Portal 2 is an enthralling, hilarious and challenging puzzle game that expands on the successful formula of its predecessor. It attempts to answer many of the questions we were left with after the first game, doing so by aggrandizing the experience with a bigger scope, more characters, and a far more intriguing narrative. The world of Aperture Science introduces you to innovative gameplay mechanics and utter hilarity, fueled by dark and witty humour that helps define Portal. This comedic and dark FPS puzzle game is the best of its kind; driven by an alluring performance by Stephen Merchant as Wheatley, the sympathetic tone of the narrative slowly evolves into an eerie and troublesome experience, fueled by a denser environment where the puzzles are thought provoking and challengingly entertaining.
Clever and witty dialogue – The writing in Portal 2 drives the experience, complimenting the eeriness of the environments through wit and charm. It’s fascinating how well Valve has managed to make pieces of scrap metal so interesting, fueled by strong performances, particularly by the ever-charismatic Stephen Merchant, and the frighteningly memorable AI voice of GLaDOS.
Evolution of a wonderful experience – The experience that is Portal 2 feels very much intone with what we came to love in the original game, but through the introduction of new tools and a longer single-player campaign comes more and better puzzles. Portal was draped in mystery and Portal 2 feels very much the same, but a number of new elements and mechanics allow the experience to break off and become its own unique adventure. New tools are introduced to you with subtlety as the game challenges you to use them in clever ways, and this helps distance the experience from the first game whilst still feeling decisively familiar.
Satisfying puzzles – Portal 2 is packed with challenging and sticky situations, offering a steady flow of increasingly tough puzzles. The satisfying sense of progression is part of what makes Portal 2 so memorable, and thanks to a number of great news tools, including gels that change and shape environments as well as the highly efficient ping tool in co-op, there is added depth that broadens the complexity of the puzzles you encounter, contributing to a high sense of satisfaction upon completion.
Great co-op – The co-op campaign in Portal 2 is a completely separate experience from the main campaign, as you and a friend take control of robot buddies Atlas and P-body. The sense of progression is fueled more by the game’s use of teamwork, and the co-op experience is driven less by story and more by genuine co-op gameplay; tools like the ping tool, which allows you to tag a spot you’d like your friend to place a portal, and the general level design distance the co-op component from the main campaign, which adds considerable value to the experience as a whole. The action is more akin to how Portal played out, with a number of cleverly designed test chambers to test your puzzle-solving skills. There is a good balance of challenge and teamwork in the co-op mode, and it’s really fun to mess around with a friend whilst trying to solve whatever puzzle the game throws at you. The single-player campaign pushes you through each area with a story, whereas co-op is driven by the goofiness of the characters and the ways in which you and your friend communicate with one another. It’s a co-op mode that has been designed really well, complimenting the mechanics and experience perfectly.
Decent value – The single-player campaign is longer than the one in the original, clocking in at roughly seven hours. The co-op mode won’t take you as long, but combined you’re looking at around 12-13 hours of mind-bending Portal action. There isn’t much incentive to replay the game once you’re finished, but the experience holds its own extremely well, providing enough intrigue and hilarity to justify a second playthrough.
Improved design and visuals – There are a number of wonderful new additions in design that contribute to the progression of the experience. The game displays portal placement (even through walls) so as to remind you where other portals are on the level. The levels themselves are considerably larger, a design choice that justifies the inclusion of things like zoom and portal placement tagging.
Effective STEAM integration – Although exclusive to PS3, which is surely disappointing for 360 gamers considering the support Valve has had for the console in the past, STEAM integration works well for the most part, although it seems to have affected a number of design elements of which Valve has already acknowledged. Signing into your STEAM account on your PS3 console is quick and easy, and playing against a PC gamer via cross-platform multiplayer presents no lag or visual compromises. Valve has definitely set the platform for previous console games, so here’s hoping other developers take note and implement similar features in the future.
Load times – Portal 2 is somewhat plagued by frequent and long loading times, although they do little to deter the experience or story. The longest loads seem confined to the first few moments of the game, and even then the game’s design does enough to keep you intrigued and watching whilst the game loads up.
It’s a shame that there isn’t more of a competitive edge in Portal 2. It’s a game that definitely calls for it, and it would have been particularly satisfying to beat out your friend’s puzzle-solving times and other stats.
The Final Verdict
At its core, Portal 2 very much feels like a science experiment where you’re the test subject. It holds nothing back, particularly with its dark and dry humour, and expands on mechanics and physics that helped define the original. Dark, mysterious, funny and entertaining, Portal 2 will challenge you in all the right ways.