Review: Portal 2

Greetings, dear readers. Those who have been paying attention may remember last week I reviewed Portal, Valve Software’s 2007 puzzle game. This week, I picked up a copy of Portal 2, the April 2011 follow-up to the brilliant Portal. In the interest of full disclosure, this review was written based on the PS3 version, though the versions are, to the best of my knowledge, fully identical.

Portal 2 U.S. Box Art

Portal 2's American box art.

Portal 2 obviously uses similar game mechanics to its predecessor. The player is once again given control of a gun capable of shooting two linked portals, which must then be used to solve various puzzles. Portal 2 removes the annoying energy ball mechanic of the first game, opting instead for “Thermal Discouragement Beams”, lasers which the player must redirect with cubes and portals. Portal 2 also introduces the “Hard Light Bridge,” solidified light beams which may be directed through portals and used as bridges, platforms, or even shields. “Aerial Faith Plates” act as springboards to launch the player (or objects) into the air, and “Excursion Funnels”, energy currents which carry the player, are also used to travel through areas and solve puzzles. Finally, Portal 2 adds to its repertoire of puzzle elements three types of gel. The first, the blue “Repulsion Gel”, bounces the player and objects. The orange “Propulsion Gel” creates a near-frictionless surface used to increase the player’s velocity, while the white “Conversion Gel” is used to allow the player to create portals on surfaces upon which portals could not otherwise be placed. The new and old mechanics are combined in creative and interesting ways to create dozens of new and exciting puzzles. The difficulty balance is excellent: the puzzles take time to figure out, but are not excessively difficult or frustrating. The only problem is that many puzzles are about finding where one can place portals rather than how to place them. Still, despite this flaw, the puzzles in Portal 2 are unique, innovative, and extremely fun.

As with the original, Portal 2‘s setting and writing are among the best in gaming. Wheatley, a personality sphere introduced early in the game’s story, is a lovable oaf with hilarious dialogue, and the game’s other characters with speaking lines are just as humorous. The humor that was so prevalent in Portal is back in full force, and the sequel’s cast will not disappoint. Additionally, the setting of Portal 2 is fantastic. While test chambers return and play an important role in the game’s setting, the player also spends a great deal of time exploring Aperture Science’s laboratories and discovering the rather interesting and bizarre history behind Aperture Science and its strange founder. The plot does not disappoint; there are a number of twists and turns to keep the player intrigued. The player once again takes the role of the mute Chell, who after the original Portal has spent an undetermined amount of time in stasis before being reawakened by the incompetent Wheatley. Chell again travels through Aperture Science’s laboratories and test chambers, learning more about Aperture Science as a company, their creation GLaDOS, and even the origins of Wheatley. Amazingly, the characters, writing, and storyline of Portal 2 have managed to top the original.

Portal 2 Screenshot

Repulsion Gel pumping out of a tube.

Notably, Portal 2 also has a cooperative two-player campaign. The players partner up as Atlas and P-Body, two robots created by GLaDOS for testing. Both players are given control of a portal gun, and the four-portal puzzle mechanics are excellent. Amazingly for a game with both single player and co-op campaigns, Portal 2 does not suffer in either respect. The writing in the co-op campaign is just as funny as the single-player, and the two-person, four-portal puzzle mechanics are amazing. Though short, the cooperative play is absolutely worth checking out for those with friends who own Portal 2, as many of the puzzles are brilliant.

Musically, Portal 2 suffers from the same problems as its predecessor: there is very little music. When there is music, however, it is used to increase the tension of intense scenes, and it does its job to great effect. Portal 2 is not a game that needs much music. Without music for many scenes, the dialogue is far more audible, and the setting feels more bleak and empty. Fans of “Still Alive” need not be disappointed, as Portal 2 also concludes in a catchy, spoiler-laden song. Portal 2 looks excellent, and the graphics, as in the first game, are used to greatly contribute to the game’s overall tone and atmosphere. Gray and brown are still extremely common but, given the setting, are forgivable colors used to create a marvelous setting. While graphics are not usually a necessary part of the gaming experience, Portal 2‘s graphics only serve to add to the immersion.

Portal 2 Atlas and P-Body

Atlas (left) and P-Body (right) enjoying a nice game of rock-paper-scissors.

Is Portal 2 worth a purchase? The answer is a resounding, heartfelt, and absolute yes. Portal 2 is among the greatest games ever made, and will inevitably be a strong contender for 2011’s Game of the Year. I strongly urge any reader or staff member who has not played either of the Portal games to do so at once, as they truly are brilliant games. Portal 2 is an excellent experience from start to finish, whether played alone or with a friend. It is not a game without its flaws, and a number of puzzles are simply a matter of finding where on the wall, floor, or ceiling another portal may be placed, but Portal 2 should be a part of every gamer’s collection. For those who own a PS3, I recommend purchasing the PS3 version, as it comes with a free copy of the Steam version, and co-op can be played cross-platform between PS3 and PC/Mac/Linux users. Regardless of the version, Portal 2 is a great game that shall not soon be forgotten.

4 comments on “Review: Portal 2”

  1. Although I initially hated it, the ending song is nowhere near as good as Still Alive. It’s not bad, but it’s not brilliantly hilarious like Still Alive was either.

    I really enjoyed the story in single player, but having played through the first game again there’s a pretty stark contrast between how obviously Aperture Science was a pretty big place to OMFGIT’SHUGE!!!!HOWISITSOBIG?!?!?!?!? feel of the second game. I was amazed how well they foreshadowed and setup a number of the events that occur throughout the game, particularly the ending (which I’m not about to spoil). GlaDOS was really funny again. The plot twist could have been handled a bit better I thought. The only way it could have been less subtle would have been to pop up on screen expository text saying what was happening.

    Also, a question for the other people who’ve finished the singleplayer: How long did you get stuck on the three turret behind glass test chamber? I think that one puzzle accounted for probably 20% of my playtime.

  2. @Ginia: That makes two of us. I simply haven’t been able to afford all the games I want to play …

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