Jamie reviews ‘Portal 2’ ~

With Portal 2 having been released only but 2 days ago on Steam for all the PC gamers, one of our long time writer took a full day to play through Portal 2 to give you this epic review. Not only that but Jamie even played through the whole of the co-op and did some extra playing all in one sitting to make sure this review covered everything!

I now hand you over to Jamie and his epic review of Portal 2! Just a word of warning, it’s nearly two pages long so you may want to get a drink as you read.

Portal 2, as I’m sure you know, is the highly anticipated sequel to Valve’s Portal. The original game swept up awards and recognition, and also spawned many memes and in-jokes (much the annoyance of many people, myself included. Seriously if I hear THE CAKE IS A LIE one more time I’m going to…), but was only 1 – 4 hours long. This suited the game at the time, but it left a lot of people wanting more. Well, here we are in 2011, with more. And it’s good.

The game takes place centuries after the original Portal. Chell, who’s been in stasis after being dragged there by Ratman in the Portal Comic, is awoken with a knock on her door. We meet the charming Stephen Merchant voicing personality core Wheatley, and they set off to escape from the facility. Along the way however, you accidentally wake up GlaDOS. Whoops. The testing behemoth then forces you continue testing in the now derelict facility. The game isn’t all testing however, but the amount of surprises and twists crammed into the plot make it nearly impossible for me to give you exact details without spoiling the game. What I can tell you is that your adventures will land you in Old Aperture, where you’ll be guided by Cave Johnson, voiced by excellent JK Simmons. Here, the test chambers take a more old rustic look, with even the simplest things like boxes and buttons looking rusted and old.

It’s also worth noting that through your adventures you learn more about Aperture as a company, but most importantly you learn about GlaDOS’s backstory, you learn more about Wheatley, and even learn Cave Johnson’s fate. Despite the short amount of characters, each one is given their time to shine, and each one is given a fleshed out backstory. Oh, and if you crouch next to companion cubes you can hear them sing.

Gameplay wise, this is your typical Portal affair, but with a few welcome changes. Things like the Excursion Funnel (which is a slow moving beam of light that allows you to move across rooms) and Thermal Discouragement Beams (beams of light that can be used to open doors and kill turrets) add some new spice to the Portal gameplay, and the high production values and great level design make each puzzle a wonder to solve.

Speaking of the puzzles, each one is the perfect difficulty. Obviously at the beginning of the game there’s some really easy ones, but even at the end there’s never something that makes you want to reach for a walkthrough or cheat. Each puzzle can be very hard, but you always feel like the solution is a hair away, which keeps you ploughing through. It’s a very clever way of making puzzles, and it means that you never simply give up.

Somewhat through the game, you’re introduced to the Gels. This adds a whole new dynamic to portal, with three gels that are used to make you run fast, jump high, and create portals on dark surfaces. This adds a new element of anarchy to the puzzle solving, and some of the solutions are really clever and make you feel proud to accomplish them.

Graphically, the game shows that Valve’s source engine still has a few years in it yet. The engine, almost a staggering 8 years old, really looks fantastic. The models and world all shine a radiant glow of true artistry, and each segment feels new and exciting. The game also runs very well. There were moments where a thousand things were happening on screen with a vast world stretching out before me, and my PC just shrugged it off producing no noticeable frame-rate drops.

The sound design for Portal 2 is also magnificent. The music and soundtrack are absolutely superb, from catchy little jingles to the absolutely fantastic track “Reconstructing Science” (The music from the trailer). I daresay this is the best soundtrack ever for a Valve game, eclipsing the original games by miles. The voice acting is superb as well. Ellen McLain returns to her role as GlaDOS, and really pulls out the stops. GlaDOS has some fairly personal lines in this, more so than the original game, and she manages to pull them off in the typical GlaDOS way.

But the real surprise is Stephen Merchant. Playing the bumbling robot Wheatley, he starts off as you’d expect – hilarious and kind of thick. But throughout the game the character transforms and…well, I don’t want to spoil too much. Let’s just say that Stephen put’s in a wondrous performance.

And finally, the co-op campaign. This see’s two robots, Atlas and P-Body (referred to, perhaps mockingly, by GlaDOS as Blue and Orange), as they go through Apertures tests. The puzzles are extremely well designed in this part of the game, meaning you need absolute teamwork to pull through. There were moments when me and my friend would look back at a level after completing it, thinking “Was that really what we were SUPPOSED to do?”. You’ll find yourself asking this a lot, never knowing if you just followed the developers intent, or if you managed to find a sneaky way past with some great teamwork. The co-op puzzles are definitely the best designed in the game, making you really have to think for their solution. But thankfully, two minds are better than one.

So, in conclusion, what can I say about Portal 2? Well, just like the original game, I honestly have no criticism. The game is a decent length (I sank 17 hours into it at time of publishing), has some hilarious writing in it, and the co-op campaign will really show you how important trust can be, and how funny it can be when that trust is misplaced (“Hey Jim, stand on the bridge” “JAMIE WHAT HAVE YOU DONE YOU REMOVED THE BRIDGE”).

Portal 2 is one of Valve’s greatest releases. If you enjoyed the original Portal, you owe it to yourself to check this one out.

Jamie ~

Make sure to check back for more game reviews! Don’t forget to check out Portal 2 for yourself here!


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