Less Cake, More Fillings Amuck In "Portal 2"
The first Portal title garnered a massive following around the world, thanks in part to its interesting gameplay, dialogue that instantly became internet memes, a catchy end theme song and possibly one the greatest villains in video gaming history. It comes as no surprise that a sequel was green-lit, but the task at hand for Valve was to up the ante in just about every way in order to make it as memorable as the first game. Does Portal 2 succeed as well as its big brother, or does it fall flat on the face of failure?
Continuing on from the first Portal title, the sequel begins with Chelle in a room many years after the events of the first game. She is awaken by Wheatley, a circular robot who leads her through the ruins of Aperture Science, leading up to the lifeless body of GLaDOS. Unfortunately due to the lack of true intelligence it has Wheatley revives the psychotic AI, and forces Chelle into doing more tests "for science." From there you will be brought into the familiar territory of the first title and given the chance to solve more difficult puzzles while GLaDOS inexpressively taunts you. Soon Wheatley helps you escape, and after passing through the manufacturing areas you confront GLaDOS and have her personality switched with Wheatley. And that's when the real trouble begins...
Throughout the main game you will be brought up to speed as to what happened before the events of the first game. You'll hear the voice of Aperture Science founder Cave Johnson (voiced by J.K. Simmons) as he welcomes new recruits to its manufacturer, along with his secretary Caroline, a woman who has a major connection with GLaDOS. You will also be able to try out newer Aperture Science products that will help Chelle go faster, jump higher and shoot more portal holes into the walls, tools that will help you in the long run. Plus you will find out the real truth behind how and why GLaDOS is, well, GLaDOS, and what the real purpose of your new "friend" Wheatley is.
For the first time in many years I cannot complain one bit about the gameplay in a single-player mode. The story moves fluidly, and not once did I feel any sort of repetition in Portal 2. Because of it being lengthier than the first title the folks at Valve were able to expand the better ideas of Portal and make them better. The puzzles may be more complex and challenging, and you might need a lot of time to ponder to figure out their solutions, but in the long run it lacks any sort of angry frustration that one may receive while playing other first-person titles. The same cannot be said, however, for its co-op mode.
Along with its single-player mode Valve added a special co-op storyline for friends and online players to solve together. You and a friend play as Atlas and P-Body, two robots built by GLaDOS specifically to try out her tests and do everything they can to succeed. In the first four campaigns the two robots must complete puzzles in order to reach a disk that unlocks something crucial. After the completion of these four campaigns you discover that the two robots need to find what is called "the Vault," a place where humans are kept in a cryogenically-frozen state.
Because of the two-player style the puzzles are a lot more difficult, the concept of teamwork is strongly recommended. Both robots are given portal guns, so you can use those to your advantage. You can also use the new tools you discovered in the single-player campaign, which will be helpful in places with giant gaps in-between. However the co-op mode is a campaign that will test one's friendship to the bitter end, with the wrong move possibly leading towards demise and a massive screaming match with the other player on your team. It's as if they saved all the frustrations they were going to put into the single-player mode and implanted it into the co-op campaign.
One key element that makes the single-player mode lacking in frustration is its control scheme. Its continue usage of straightforward moving, jumping, ducking, shooting and grabbing makes Portal 2 a title that can be played by just about everyone. It's the sort of simplicity that you don't see often in first-person titles, and it's probably one of the big reasons why it was picked up by many.
The biggest reason the first one succeeded was its terrific script and voice acting, and in Portal 2 the storyline and dialogue are just as sharp and witty. Not a single joke from the first game is repeated, thankfully avoiding any sort of dead horse beatings. Its dark humor and one-liners are just as funny as the ones featured in the first Portal title, maybe even funnier. (Cave Johnson's lines later in the game will have you rolling on the floor laughing, none of which I want to spoil here.) Ellen McLain's GLaDOS is just as dark and hilarious as ever, and giving Ricky Gervais's friend Stephen Merchant the task at voicing Wheatley added a tad bit of good British humor to the game. While Simmons seems to still be channeling his Spider-Man character here his Cave Johnson is still a welcoming addition to the Portal world.
Only one thing about the game keeps it from being an all-around masterpiece: its replay value. While it might take you a good ten hours to beat the single-player mode (depending on how good your puzzle-solving skills are) and the co-op campaign will tack up another eight hours there isn't much more to go back to playing after you've defeated it. You can revisit each parts of the levels, but it's not like there are special bonuses if you beat a test under a certain amount of time. All you can really do is beat the game, and then wait for more maps and content to be released as DLC.
- Great level designs, trickier, clever puzzles
- Strong script, hilarious dialogue
- Solid co-op mode, online and offline
- Lack of real replay value
- Co-op mode might make you lose more friends than gain
Portal 2 is the sequel no one ever expected to be great, only to blow away its predecessor by a major margin. Everything you liked about the first game is back, only bigger and better. It's the rare sort of sequel we see these days in the gaming world, one that delivers more than anyone believed it could promise on a higher level. In laymen's terms: Portal 2 will satisfy just about all of your good sequel cravings in more ways than one.
FINAL GRADE: 9.8 (out of ten)