STAFF REVIEW of Portal 2 (Xbox 360)

Tuesday, May 3, 2011.
by Adam Dileva

Portal 2 Box art Portal has come a long way over the years. Originally it was a small team that came up with the portal design and as soon as Valve saw it they hired them almost on the spot. Fast forward to 2007 and the release of The Orange Box. While the value in the package alone was amazing, Portal (albeit short) was so polished and memorable that it stood out among the long awaited Half Life 2 Episode Two and even Team Fortress 2. Portal was a puzzle game unlike any other we?ve seen before. It had charm, wit, character development, superb writing, an unforgettable ending song and even trained you to think about puzzles in a whole new way.

While I was excited to learn of a sequel to Portal (GLaDOS was Still Alive of course) I was more curious to see if it would be able to recapture that magic the original had and make it a llonger game without simply feeling like a map pack or add on. We saw everything that could be done with two portals right? What else could Valve possible come up with to make a full-fledged sequel and make it stand on its own two legs (or tripod!) this time? Simply: yes and quite easily with more substance as well.

Portal 2 boasts a larger cast that will personify exactly what amazing writing and astounding voice acting married into one package is all about. Yes, the core gameplay is exactly the same and what you came to love: Shoot blue portal here, put orange portal up there, leap through one and come through the other but there are many more tricks this time around which I?ll get into shortly. While Portal was difficult for a number of reasons, the original forced you to have impeccable timing and almost twitch-like reflexes for a few of the puzzles. Luckily those types of puzzles are gone, but that doesn?t mean anything has been dumbed down in the slightest. You?ll still be dumbfounded at why you can?t figure a puzzle out only to instantly feel like a genius moments later when that light bulb goes off in your head and you solve it like the great test subject you are. There isn?t many puzzle games I?ve played that made me feel so stupid for getting stuck then like I could solve anything once I do so often.

It seems like Chell didn?t exactly escape at the end of Portal, as you?ll wake up in familiar surroundings only to realize you?re still a prisoner testing for GLaDOS in the Aperture Science laboratories. It seems GLaDOS didn?t take too kindly to being ?killed? previously and is now going to make sure you suffer by ?testing? you until you can?t go on any longer, all while constantly demoralizing and poking fun at you in some of the most entertaining one liners that you?ll remember for quite some time.

You?ll come across some new characters and I won?t really go much more in depth into the plot as it was such a delight uncovering each step that I don?t wish to ruin it for anyone, but it?s an absolute blast to play through learning more about GLaDOS and Aperture as a whole. You?ll even meet a new friend at the beginning that wants to help you escape; Wheatley (voiced to perfection by Stephen Merchant) is a spherical AI that in a very short time will become the favorite of most with his personality and lines. He?s the comic relief and he will become just as memorable as GLaDOS herself by the time you?re done the single player journey.

As much as I enjoy figuring out the constant steam of puzzles back to back, I was honestly looking forward to playing more for the constant humor and dialogue after every successful solution. Wanting to hear more from GLaDOS and Wheatley is what kept me playing ?just one more puzzle? rather than the puzzles themselves. The pacing in Portal 2 is brilliant and you?re always working towards something be it story progression, constant promises from GLaDOS or the next creative puzzle.

As I mentioned earlier, there?s more new stuff to Portal 2 to make the puzzles more interesting and challenging. The most noteworthy is the new addition of blue, orange and white gel. This goo will usually be streaming out of a pipe and need to be utilized to solve puzzles in a whole new way than before. Blue gel will make any surface it?s on become bouncy like a trampoline (not only for you, but for objects like cubes as well), orange gel is a slick surface that when coated will propel you forward at high velocity, and finally the white gel is for use when there?s no ?portal-able (I guess that?s a word now!) surfaces and can be used as a surface once coated to place a portal onto. It takes some time to get used to how to use these new gels properly, but once you get the hand of it, it will eventually become second nature to your puzzle solving.

New to the world of Aperture Science is cooperative multiplayer finally! Now I thought this would be pretty simple with each player having one portal and having to work together, but they?ve made it quite challenging with both players having their own two portals, making 4 portals at once total. Now think for a moment when you were playing Portal and got stuck trying to figure out how to do things with 2 portals?.yea, now double that.

That being said, some of the co-op puzzles are simply going to need two players to figure some of these larger scale tests out. Almost every single one as well needs both players working in unison and you aren?t simply able to ?piggyback? someone through. Both players will need to be pulling their own weigh when it comes to these tests. Throwing a portal underneath your friend and having him come out the other side into a pit is quite hilarious, but remember, he?s able to do the same, or even take away that light bridge you?re standing on at any moment. While you will kill each other quite often (usually by accident), sometimes seeing them plummet will actually help you figure out what you are supposed to do to solve the task at hand. GLaDOS will also constantly be trying to pit you against each other by complimenting one or the other and offers its own dynamic and humor along with it.

While it?s recommended and great to play with a friend and headsets, Valve has included simple ways for strangers to communicate even without headsets. You?re able to place a marker anywhere to indicate to the other person to put their portal ?here? or even start a 3 second countdown for those time sensitive moments. It?s very well done and the co-op design is so fantastic that you could play this for the first time with a stranger and most likely progress (provided you are good test subjects of course).

The original Portal was about a 3 to 5 hour journey and I was worried the sequel would simply be the same thing or the opposite where it would be dragged on to make it seem longer than it actually was. Luckily you?re going to get your money and times worth with Portal 2. Single player will take you at least a half dozen or more hours to complete depending on your speed of solutions of course and co-op will at least double that. I?d say that?s a fantastic conversion from an add-in game to its own title.

You?re not going to find better writing, dialogue, and perfect voice acting anywhere else. The script is so brilliant and was the single reason I kept playing. The wit and humor is so amazing that you?ll be laughing out loud at some of the one liners thrown your way. I?m elated that it wasn?t just a longer drawn out Portal experience and has its own merits to be a game all of its own. The only mechanic or feature I thought was grossly missing was a leaderboard or ghost system so you could see and compare how you do to your friends and others. Not having it doesn?t draw away from the game in any way, but it would have been awesome to see some speed run times to try and compare myself to. If you ejjoyed Portal, you?re going to love Portal 2 that much more for a number of reasons. Even if you weren?t the biggest Portal fan, I still suggesting owning one of the better puzzle games with charm you?ll play all year. I?ve got my plushy companion cube, now I need a plushy Wheatley!

Overall: 9.5 / 10
Gameplay: 9.5 / 10
Visuals: 9.0 / 10
Sound: 10.0 / 10


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