Friday, 13 May 2011

Portal 2 Review

Ah Valve. What a sneaky company they are. It seems as if they'll do just about anything to stall the 'within months of the release of Episode 2', Half-Life 2 Episode 3. Heck,  they went  as far as coming up with new IP's. As much as this aggravates the die-hard fans ( WASSUP) of what has been regarded as  'The best game ever made', however, said new games Valve has cooked up have been just as good and memorable. Scratch that, they've been absolutely sublime. 

The original Portal included within the Orange Box has undoubtedly been the biggest surprise this generation has seen (in terms of gaming, ofcourse). Probably an apology for the duly overdue Half-Life Episode 2 and the 99 years in development Team Fortress 2, no one could have foreseen the three-hour experiment by a bunch of fresh graduates to have become the critically acclaimed and meme spawning extravaganza it is today.

 Portals, brilliant puzzles, just as good level designs and, most importantly, Glados, a homicidal AI overseer who has a rather poisonous affection for choking people in neuron toxin,  coupled with her un-sarcastic, deadpan humour,  earned it the most gracious of titles any game could hope to achieve. 
Enter Portal 2, the now cake-less reason for man's existence. 

Aperture science is in ruins following the ending of Portal, but thanks to an altered ending, and a rather intriguing comic based back-story  involving the lovably insane Ratman, Chell finds herself once again within it's confines. It's not long before Wheatley, a neurotic personality core responsible for the welfare of Aperture's human test subjects comes for a visit. His ultimate aim becomes to help Chell escape, but Glados just so happens to awake again. You know...after you murdered her?

It's the script of Portal 2 that once again makes it standout. Not only is it the funniest game out there, but it also features some of the best character development seen in any form of interactive entertainment. Marvel at just how much both Glados and Wheatley grow as you inch your way closer to the end, with the history of Aperture Science serving as a compelling sub-story that has been both perfectly created and presented.
Story now it's main focus, one my fret that the puzzles have taken a backseat. That my friends, is where you are a wrong. Sure, the game is full of truly epic moments and thrilling chase sequences, all topped off by brilliant songs and sounds,  but it doesn't necessarily result in another aspect suffering. Afterall, Portal just wouldn't be Portal if it wasn't for it's mind bending noodle-scratchers.

With the re-introduction of the much loved Portal gun, a device which shoots linked 'gateway's allowing you to pass, jump, fly, crawl or die through one end and out the other, a plethora of new additions make their selves present to create more mind numbing moments. The most fun of these new additions are without a doubt the gels that play around with the physics of the game. The blue repulsion gel turns any surface into a trampoline, enabling players to jump to new heights or cross large distances by bouncing of walls. The orange propulsion gel speeds up players who run allowing, allowing them to build up high momentum and soar across large gap, or crash into walls and die miserably. Finally, the white conversion gel turns any surface into a portal-able one, giving you access to places on though impossible. 

Other inventions consist of thermal discouragement cubes that bend laser into designated points, aerial faith plates that catapult players to high altitudes, gravity beams that trap objects and slowly transport both players and items through the air and, finally, the hard light bridge, which acts as both a shields against the turrets and create bridges to  walk across.

 Everything introduced in Portal 2 serves a purpose, the main one being creating absolute fun. You will lose count of just how many times you will walk into a new chamber, see what's usable and let your imagination run a riot, coming up with more than one solution to some of the puzzles, as well as create some hilarious moments (especially in co-op, but more on that later). 

There will be times where you die repeatedly, as well as moments where you think a particular puzzle is impossible. But just when you're about to give up, you have 'Eureka!' moment, watching your devious plan unfold and reach the exit elevator,  giving you a sense of accomplishment unattainable anywhere else.
The main campaigns length is about double that of Portal, maybe longer if you get stuck or decide to replay it. It's an endearing experience that will refuse to leave your mind, going as far as to create those 'watercooler' moments, discussing with Portal fans and complete strangers alike about the hilarious characters, the genius puzzles and the co-op.

Yes, you heard right folks, co-op. As if the single-player wasn't memorable enough, Valve has gone out of its way to create what is essentially one of the best cooperative experiences available. Continuing after the end of the story, players are put in the roles of Atlas and P-Body, two ridiculously charming robots specifically built to satisfy Glados' never fading urge to complete tests. Two players means four portals, which in return mean more insane puzzles that are arguably better than the ones featured in the campaign.

As mentioned, going through co-op creates for some insanely rewarding challenges and oh, so many laughs. You try and not smile after you purposely send your buddy flying toward the base of a crusher, watching their every bolt fly apart as the spiked plates turn them into well-slammed-steaks. But its that moment when the answer hits you and your partner and you excitedly work together to make theory into practise, allowing you to achieve your ultimate goal that words fall short of describing. 

Valve has done a great job of making sure players can always communicate their feelings in the games. There's an in-game countdown timer, allowing for synchronised actions by the duet, and a pointer that clearly marks where in a level they'd like their friends to stand, place a portal or simply look toward. In addition, the two robots can perform, various adorable gestures, such as waving , hugging and dancing. Not only is it cute to watch, the unimpressed commentary make it doubly rewarding.

Portal 2 still uses the source engine yet still manages to look a million bucks. Elegant simplicity is the best way to describe it, with it's art direction adding to the creative brilliance of the series. Sure, there are more load times then ought to be, but it's a one of the only minor quibbles that are fast forgotten about. 

As a last note, it would be wrong to not mention the outstanding vocal performances. Ellen McCain returns as Glados and wonderfully brings back the uninterested and uncaring sociopath AI we've learnt to love. Stephen Merchant, possibly one of the most underrated actors, almost, if not completely, upstages McCain and effortlessly turns Wheatley into an affable, hilarious character who you can't help but not like. And when you realize J.K. Simmons is actually Cave Johnson, you almost find it impossible to comprehend the dedication Valve has for perfecting what it does best.

Put simply, Portal 2 is one of the best games ever made. It seamlessly blends puzzle and adventure elements together, but also makes itself known as one of the very few comedy games, where witty dialog and laugh-out-loud concepts have been given an equal billing with the gameplay itself. It's funny, challenging, inventive and boasts more memorable moments then most triple a titles out there, moments that will stick with you for a really, really long time.

Now if Valve could hurry up and learn how to count to three...

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