FutureFive NZ - Review: Portal 2 (single player)

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Review: Portal 2 (single player)

Official website

Platform: PlayStation 3 (tested), Xbox 360, PC, Mac

In the years I've written for Game Console, I don't think I've ever used the word "amazing” to describe or sum up a game. If anything, I have been lukewarm at best to a large number of games I've reviewed, so it feels odd and quite refreshing to say this: Portal 2 is absolutely amazing.

What made the first Portal so great is that it was a breath of fresh air. Where other first-person games gave you a gun and hordes of faceless enemies, Portal gave players a unique way to solve problems (the trademark, two-way portals that enable the player to navigate otherwise unreachable areas), and an intimate relationship with a single, near-omniscient adversary.

It was short but sweet, and left fans hungry for more. But what makes Portal 2 great is that it isn't more of the same – mercifully, the game shies away from retreading old memes – but rather that it’s more of the new.

Not only has the world of Aperture Science been expanded in size and scope, becoming a wonderfully unique take on mad science; but the game itself is absolutely hilarious.

Yes, hilarious. In my interview with Valve writer Chet Faliszeck (in the final, April issue of Game Console), I expressed concern over the introduction of new speaking parts. I'm delighted to say that the new characterisation adds a lot to the game. 

The intercom voiceover presents Aperture Science as a hilariously out-of-touch group concerned with the science, rather than the test subjects – something reinforced by plenty of subtle hints in the level design. Indeed, the Aperture facility could be considered a character in its own right; wall panels attached to robotic arms shift about, cleaning accumulated debris and re-arranging the puzzle chambers.

The star of the show, however, is Wheatley, a personality sphere voiced by Stephen Merchant. Merchant's voice acting is absolutely flawless, and Valve's animators did an amazing job of making what is effectively a robotic eyeball on rails an extremely expressive character. In fact, it can be argued that Merchant's performance is too good; I often found myself standing around waiting for another line of comedy gold rather than progress further through the game.

GLaDOS makes her return, of course. After the events of the first Portal, her relationship with the protagonist, Chell, has shifted to a more personal one. Rather than act with hatred, which would have been rather boring, GLaDOS adopts a cold, passive-aggressive demeanour that is far more enjoyable, and it’s nailed perfectly by Ellen McLane's performance.

Both characters receive plenty of development over the course of the game, and Valve's writers have done a great job of not leaving the player out. The focus of the dialogue is always on the player, rather than leaving gamers to twiddle their thumbs while a pair of Artificial Intelligences trades insults.

The level design has improved from Portal as well. Exploring the first few chambers from the first game, after years of neglect and encroaching plant growth (and years spent in anticipation of a sequel) feels both hauntingly familiar and strangely new. 

From there, a number of new puzzle elements are introduced, ranging from deadly lasers to physics-affecting gels. The progression feels natural, and the difficulty curve is fairly steady, resulting in each puzzle of the game's last act feeling very satisfying to complete.

The levels themselves are also full of character, both in the ways they reflect the story, and in the more subtle jokes and Easter eggs scattered throughout the game. There's more than enough to keep players coming back for repeat playthroughs, doubly so if the developer commentary mode is enabled, which gives a great insight into Portal 2's development process.

Unfortunately, as with Crysis 2, I wasn't able to review Portal 2's co-op component, again due to PSN issues. I intend to post an update with co-op impressions as soon as possible.

Nothing is perfect, however, and Portal 2 is no exception. With the gels, it’s usually plain to see that there's only one way to complete a level, and some of the solutions in the second act are counterintuitive. Gamers were also rightfully annoyed when the Potato Sack promotion, in which playing several indie games would speed up Portal 2's release, had minimal impact, only releasing the game a few hours ahead of schedule. But, that's a non-issue now.

It’s not often that I say this, but Portal 2 is one of the must-buy games of the year. It might not be perfect, but it’s a damn funny, charming, and clever game. If you do plan to buy Portal 2, I must again recommend staying away from spoilers; playing it the first time is an unforgettable experience.

I only hope that the gaming world at large doesn't pick up a new catchphrase to replace the tired "The cake is a lie!” from the first Portal.

Graphics: 9/10

Sound: 8/10

Gameplay: 9.5/10

Lasting Appeal: 8/10

Overall Score: 9.3/10

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