Portal 2 review
A Second Breath of Fresh Air


When Valve fans think of The Orange Box, I'm sure Half-Life 2 instantly comes to mind. And rightly so, as it's one of the greatest campaigns in a creativity nosedive of 21st century gaming. But what came as a massive surprise and a huge plus was the addition of Portal to the game - a gap in the gaming industry that many happily explored, experienced and begged for more. The first game drew up many unanswered questions, with a mute protagonist that didn't help many matters - but you'll be glad that Valve made you wait as number 2 portrays the game's background perfectly. With the anticipation of a 'possible' Half-Life 3 deteriorating in fans' eyes, we now turn to Portal 2 to amuse us for the time being, and boy does it deliver. Although it can be said about many sequels, this game's qualities really pinpoint the "what if"s in its predecessor.

In the sequel, we return to the Enrichment Center as our beloved Chell awaking from yet another stasis bed, in a room disguised beautifully as a cheap motel bedroom. After the illusion deteriorates, we are introduced to Wheatley (Stephen Merchant), a personality core who - similar to GLaDOS in game 1 - explains your current situation and removes you from your room and provides portals for you to gain access to higher ledges/unreachable areas before you find your beautiful portal gun once again. If you haven't played the original, the controls are introduced to you just like they are in the first, and they really are very basic, so even the most uncoordinated beings could catch on. Yourself and Wheatley (who will have you laughing out loud at almost everything he says, without fail) plan an escape from the facility. On this journey, you bump into the remains of the GLaDOS you deactivated, and silly Wheatley manages to reactivate her core (DUN DUN DUN! x2), who separates you from your friendly but idiotic Wheatley and plans on rebuilding the facility. So alas, your job is to go through her deadly, even more life-threatening new chambers. The rest is for you to discover and throughout the game, the only other character you'll come across is Cave Johnson, who has set up a number of experiments for you and is introduced through pre-recorded messages.

"Didn't I murder you last time!?"

The game's mechanics are very similar to its predecessor and probably suit the PC moreso than the Xbox 360 with its simplistic and extremely basic controls. Once you've acquired your portal gun early on, LT fires the orange portal, whilst RT fires the blue one. If you are unfamiliar with the original, activating both portals allows you to jump through one to end up where the other one is. For example, if you enter a room and the exit is on a higher level than where you stand, you can shoot one of the portals on the upper ledge, and the other on the ground you're on and walking/falling through will take you onto the upper level. Simple really, but it never gets old. The only other controls are A to jump (which you'll rarely have to use), holding B to crouch and pressing X to push buttons, open doors or any other action button stuff. The multiplayer allows you to gesture and point at specific locations to help out the other player in case one or neither player uses a microphone. Overall, there's nothing about the mechanics that'll flabbergast you (it's the later puzzles that'll do that!).

It's evident right from the beginning how much more money Valve invested into the critically acclaimed sequel. The graphics have improved dramatically (as expected after a period of 4 years) and areas throughout the game are no longer mundane. In the first game, areas consist of small rooms with white/grey walls and ceilings with occasional glass panels and turrets to accompany you. Floors and walls are also always flat, which is something you'll only turn your nose up to once you've played the sequel. In this game, areas aren't repetitive and you can easily distinguish one part of the game from another. The most enjoyable area, visually, is where you encounter Cave Johnson's puzzles. It's here where the facility is evidently older and decaying, with hanging signs, deteriorating walls, rubble and so on. This section offers Mobility Gels not seen in the first game. The three available are Repulsion Gel (blue goo that allows you to jump higher), Propulsion Gel (red, allowing you to run really fast when on the surface) and Conversion Gel (a white goo that, once spilled on any area, can allow you to shoot a portal onto). A trendy addition is the Aerial Faith Plate scattered throughout the game that allows you to spring from one area to another. And another couple of intuitive additions are the Light Bridge, allowing you to shoot portals and cross bridges, and Excursion Funnels, which do a similar job, except it sucks you from another area to another and can also go vertically.

Most importantly, a good budget has been put into the release and this much isn't just evident in the game's graphics. The first game was always witty, but with the introduction of Stephen Merchant, the second just shines throughout. While the original was a beautiful breath of fresh air with its originality, the second one is extremely well-written and concludes the untold story of number 1 so well. However, the game wouldn't be what is it without Wheatley. I don't know whether everything he says is actually hilarious or if it's just his brilliant Bristolian accent that has me close to tears, but the selection of Stephen Merchant was a perfect one. If you've seen Extras or An Idiot Abroad, or indeed heard the Barclays Mortgage TV advert, you'll know his distinctive accent from a mile away. Even in the tougher sequences of the game, if he is by your side, that annoying 'unsolvable' puzzle no longer becomes important. GLaDOS is also much wittier in this one, but continues to throw sugar-coated "you're fat" insults at poor Chell. After doing a couple of her puzzles, she comes out with a few crackers - most notably "Well done. Here come the test results: You are a horrible person. That's what it says: A horrible person. We weren't even testing for that."

The badass multiplayer companions; Atlas and P-Body

It's worth taking note if you've played the original game that the sequel is evidently longer, and has much greater replay value. Not only is the campaign possibly one-third of the way longer and much more visually superior, but the game also has a brilliant multiplayer mode definitely worth exploring with a friend. The co-op campaign has a unique story to the single player, as I'm sure you could've assumed - it wouldn't make sense having two people, making the job half as difficult (or twice as easy!). You both go down suction tubes and meet each other, greeting via gestures. Throughout you'll be given the option to use 6 gestures - a wave, rock, paper, scissors, a dance, laugh, a James Bond-esque attack with your portal gun and a bullying gesture that lets you steal part of your buddy's body. Overall, the gestures are quite cool and definitely don't get old when playing with the right person. The co-op doesn't feature Wheatley, but does have GLaDOS on board through the whole thing and the addition of her dialogue is definitely a plus. Her motive is to try and draw you two apart as you laugh at how easy a puzzle was to solve, or just mess about in general. She deems it as inappropriate behaviour but it's something that adds so much humour to the game. Unfortunately the co-op isn't that long - in fact, you'll finish it in 3 or 4 hours if you and your friend are clever enough to figure out each puzzle within a small amount of time. However, it's probably a feature of the game that offers the most replay value.

Portal 2 was a big improvement from a game that was already excellent. It did what a lot of sequels fail to do. Most games with huge critical acclaim suffer from 'sequel syndrome', where the sequel is either really disappointing or not enough to differentiate from the original. However, Portal 2 doesn't suffer such a consequence and it's definitely worth picking up. If you haven't played the first, it isn't overly significant if you're thinking about picking this one up - but I'd definitely recommend getting it first to improve your experience of this game. It's a game that offers a very humorous multiplayer and single player experience, and it successfully finishes a story that was pretty much untold by its predecessor.


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