first Portal came out of nowhere, bundled like a freebie with Team Fortress 2 and an episode of Half-Life. It fell from the sky like an errant companion cube, and smacked the gaming community on the head. Portal was a revolution, a first-person shooter like no one had ever seen. It was first-person all right, but with a whole new approach to shooting. With utterly unique gameplay and the funniest, moodiest script the industry had ever seen, Valve had outdone themselves. Now Portal 2 is here, and they haven't been slacking. This four star sequel makes the original look like a tech demo all over again.
Billboards all around town have told us two things: Portal 2 is coming and it's a AAA title. As a standalone release it needs to deliver more than just novelty, it's gotta have bang for the people's buck. Already Metacritic is full of gamers venting their frustrations with a campaign they feel is too short. While Portal 2 may not soak up hours of your life like Call of Duty, it does promise twenty or more hours of unique and seriously engaging gameplay. Still, it's fair to ask: as a sequel, can Portal 2 still catch us off guard?
Whether or not this is your first trip to the Aperture Science Labs, Portal 2 is full of surprises. You'll be exploring a decayed version of the underground facility from the first game, now full of rust and maimed robotics. Once again you are Chell, a female test subject surely dying for a breath of fresh air. At least the foliage that's crept in means there's a natural world left to where she can escape. If you're hoping to learn more about the nature of Aperture Science, the outside world, and Portal's place in the Half-Life universe, you won't be disappointed.
The first character you meet isn't GlaDOS, but a little guy named Wheatley. He's superbly voiced by Stephen Merchant (of the British Office), and for spoiler's sake, I'll only say he's more than comic relief. Delightful character actor J.K. Simmons (best known as J. Jonah Jameson in Spider-Man) also provides a voice. Again, I don't want to say too much, so just look forward to that. Of course Ellen McLain reprises her role as GlaDOS, the psychotic supercomputer that makes HAL 9000 look like a Mr. Coffee. She has all the best lines, spouting off in her singsong monotone about ?thermal discouragement beams? (aka lasers), the "edgeless safety cube" (a ball), and her old favorite, that deadly, deadly neurotoxin.
Portal 2's script combines humor and pathos, and its gameplay has kinetic thrills and brain bending logic challenges. Even if you played the first Portal and the Still Alive expansion, the sequel won't be a retread. The puzzles still make you feel like a genius for solving them, and Valve has introduced a ton of variables that really get the player moving. Again, I don't want to suck the fun out of the surprises, so just expect a plethora of ways to fly, sprint, leap, and bounce to new heights using portals.
Best of all, Portal 2 is always fresh, never repetitive or frustrating. Gameplay evolves and the story develops at a perfect clip. This goes back to complaints about the game's length. Rather than hit you with every possible permutation of a puzzle, Valve has opted for constant player progress. As soon as you have a handle on the latest variable, the game expands on it. Things stay novel, and the player is a happy little lab rat.
Portal 2 may treat you like a rodent in a box, but what a fine box it is. An all white hellhole, it feels like a labyrinth designed by Apple computers. You're going to see more of it than you've ever dreamed. From moment to moment the place can feel either claustrophobic or immense. This is Valve's art direction at it's finest. The people who gave us Team Fortress 2, the Half-Life and Left 4 Dead games (whose styles range from cartoonishly caricatured, to realistically modeled, to filmically inspired) have given us the best yet of their signature industrial spaces. At times Portal 2 is reminiscent of Half-Life 2's citadel levels as well as the wastelands of City 17.
Besides the "bigger is better" approach, Valve's best addition to Aperture Science is the "Cooperative Testing Initiative." Translated from GlaDOS-speak: it's co-op. You and a friend can go portaling together as Atlas and P-Body, two robots designed to test, test, and test some more. Two sets of portals make things exponentially more complex; you and your partner will face the most devious puzzles in all of Portal. Lucky for you, getting smashed by a turbine just means a quick trip to the reassembler. ?Without the consequence of death, is this even science?? GlaDOS sighs. Her commentary is at it's best here as she looks to commiserate with her fellow robots about those pesky humans.