Strangely enough, video games are seemingly the only medium where sequels are routinely better than the original. It wasn’t going to be difficult for Valve to outstrip the first Portal in terms of length or story, but with such a unique game mechanic came the fear that any sequel would be hard pressed to match the originality of the first. Portal 2, much like Uncharted 2, or Chaos Theory before it, is one of those sequels that completely refines all aspects of the original, making for one of the most polished, exciting, and trickiest single player experiences around.
And then there’s the co-op mode. Consider your noodle baked.
Portal 2 keeps a smile firmly plastered on your face. I’ve never laughed in a game like I did during the first half hour. Woken up by a panicked metal cube (with Stephen Merchant’s voice), you’re quickly lead on his poorly-planned escape attempt from the decaying Aperture Science facility. Foliage bursts through the walls, test chambers malfunction in all sorts of ways, and there’s an occasionally worrying lack of flooring. The game is frequently laugh-out-loud funny – GLaDOS, deeming herself brutally murdered, is more of a bitch than ever, and her quips are noticeably more personal. The story is relatively standard but it’s the characterisation that really shines. Merchant is genuinely funny throughout, J.K. Simmons of Spider-Man fame makes an inspired appearance as ex-Aperture CEO Cave Johnson, but of course Ellen McLain, voice of GLaDOS, is the heart (and soul?) of the game.
Valve has kept the mechanics feeling fresh by adding a host of new ways to complicate the test-chambers. Gels are the most significant new addition: blue gel makes you jump higher, orange makes you run faster, and white gel means you can put a portal on whatever surface gets covered in the stuff. And they’re a lot of fun to use. These new elements are introduced gradually, but by the end, you’ll be using them all in tandem, the difficultly ramping up considerably.
The game constantly forces you to think outside the box, look for that hidden “portal-able” surface, and, as ever, frequently encourages you to fling yourself hundreds of feet in the air in the name of science. It can be infuriatingly hard at times, but the rush of satisfaction when you walk out the door at the end of each chamber is unparalleled.
The single player experience is worthy of a nigh-on perfect score for the first playthrough, but, most of the fun of a puzzle game is in figuring out the solution. Suffice it to say, the game has very limited replay second time around, since you know exacltly what to do. It should take between 8 to 10 hours to complete, which is fair, but I can’t help but feel with Portal’s 4 year absence, the game could be a little lengthier. Co-op clocks in at about 6 hours , and can be a real nightmare at times, but then, isn’t that the point? In spite of its lack of replayability, the game is such a brilliant experience, you should buy it sharpish.
Unless you’re supposed to be working or revising, that is.
Good: Hilarious, fiendish, and perfectly paced.
Bad: Have a little look at the textures – the Source engine really shows it age here. Very limited replay value.