Posted 2 years ago By - Marko Djordjevic
2007 was an incredible year for gaming, thanks in part to a compilation released by Valve entitled The Orange Box. The collection contained five fabulous games made by the Washington-based studio, and while all five of the titles available were solid individually, it was the small game called Portal that stood out most among the batch. This was an experience unlike anything else available at the time; you solved puzzles in first-person using two colored Portal warps. It was such a simple concept but added with an interesting story and witty dialogue it, went on to being a mega hit who’s popularity had a steady, continuous climb. Now, four years later, Valve has decided to return to this franchise with Portal 2, and for all intents and purposes, it is one of the best games ever made.
For the small group of people who haven’t had the opportunity to play it, in Portal you play as Chell, a young woman who has been ‘recruited’ to partake in a number of tests created by Aperture Science using a special device they’ve developed called a Portal Gun. The gun can shoot out two warp points - or portals - which allow you to move from one point to another. These need to be used in creative ways to solve puzzles. In every puzzle you needed to also obtain a weighted cube in order to open the door to the exit, but getting to that and to the exit required manipulating your environment with said portals.
On the surface, Portal 2 begins a lot like the first game. You still control Chell, who has been brought back for more testing. Because of your actions in the first game, the science facilities have begun to unravel, so the primary goal now is to find an escape route, but at the same time, solve similar puzzles that you encountered the first time around.
For those who’ve played the first game, the beginning of Portal 2 will automatically feel like deja-vu, don’t be alarmed though. The start of the game replicates parts of the first game in order to allow newcomers to easily familiarize themselves with the concepts behind portals and understanding the puzzles. Shortly after that, Portal 2 begins to show itself as a dynamic puzzler that offers a lot of challenge and your completion is a reward in and of itself.
New puzzle types and variants are introduced at such a steady and seamless paces that not noticing the subtle changes shouldn’t come as a surprise. Early on, you’ll get to experience the necessity of Hard light bridges - which act as walkways - or Aerial Faith Plates - which give you that extra added boost of skyward travel. But the really interesting and challenging additions appear as different colored Gels.
These gels, which better resemble paint, are used during the majority of the game and offer the most challenge. There are three types: Blue allow you to jump higher, Orange allows you to travel faster and White can paint areas that were once un-Portal-able and turn them into sections where a Portal can be created.
The three gels, combined with the other environmental obstacles and the portals result in some rather ingenious puzzles. The objective isn’t trying to only solve the challenges put in front of you, but to find an escape altogether. This add a bit of tension as in each area can be quite incredible.
The puzzles themselves aren’t necessarily difficult to overcome, but they do require patience and a some trail and error. The answer is always right there in front of you and trying out different routes is all part of the game. The first game did this in a number of different ways, such as propelling yourself from one ledge, then timing your portal shot in such a fashion that the moment you went through it you’d be launched three-or-four times the distance. Moments like this still show up, but this time there are combined by incorporating the other environmental modifications.
I have purposely avoided talking more about the story for a number of different reasons. For starters, any mention of it could easily spoil key parts. Secondly, the story, while incredibly well-written and often quite humorous, is so well implemented and interactive, that sometimes realizing that there is a progressive story occurring can be missed. This is by no means a knock on the game. Some games often force the story down your throat so much that it ruins the overall experience. With Portal 2, the story is constantly being told to you through Audio cues and interaction with characters, although how you absorb that information is completely up to you. There are even sections off the beaten path, that also reveal more as to what is or has occurred in this world. Playing the game once will only reveal bits of the universe, but when you play through a second or third time, finding all these secrets become a nice reward.
Based on your familiarity with brain challenges, expect the single-player campaign to last around 8 hours, twice as long as the first game, but an absolutely perfect length of time for how this game is structured. There are never any points of lulling around or feeling that a section is longer than it aught to be. Another good thing is that there is no wrong or right way of playing. Some will want to marathon through the campaign thanks in part to the steady flowing story, while others will pace themselves and absorb each puzzle. Either way you play it, the grand experience is still the same.
But once you do finish the single-player story, the ability to experience Portal in a completely different light comes in its co-op story, which can be played either with a friend sitting next to you or online. Cooperative play still incorporates the same mechanics from the singe-player campaign, but now you’re working with a partner in order to complete the puzzles.
For those not playing on a Xbox 360 (as headsets come packed-in with the console) Valve took measures to provide some relief PC and/or PS3 users who may not necessarily have headsets available. They incorporated a nifty pointing and gesture system which lets you tell your partner what to do. While it isn’t as ideal as verbal communication, it is still loads better than not having anything at all.
Lastly in regards to the co-op mode, for the sake of the overall story, it is strongly recommended to play through the single-player story first. There are no real spoilers if you start with the co-op, but as you complete the single-player campaign, you get an understanding of the characters in the co-op and its existence in the universe.
One of the best parts of the first game was its incredible voice work. While it was only one character talking to the player, it was oft times comical and always interesting. This time, Portal 2 increases the dialogue to include a few more voices and each is done incredibly well. There is still a lot of comical, laugh-out-loud moments, but as a whole it was very well scripted. As mentioned before, you can sometimes completely miss out on key things being said. These range from subtle references to the last game to events within the story and even other games entirly.
But the delivery of the great voice work wouldn’t be complete without the help of some fantastic animation work. The Source engine might be old, but it still works impecably well. Environments are a marvel to look at; from the interactive objects, such as gels and other tangibles, to even just the static items that come in your way. Each looks so incredible that there will be times when you will find yourself stopping to absorb all that surrounds you.
Where the animation absolutely shines though is the work done with the two primary characters: the returning GLaDOS and the new character, Wheatly. The way the animators managed to make Wheatly genuinely look like he’s talking to you is just a marvel to behold. He is nothing more than a robotic eye, but the way in which he moves and flaps conveys the appearance that he is really talking and not just a giant sphere is amazing.
Even with all this justifiable praise for Portal 2, there is one thing that separates it from absolute greatness, and it has nothing to do with the fact that there is an ending. Unfortunately, Portal 2 does suffer from some really long and poorly placed Loading screens. Loading isn’t just long, lasting in upwards of a minute (in some cases longer), but there are a few moments where the loading screen pops up at the most inopportune times that it does add some frustration to the gameplay. Most of the time, you’ll get a load between sections, but near the end there are few points where the loading occurs between open doors and it feels absolutely unnecessary. Also, if you happen to perish during a given puzzle sequence, expect to wait through a loading screen every time before trying it again.
Without a doubt, Portal 2, if not the best game of 2011, will be amongst the top of the heap when the year closes out. The fantastic story, excellent pacing, interesting and engaging puzzles and other incredible facets to the game make it one that people should experience at any cost. If you know anyone who has never seen Portal in action, put them in front of a monitor or TV screen and let them see even just one puzzle; if they aren’t impressed, then I’d recommend getting new friends.
+ Excellent audio
+ Great humor
+ Challenge progresses at a fantastic pace - No puzzle is WTF?!
+ New mechanics work well and again, introduced at a perfect pace
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Release Date : Q1 2011
System : Xbox 360
Publisher : Valve Software
Category : Puzzle
ESRB : 0
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