Sunday, 1 May 2011

Portal 2 Review

Note: I'm reposting this from my other blog so that we can get them all in the right place and establish the kind of thing we're doing here.

So on the first of April the cool fellows at Valve starting throwing potatoes at indie developers as some kind of secret mission. Some crazed nerds realised this definitely meant something and started frantically picking these potatoes up in an attempt to win Valve's favour. There was a huge Alternate Reality Game messily solved by the aforementioned nerds while some guy pretended to be relevant and provided by far the most interesting parts of the ARG despite actually just being a bit insane. It all converged into Valve announcing that Half Life 2: Episode 3 wasn't out yet and some other shit about Portal 2 being released early if people bought and played indie games that they weren't hugely interested in. I was majorly pissed off and lost all hope of Episode 3 ever being announced before realising Valve were dangling their monopolistic dick in my face and I clearly wasn't doing my job, so I got on Steam and bought Portal 2, which turned out to be the right move.

It preloaded and I went to bed with my girlfriend, innocently. At maybe 7 in the morning my brain twitched me awake and I got on with playing Portal 2 against the woman's protests.

First Impressions:
Portal 2 starts you off with a part-tutorial-part-satire-of-tutorial tutorial, where it talks you through the complex processes of looking, walking, staring at art, and laying waste to human vegetables, all the while displaying confidently Valve's ability to push the source engine to the limits many have speculated exist but so far remain out of sight. The Bristoltacular voice acting of Stephen Merchant fully creates the character of Wheatley by basically being himself. The tutorial cuts off after teaching you how to WASD and doesn't really teach you the basics of portalling which may be a problem for casuals but is no issue to people with a spoonful of spatial awareness. The Enrichment Centre's overgrown, under maintained design stands out well against the glistening whiteness of the first Portal and really gives you a feel that you’re not being as controlled as in the first game.

9/10 – Inspiring.


The story was kind of spoiled for me as I frequent certain boards, but the dialogue and acting still kept me pretty damn captivated throughout. The characters are built upon, digging huge canyons of depth under the basic set up of the first game. The antagonist of the previous game, GLaDOS, returns to bust out some hurtful hateful lovable dialogue, while the little metal moron Wheatley has some fantastically British humour that only Steven Merchant could deliver correctly. The story takes twists and turns that lead you down to the old Aperture Labs where you hear some pre-recorded words from Cave Johnson including some of the most amazing shit you’ll ever hear said about lemons. The game builds up to a fantastic confrontation and an over the top ending that grips you pretty tight.

9.4/10 – Fantastically written and voiced.


The original gameplay from the first Portal returns with the Aperture Science Handheld Portal Device providing you dimension fucking abilities that you can make use of as long as you’ve got a lot of white walls around. The issue with this iteration of the franchise is that they’ve decided that you had too many white walls in the first game and concluded that they should just give you one space of white wall per test chamber so you never get too lost. They make up for this by throwing in a shitload of new gameplay devices to assist in making the real world seem even more inferior. Valve surprise in how many interesting ways they can combine lasers, light bridges, asbestos tractor beams, and two different momentum altering goos to give you an interesting and diverse set of puzzles, but they have taken out a lot of the more reaction based tests, which can leave the game feeling a tiny bit slower than the first. Still, Portal 2 manages to keep you thinking with a wide array of different puzzles and test chambers letting you really explore what’s possible with impossible tools. The new Co-Op mode is also a great play through and they take advantage wherever they can of the extra Portal gun. Though relatively short, it provides an interesting challenge and a well developed twist on the Portal gameplay.

8.8/10 – Well developed and still fantastic, but lacking in speed and complexity in some areas.


The source engine shows in Portal 2 that it is still easily capable of pushing out great looking games even with being around 7 years old. The lighting and design is superb. One fantastic thing about the source engine is how you never encounter texture popping, but this does lead to frequent loading times. The constant updating of the source engine means it has all the features to keep running close to modern standards, but it still doesn’t as realistic as the newer CryEngines or the newer Frostbite engine. The new style of old and unmanaged still has the feel of Aperture Science and even the underground test chambers have the feel of ‘insane research facility’ while clearly being from a different era. Overall it looks fantastic and you’d have to be trying very hard if you think that the source engine holds back the visuals.

8.5/10 – Fantastic design easily hold the aging Source engine up.


Portal 2 is a thoroughly enjoyable experience and should easily entertain anyone for 6 to 8 hours single player and somewhere between 2 and 6 hours of Co-Op depending who you’re playing with. Easily a purchase that no one should look back on, it holds everything that a good game should and combines great design, gameplay, and dialogue to envelope the player in the world and rules of the Portal universe.

Final Score: 9/10 – A great game that’s well worth playing.

- Aaron

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