Portal 2

Every so often, a simple concept can flourish into something truly spectacular. In the same way that Tetris has become one of the most enjoyed puzzle games of all time, and motion control now holds casual gaming in its strap-assisted grip, a concept involving pairings of portals, allowing instant travel from one to the other, is a simple idea, with incredible potential. As a stand-alone idea, portals are already pretty exciting, but progressing from the thought experiments and simple tests of the original Portal, included in the Orange Box package alongside Half Life 2, Valve have created something truly brilliant, by crafting together an interesting story, some truly memorable characters and an incredible array of arenas to traverse, and even throwing in some new puzzle mechanics to add to the entertainment.

Portal 2

Awoken after hundreds of years in stasis, you find yourself in the heart of the Aperture Science Research Facility, guided by Wheatley as you attempt to escape. Without GLaDOS, the somewhat-psychotic, computer-based uber brain from the first game, at the helm, the facility has largely fallen into disarray. After grabbing a portal gun to facilitate your escape, it's inevitable that you'll end up running into former-nemesis GLaDOS, which thankfully allows one of the greatest gaming characters of all time to return in Portal 2. Before long, you're traversing new and exciting puzzles, responding to the every whim of testing-goddess GLaDOS. So far, so familiar, but before long, the story really takes off, and you're exposed to the many new concepts Portal 2 brings to the table, with some cracking new characters, each brought to life with no more than a voiceover, but more effectively than most games can dream of.

Ultimately, the key things that separate the game from its predecessor are the scope and scale of the levels. Instead of confined levels tacking one puzzle at a time, many of the areas in Portal 2 are simply the structure of the facility itself, outside of any pre-packaged test area. Navigating such areas, with numerous locked, or rusted-shut doors, collapsed entrances and missing platforms is as much a challenge as any other level, and the open nature of many of these areas provides excellent variation. Within each level, the developers have taken things further with aerial faith platforms (springs), light bridges (bridges that will continue through portals until they next reach a hard surface), different types of gel (with various bouncing or speeding effects) and excursion funnels (allowing you to be carried, suspended in midair, even through portals). Each mechanic is introduced gradually, allowing a little time to acclimatize to new ideas, but the developers are unafraid to combine concepts later in the game, leading to some slightly-more fiendish levels as the game draws to a close. It's very welcome though, since it makes the puzzles slightly more challenging than those in the first game.

Portal 2

The only downside to the gameplay is that the tools and techniques available are such versatile and interesting concepts that limitations have to be imposed. Firstly, portals can only be placed on certain surfaces, otherwise the game would be too easy. Sometimes this can feel a tiny bit restrictive, although ultimately it helps the game, and can even be justified by the fact that a stable portal undoubtedly requires a certain type of surface (being particular level and of a certain texture and size). Additionally, the developers have been forced to restrict the potential routes through a level. The reason, it would seem, is that the creation of multiple paths would be too tricky, since the tools available would allow players to easily switch between the multiple paths, making the game too easy. Instead, many levels feature only a single way of solving them, with very little variation possible. It's not a massive issue, but it's disappointing when you realise that every clever idea you've had in solving a puzzle was the one you were supposed to have.

That aside, the game is frankly excellent, and shouldn't be criticized for a single-path limitation that is likely unavoidable. The mechanics feel extremely solid, and the gameplay flows beautifully. The momentum transfer through portals (emphasized in the Mass and Velocity areas) feels perfect, and it's truly a joy to tackle each puzzle. Skipping along different types of gel, leaping through a portal, hitting a spring and bouncing off to a whole new area, you realize just how incredible Portal 2 is. Unbelieveably, you can even do this cooperatively, and this is an absolutely masterful move by the developers. Both online and offline you can team up with a friend (or random online acquaintance) and tackle a whole series of specially-developed multiplayer levels. The majority of the levels would not be possible without two players (yielding four portals to play with). The scope for linking portals, bridges, tunnels and gels absolutely explodes in multiplayer, and there are some truly outstanding moments. One level, in an outdoor factory area, involves players leaping into a portal below, in order to project themselves onto a central platform with an exit. The moment of realization when you discover how to arrive at this area, and subsequently managing to pull it off, makes the level one of the best in gaming history. Neither the single-player campaign or multiplayer courses are immensely long, but potentially offer 8-10 and 4-5 hours of gameplay respectively, each with absolutely tonnes of replay value (it's amazing how quickly a solution can be forgotten, allowing enjoyable replay).

Portal 2

Graphically, things haven't progressed a great deal since Half Life 2, but this is no shoddy conversion in the style of The Orange Box. The frame rate in Portal 2 never even blinks, and you'll happily charge around each level with gels, blocks, tunnels and bridges flying everywhere and never notice a moment's pause. The physics are perhaps the stand out aspect, since the textures and generally beauty aren't up there with games like Uncharted. Movement, though, is superb. Everything from a droplet of gel through to an entire puzzle area being disassembled right in front of you is incredibly well realized, creating a truly believeable environment. The sound in the game is arguably superior though, not for the interesting ambient music or sounds, which themselves are very good, but as a result of the terrific voicework. GLaDOS is the stand-out character once again, but Wheatley and other supporting cast provide excellent performances too, bringing the whole game to life.

Offline and online co-op support, even allowing connection to PC gamers, trophies, new concepts and more content overall already set Portal 2 up to be an excellent game. Combined with the improved, fleshed-out story, and the large number of easter eggs in the game, Portal 2 is arguably superior to its predecessor in every way. The only front Portal 2 can't compete on is originality, since the central idea to the game is now several years old. However, in every other respect, Portal 2 improves, providing one of the greatest games of the year, and easily one of the best in the genre.

Game details

Game logo

Publisher:

Valve Corporation

Developer:

Valve Corporation

Players:

1-2

Online:

1-2

Release:

2011-04-21

Trophies:

51

Review summary

Gameplay:

A great game based on a superb set of concepts

Graphics:

Nothing out of this world, but decent enough

Sound:

Some brilliant voicework and reasonable music

Lastability:

The shortish campaign is saved by super co-op levels

9.3

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