Review – Portal 2, Part 1
Publisher: Valve Corporation
Developer: Valve Corporation
Platform(s): Mac, PC, Playstation 3, and Xbox 360
Genre: First Person Puzzle-platforming
Players: One, Two co-op
Official site: http://www.thinkwithportals.com/
Purchase at: Steam, Amazon.com, Best Buy
The timing of Sony’s Playstation Network security breach is on par with a fart in an elevator. It was April 19th when Sony discovered the PSN’s security has been compromised and they were forced to shut it down one day later. It fell right in between the release date of three big titles for the PS3 (Mortal Komat, Socom 4 and Portal 2) and the Easter long weekend. Unfortunately, the hacker(s) couldn’t be clever and worm levels of E.T. for Atari 2600 into the XMB or change the Playstation Store’s login chime to say “boobies”. Instead, they had to be crooks and we have a possible ID and/or credit card theft of epic proportions.
I had just finished Portal 2’s stellar but short single player campaign on the night of April 20th and was looking forward to what could possibly be the best gaming co-op experience on this side of Gears of War. Instead, like everyone else, I got to stare at a login error. So, rather than leave you Level Up News readers hanging without any kind of Portal 2 review, I’m going to break it up into two parts and we’ll focus here on the single player campaign.
The Scoop: One of the biggest selling points for picking up Valve software’s Half-Life heavy box-set, The Orange Box was the addition of the greatest throw in title of all time, Portal. It was an intense, physics based puzzler that trapped you like a lab rat in a maze under the eye of a psychotic artificial intelligent, GLaDOS (Ellen McClain). The experience was a memorable one for most, but in the end added up to a short two hour ride that was not all that difficult to get through. So now, Portal 2 comes along promising a deeper story and extended gameplay. It is like a SNL skit getting the big screen treatment and so far we have a delightful Wayne’s World and not a forgettable MacGruber.
The Setup: You are back as the silent protagonist Chell from the original game. The story begins with her awaking from a stasis sleep at Aperture Laboratories many years after the defeat of GLaDOS. A core meltdown has triggered Chell’s arousal and she is soon greeted by Wheatly (Stephen Merchant), the AI who is in charge of getting her to safety. Aperture Laboratories has become quite rundown without GLaDOS to keep it in check. It was once a sterile doctor’s office type of environment that has now rusted out. Wheatly has a tough time dealing with these changes and accidentally brings you back at the starting point of the portal test labs.
If you played Portal a while ago or only the Orange Box version and are confused by this setup, it’s very understandable. Valve recently patched the downloadable version to change the ending to show Chell after her escape being dragged back into Aperture Laboratories. There is a rather good free to read online comic book that bridges the gap between the first and second game that you can get here. But it is completely unnecessary to read, though you may miss some references along the way. Portal 2 is perfectly enjoyable even if you haven’t played the original.
Entering into a test area, seeing the exit, and discovering the way to get there is what this game is about; though, admittedly the beginning stages are a little too easy. It is done to benefit those who haven’t played the game before or wanted a reintroduction to the portal gun, but it would have been a nice option to skip the tutorial and get right to the action. Eventually you’ll run into some pre-GLaDOS parts of Aperture Laboratories (then called Aperture Science) when the ship was steered by the founder and CEO Cave Johnson (J.K. Simmons); it is here where the game really starts to pick up.
What’s Hot: Elements like Repulsion Gel, Propulsion Gel, Thermal Discouragement Beam and Excursion Funnel are brilliantly setup. Cave introduces them to you through overhead speakers and tells not to worry about their impracticality because Aperture Science’s little regard for safely protocol makes them legit. Repulsion Gel will have you flying through the air, Propulsion Gel will let you run at great speeds, Thermal Discouragement Beams are deadly lasers used to power equipment and the Excursion Funnel will have you hovering over endless falls. Valve nails the balance here between challenging and fun, by introducing the new mechanics one at a time. This gives you the opportunity to become better acquainted with them and will give you confidence when you will need to use their combinations to get through the more difficult areas.
Finding solutions to some of the puzzles was like discovering what the inside joke in the room is instead of outsmarting the game. Having several gun torrents tell you matter-of-factly they will kill you, then finding out a way to drop a ton of Repulsion Gel on them by creating an Excursion Funnel above them is very rewarding.
The voice acting is the best I have ever heard in any game. The actors inject a huge amount of personality into the characters they portray and it ranks as high as any Pixar Animation Studios movie. Without giving away too much, Ellen McClain is the only woman to make me feel emotionally attached to a potato, J.K. Simmons’ Cave Johnson had me giggling at his cavalier attitude towards human life and Stephen Merchant’s Wheatly may not have nailed the creepiness at times, but did have me laughing out loud more than once. None of these guys phoned in their performances because it was “just a video game”.
What’s Not: Some of the extras that were in the original Portal such as the advanced and time trials are dropped leaving you with only a six to eight hour single player campaign with little reason to play again. It is a bit of a downer for a full priced title.
Final Verdict: Portal 2’s story is not all that original, but brilliantly told. The characters are more than memorable and the gameplay still remains completely unique to this series. It is a gaming experience that should be had by everyone who likes games, but if you are only planning on playing the single player campaign, it is okay to wait for a price drop.
I have no problem with Portal 2’s length. I applaud Valve for not falling into the trap of adding filler to only make the game longer, but it would have been nice to have some reason to go back to a least some of the levels. Recently, Valve sent out a press release stating that the first downloadable content pack will be free single player content at no additional cost. Sweet Valve, always thinking of the customer; but until that is the case we do have a game that is asking for $10 an hour for those who are not inclined to have any friends.
Part 2 preview… For those that do have friends there is still so much to discuss! The co-op campaign for this game looks like killer fun. Once Sony dusts themselves off I’ll be taking an objective look and compare it to what I consider to be the grand-daddies of action co-op fun: Gears of War 1 & 2, Resident Evil 5 and Lara Croft: Guardian of Light. We’ll see how the campaign story and characters stacks-up, and check out how well the cross-platforming with the PS3 and PC works. Sony will have the PSN up and running more sooner than later so keep checking in on Level Up News for Part 2!Review - Portal 2, Part 1,