Portal was an incredible success when it was released in 2007. It was a witty, charming, addictive romp through a virtual puzzle world. The puzzle design was inspired, forcing gamers to think laterally. With 19 test rooms and a final battle with the sarcastic computer AI GlaDOS it was awarded game of the year by many publications and still remains in the list of top ten PC titles of all time for many people.
Portal 2 is a much more ‘big budget’ affair, the long awaited sequel to the cult original. Immediately the production values are apparent, with the Steven Merchant voiced Wheatley awakening you into the atmospheric virtual world. The Aperture Science facility is falling apart and he is trying to save you. The first 10 minutes are a beautiful showcase for Valve’s unmatched storytelling capabilities with (Ricky Gervais writer and sidekick) Merchant doing a most admirable job of injecting humor and wit into the dialogue that flows between the characters.
The game breaks the player into the concept of puzzle solving, very gently, but just like the first game, the puzzles get increasingly difficult and more taxing. Objects such as the ‘cube’ make a reappearance as you work out how to move them to specific pressure plates to open doors and move platforms to progress. They get really devious, but rarely frustrating, because you know if you really step back and think about it, you can do it. Some of the levels are inspiring to play and immediately I was aware that this is a classic of the modern day.
Later in Portal 2, the developers introduce the gamers to ‘gels’. There are three gels in total, a Propulsion Gel (orange), Lunar Gel (white) and a Repulsion Gel (blue). Lunar Gel is the most basic in the game, and it paints a surface white, which is the colour of the surface you can place portals on. Repulsion Gel creates a surface you can bounce off, and Propulsion Gel makes you accelerate while you are running on it. Using combination’s of all three near the end are the key to success … and ill be honest many hours of head scratching.
The last new addition to the mechanic is the Excursion Tunnel. These are glowing, swirling particles and carry you along a straight path, if you get into their beam. These beams can run through portals and can defy gravity along their path. Rest assured when you reach the last couple of levels, you need to call upon every reserve of dexterity and cunning to solve them.
The room design really does deserve a mention, but don’t worry I won’t ruin the game for prospective readers. The designers have done a phenomenal job, working out how everything will work and making sure it still remains possible to solve. This time, you can actually spend time outside the Portal rooms, meaning there is a certain ‘epic’ feel to the usually confined nature of the game. I am not saying it is dramatically different, but they have taken the concept to the next level in many ways.
The single player campaign is certainly not as short as I expected, especially when I have read from some sources that the title is ‘bad value’. I spent my time enjoying the experience and it probably took me 10 hours in total, although I admit I had issues with some of the later puzzles. That said, I never got frustrated enough to give up. Expert puzzle solvers might be able to beat the game in 5 or 6 hours, but to charge through the game first time would be a travesty. I savoured the experience, taking my time and when I had it completed, I feel both sated and very happy to have spent a couple of days inside the virtual world of some very intelligent people. GlaDOS had me in laughing many times, with her witty and deeply sarcastic humour cutting through moments of deep concentration.
That isn’t all however because there is now a cooperative campaign mode which you and a friend can play as two robots called Atlas and P-Body. This campaign is completely different to the single player game with the puzzles being specifically designed for two people. This is an immensely satisfying mode and I am still playing it with a friend. Portal 2 really does focus you to think outside the box to complete some of the levels.
Multiplayer also features a ping tool – one player can point at something and create a temporary marker along with a pinging sound to tell their partner were to go or where to place their portal. If you found the single player campaign challenging, then this will push you even harder, trust me. Getting one person to the end is only half the battle, because unless you both do it, then its meaningless.
Production values are as good as I have seen in any game, both classic or modern. The voice acting is in a different league, with Ellen McLain returning to take over the sardonic GlaDOS. She really deserves praise for her clever injection of underlying personality into a computer voice. Stephen Merchant steals the show for me however as his character had me laughing out loud. I can’t remember ever laughing out loud at a computer game, so this is a first.
Graphically the game is very impressive, and while it isn’t designed to challenging Crysis for ‘most complex game engine ever created’, the overall concept art and design is top drawer. The level of detail is high, but not that taxing that mid range or low end graphics cards will not be able to run it perfectly fine. This is an all encompassing engine design to ensure as many people as possible can play it without a problem and we like that. We also love the concept of GlaDOS rebuilding the environment as you progress, because it works both visually and as a story-piece.
I also didn’t experience a single bug during my 15 hours or so … with the game to this point. Nothing got stuck in a wall, I didn’t vanish underneath an object, and the frame rate held steady for me, even on a modest laptop system with low end Nvidia graphics.
Portal 2 is a complete success and easily one of the best games of all time, never mind this year. Anything less than a full score would be very unfair. The witty scripting, excellent story line and brain teasing puzzles still has me gripped for a replay to try and set some additional goals for myself. I also have yet to complete the cooperative missions so there is plenty of game time left. I think it is well worth the money, and I am positive that if you like intelligent puzzle games then this should be on your must have list for 2011. It could potentially be the game of the year.