by Davneet Minhas
reviewed on PC
Spherical piece of hardware
Wheatley, the personality core that you first encounter in the game, seemingly has a reaction to your every action and non-action. He knows when your back is turned to him, when you are falling with him in hand, when you are moving forward or backward or not moving at all. He is one of the most responsive non-playable characters I have ever encountered, and he’s not even a real character, just a small, spherical piece of hardware. In fact, I found myself doing the dumbest things – like jumping into a bottomless pit – just to see what he’d say. He never disappointed, thanks to the game’s superb writing and voice acting.
All the characters in Portal 2 are voiced superbly, so naturally. Every sentence conveys so much personality. Wheatley tries to be helpful and sometimes authoritative, but he is incompetent, insecure, cowardly. He’s also a moron. Cave Johnson, the founder and former CEO of Aperture Science, is simply a series of voice recordings and a few portraits, but through those you know he is pompous, devoted, overconfident, adventurous, callous. And GLaDOS – well, GLaDOS is her usual passive-aggressive, sarcastic self, just a little nastier than before because, you know, you killed her.
For Science. You Monster.
Of course, the writing and voice acting are only a part of the game, and not even the largest part. That would be all the ingenious puzzles, which include so much more than portals. There are laser beams and mirrored cubes which you use to redirect the laser beams. There are Hard Light Bridges and Excursion Funnels that you can walk on or travel through, and that can pass through portals, allowing you to reach new places.
And then there are the gels, these blobby substances that look and act like fruit juice in space and spread onto different surfaces like jam and provide some interesting effects. The Repulsion Gel allows you to jump and bounce much higher than normal, the Propulsion Gel substantially increases your speed, and the Conversion Gel makes portal-phobic surfaces portal-philic. My favorite is definitely the Conversion Gel – it allows for the most abstract puzzles. I’m also partial to the simplest new mechanic, the Aerial Faith Plate, which sends you flying through the air with an exhilaration that matches the parkour in Mirror’s Edge.
But despite the inclusion of all these new mechanics, I never felt truly overwhelmed. Every mechanic is introduced slowly, methodically; it’s all very accessible. Only one or two puzzles had me stumped for an extended period of time, which is sort of a shame. I would like to see more creative uses of the mechanics, more complex and epic puzzles. I’d like to be overwhelmed and take long periods of time to ponder solutions. But I’d also like to listen to Wheatley, GLaDOS, and Cave Johnson endlessly banter, to continuously fly through the air off Aerial Faith Plates and through portals.
Typically, when I complete a game, I feel a sense of accomplishment, sometimes relief. After completing Portal 2’s single-player campaign, there was only sadness at it having to end.
Great Science is Always the Result of Collaboration
But it didn’t really end! As you probably know, Portal 2 includes a co-op campaign that chronologically follows the single-player story. In it, you and a buddy play Atlas and P-Body, two robot test subjects. All the same mechanics from the main campaign are present, but since there are two players, there’s twice the number of portals, and the puzzles are much larger and more complex – just like I wanted in the single-player campaign.
My robot buddy and I were often stumped. Even when we knew how to solve a puzzle, we sometimes had to attempt the solution a few times before finally succeeding. (Such scenarios typically involved having to execute elaborate jumps.) But, surprisingly, we were never frustrated – failure in Portal 2 is always hilarious. Anytime your robot hits the ground or a wall hard enough he sort of collapses into a sparking, metal pancake before quickly recovering. All of the animations are very amusing, even the most basic ones, including P-Body’s stride and the manner in which he crouches. P-Body, in general, is more amusing than Atlas, but I may just think that because I played as Atlas and therefore saw more of P-Body.
Either way, I found myself duplicitously finding ways to send my partner spiraling into the ground just to watch him go splat. Removing Light Bridges from under him always worked really well, though you can get more creative.
Smart, Surprising, Funny, Poignant, Magnificent.