by Robert Zak
reviewed on PS3
In this day and age where increasingly unoriginal titles such as Call of Duty and FIFA define and dominate the industry, it always comes as a pleasant surprise when something truly original comes along.
The release of Portal by the developer-who-can-do-no-wrong Valve was just such a surprise. Using the familiar Source Engine and FPS perspective, it showed that something completely original could be done within a traditional framework; in this case, a first-person portal puzzler. Fans will be happy that Portal 2 is very much more of the same, while improving upon the original in enough ways to make it a fresh and worthy sequel.
More of the same is not always a bad thing
The gameplay will be very much familiar to fans of the original, but completely abstract to the uninitiated. Your solitary weapon in the game is a portal shooter, which shoots a red portal with one shoulder button and a blue portal with the other. You step into one portal, you come out the other with equal momentum. This simple concept is the foundation for the increasingly challenging puzzles that you encounter throughout the game.
Portal 2 sees Chell, the mute protagonist of the original game, awaken in a motel room after a long slumber. It soon turns out that this room is within the Aperture Science facility and, with the assistance of a slightly irritating personality core robot called Wheatley (voiced by Ricky Gervais’ lanky side-kick Stephen Merchant), Chell seeks to escape the facility. It isn’t long before you accidentally awaken GlaDOS, who has not forgiven you for murdering her years earlier, and duly throws you back into the test chambers.
The plot is well-paced. As soon as you start getting tired of the test chambers and GlaDOS’s constant mocking, a double-twist occurs that really brings the game to life. Consider the first several hours of the game – which are brilliant in themselves - mere practice for what’s to come.
Building bridges and splashing goo
There are a couple of welcome new gameplay additions to the Portal formula. One is the ability to send bridges through your portals at certain points, while another is repulsion and propulsion gel. Repulsion gel acts like a trampoline, allowing you to bounce off the floor and walls. Propulsion gel, meanwhile, can be used to accelerate yourself and jump long distances. These additions add a new dimension to the puzzles in Portal 2, and even give it the feel of a first-person platformer, if you can imagine such a thing.
Graphically, the game doesn’t show off too much early on. The source engine makes for smooth physics, but the clinical white test chambers and lack of character models don’t do the game justice. This makes it all the more impressive when you go beyond the chambers and into the underbelly of the Aperture facility, where the moody shadows and lighting inject some much-needed atmosphere into the game.
As with the graphics, there really is not much scope to show off sound within Portal 2’s minimal style; the main sound you will be hearing is that of your portal gun and a little bit too much of Stephen Merchant’s voice.
Portal die-hards will be glad to know that the sequel contains a similar style of humour to the original. Not only are there countless entertaining sound-bites from GlaDOS and the somehow loveable sentry guns, but also plenty of new gimmicks (involving confetti and potatoes) that fan-boys will undoubtedly latch on to. Apparently, Valve are already getting pissed off with the amount of spuds they’ve received from over-enthusiastic fans.
Double the portals, double the fun
The best feature is the inclusion of local and online co-operative gameplay. This is completely separate to the single-player story, and demands a different mind-set from the player to complete its puzzles. Granted, co-op play requires people of a certain intelligence level to be played successfully, making it a good way to filter out the morons on your friends list. Get together with the right person though, and you get a gameplay experience that is different to – but just as fun as – the single-player game.
Portal 2 is, in some ways, the raw essence of a game. Its puzzle-solving gameplay manages to be challenging but accessible. Every time you solve a room, you are filled with satisfaction, while at the same time thinking ‘How could I not see that?’ Even if it didn’t have a plot, it still would be fantastic, and the fact that it actually gets engaging is a bonus.
Add to that one of the most satisfying co-op game experiences out there and an endearingly geeky sense of humour, and you have one of the most complete games of recent years. While it does not push boundaries of graphics or sound, it innovates in terms of intelligent, challenging gameplay. My only complaint is that the game has to end, but with rumours of a map-maker coming out in the near future, its appeal could well extend on to infinity.
Flawless, intelligent gameplay, generally good sense of humour, excellent co-op gameplay and a surprisingly engaging storyline.
Too much of the not-so-funny Stephen Merchant and there\'s not an unlimited amount of puzzles... yet.