Sunday, 4 September 2011

Portal 2 Review

The original Portal was an awesome albeit short XBLA/PC/The Orange Box title. It saw you completing many puzzles in an abandoned facility (Aperture Laboratories) with no one but an AI called GLaDOS helping you through. After the promises of cake went unfulfilled and instead you nearly get incinerated - it doesn't take much to realise that GLaDOS is evil so you go into her lair and destroy her.

Portal 2 opens with you back in the facility after many, many years. Stephen Merchant is there to greet you and is suitably hilarious. JK Simmons and Ellen McLain also provide voices and are both excellent. In fact that's the first thing I should praise about this game - the writing is superb from start to finish. This is the funniest game I have ever played - and that is in no way an exaggeration.

You do the first couple of puzzles from the first game at the beginning - although those clean, glossy, white walls you'd expect from a laboratory have been replaced with a filthy building that's completely fallen apart featuring overgrown plants and grime. It's a great way to show the degeneration that can take place without GLaDOS's genius behind the scenes.
I'm not going to spoil any story elements - because the story is incredible - but basically you get your portal device and get back to GLaDos's lair where she is accidentally re-booted. That's when bad things start to happen.

The new overgrown Aperture...
The game consists of some genius puzzles with loads of new elements such as gels, "aerial faith plates", "thermal discouragement beams" and other hilariously named complications. These keep the puzzles feeling fresh and new and never repetitive. Somehow, the brains at Valve manage to make the puzzles challenging, but never too hard to complete which is impressive as it keeps the game fair and fun.
At the same time Valve manage to tell the backstory of the eerie Aperture Science facility. It's an awesome thing to see - going all the way back to the 60's and then back to present day. There's a lot of great character development and big reveals that I won't ruin, but I will say that the story is one hell of a ride.

The most incredible part of the story is how it makes you feel for all the characters. Chell doesn't speak and yet you still appreciate her courage and determination. GLaDOS is an artificial intelligence and a monster and yet here she comes across almost human. And this continues to the ending which is an absolutely beautiful way to finish - it's rare that a game this generation makes you feel emotional but this game totally did.

The graphics aren't anything too breathtaking - Valve are still using the same old Source Engine - but honestly, it doesn't matter. Portal 2 is a game that doesn't need graphics like Crysis 2 - it has far too many other winning elements!

After the Single Player there's the Co-Op - which is just as clever. There is the option to play splitscreen or online as the two robots. Atlas and P-Body. The two robots have a lot of character - it's hard not to love them. The best thing about the Co-Op is that you are so dependent on your partner. The puzzles are cleverly done so that if only one of you is doing the work - you just can't proceed. While the story in this mode isn't as well done or engaging, it's still a lot of fun.
However, because you are so dependent on your partner, you may only be able to enjoy this mode if you have someone reliable to play it with, so that's something to consider.


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