Portal 2 Review

Posted by Icemael (6316 posts) -

☆☆☆  (out of five) 

Portal could have been great. The concept was ingenious: a gun that shoots portals is a very cool thing indeed, and allows for some amazing level design. Unfortunately Valve screwed up by making the puzzles way too simple – the whole game felt like a long tutorial for a set of harder, better puzzles that didn't actually exist. Enter Portal 2. It's got a plethora of new puzzle elements: tractor beams, cubes that redirect lasers, a gel that makes you bounce, a gel that lets you move at lightning speed – it goes on. The trailers make it look fast and complicated. It seems to have precisely what was missing from the first Portal: challenge.

Problem is, it doesn't. The new puzzle elements – the tractor beams and the gels? They're cool, but they're never combined in especially intricate ways. Even the most advanced of the puzzles are extremely simple (in practically every puzzle chamber, you can see the solution simply by taking a single look around the room) and like the original game the entire experience feels like one long tutorial for a harder, better game that is nowhere to be found.

Aesthetically, on the other hand, Portal 2 is a large step forward. The animations are very impressive indeed (to give some examples: GLaDOS and the new robot Wheatley are both extremely expressive despite having neither extremities nor facial features save for a single eye, and the way gel jiggles and deforms when caught in a tractor beam is incredibly cool). The environments, which were fairly boring in the first game, are now far more varied and interesting. The facility starts out ruined and overgrown and is restored as you move through it, and you get to visit a number of new areas including the oldest, most primitive parts of the Aperture Science complex.

The one aspect of the game that is truly exceptional, however, is the voice acting. It's absolutely amazing, and wouldn't seem out of place in a Pixar film. Regrettably, the characters' banter is ruined by strained writing – the game constantly tries to be funny, but for every good joke (and there are some great ones) you have to listen to dozens of lame, at times annoying ones.

Like its predecessor, Portal 2 could have been great. It's superior to the first in every way: it's got enhanced animation, more and better-looking environments, stellar acting and new, cool puzzle elements. Unfortunately, the parts that have been substantially upgraded – graphics and voice acting – are also the least important ones; the most critical component, the puzzle design, was only marginally improved. There is incredible potential in the Portal series (now more than ever, with all the newly introduced mechanics) and I would love to see it fulfilled, but as long as the developers remain incapable of or unwilling to create truly diabolical puzzles, there is simply no chance of that happening. 

#1 Posted by Icemael (6316 posts) -

☆☆☆  (out of five) 

Portal could have been great. The concept was ingenious: a gun that shoots portals is a very cool thing indeed, and allows for some amazing level design. Unfortunately Valve screwed up by making the puzzles way too simple – the whole game felt like a long tutorial for a set of harder, better puzzles that didn't actually exist. Enter Portal 2. It's got a plethora of new puzzle elements: tractor beams, cubes that redirect lasers, a gel that makes you bounce, a gel that lets you move at lightning speed – it goes on. The trailers make it look fast and complicated. It seems to have precisely what was missing from the first Portal: challenge.

Problem is, it doesn't. The new puzzle elements – the tractor beams and the gels? They're cool, but they're never combined in especially intricate ways. Even the most advanced of the puzzles are extremely simple (in practically every puzzle chamber, you can see the solution simply by taking a single look around the room) and like the original game the entire experience feels like one long tutorial for a harder, better game that is nowhere to be found.

Aesthetically, on the other hand, Portal 2 is a large step forward. The animations are very impressive indeed (to give some examples: GLaDOS and the new robot Wheatley are both extremely expressive despite having neither extremities nor facial features save for a single eye, and the way gel jiggles and deforms when caught in a tractor beam is incredibly cool). The environments, which were fairly boring in the first game, are now far more varied and interesting. The facility starts out ruined and overgrown and is restored as you move through it, and you get to visit a number of new areas including the oldest, most primitive parts of the Aperture Science complex.

The one aspect of the game that is truly exceptional, however, is the voice acting. It's absolutely amazing, and wouldn't seem out of place in a Pixar film. Regrettably, the characters' banter is ruined by strained writing – the game constantly tries to be funny, but for every good joke (and there are some great ones) you have to listen to dozens of lame, at times annoying ones.

Like its predecessor, Portal 2 could have been great. It's superior to the first in every way: it's got enhanced animation, more and better-looking environments, stellar acting and new, cool puzzle elements. Unfortunately, the parts that have been substantially upgraded – graphics and voice acting – are also the least important ones; the most critical component, the puzzle design, was only marginally improved. There is incredible potential in the Portal series (now more than ever, with all the newly introduced mechanics) and I would love to see it fulfilled, but as long as the developers remain incapable of or unwilling to create truly diabolical puzzles, there is simply no chance of that happening. 

#2 Posted by PixelPrinny (1030 posts) -

I completely disagree on many of your points, but to each their own. I found the hit/miss ratios of the jokes was incredibly high, the characters all well-developed and endearing, and there was a deceptive and surprising depth to the story that I wasn't expecting.


I'm happy that they went with puzzles that weren't diabolical; it lets people beyond just those with the patience or obsessive need to complete masochist puzzles to actually overcome the entire game without having to resign to using a guide at some point just so they can experience the rest of the story. 

I wouldn't be surprised if they offer challenge rooms for those who want crazier puzzles as downloadable content down the road. But as for what was included, I think they did a terrific job. 
#3 Posted by BulletproofMonk (2720 posts) -
@PixelPrinny said:
" I completely disagree on many of your points, but to each their own. I found the hit/miss ratios of the jokes was incredibly high, the characters all well-developed and endearing, and there was a deceptive and surprising depth to the story that I wasn't expecting.

I'm happy that they went with puzzles that weren't diabolical; it lets people beyond just those with the patience or obsessive need to complete masochist puzzles to actually overcome the entire game without having to resign to using a guide at some point just so they can experience the rest of the story. 

I wouldn't be surprised if they offer challenge rooms for those who want crazier puzzles as downloadable content down the road. But as for what was included, I think they did a terrific job. 
"
I was going to post something along these lines, but now I don't need to. Loving the game so far, haven't finished yet though. 
#4 Posted by Enigma777 (6071 posts) -

Nah

#5 Posted by MaFoLu (1858 posts) -

The fact that the puzzles weren't so hard you started hating the game was one of the best parts to me, since that meant I could get through the game without feeling frustrated.

To me, they were almost the perfect balance of easy vs. hard, not so easy you didn't have to think, and not so hard you didn't want to play the game anymore.

Additional, optional, Challenge Rooms, that are really challenging, could be nice to have, though.
#6 Edited by JJWeatherman (14558 posts) -

I think you might be missing the point that Valve was trying to make. I can't say much more considering I haven't played Portal 2, but Portal 1 was never really about doing the most challenging shit possible. It was about exploring your mysterious circumstances and discovering clever ways to maneuver.

I don't know, maybe the Portal games are just geared towards someone like me who isn't necessarily looking for the biggest and baddest challenge. Sounds like you are.

(Shame the jokes are hit and miss)
#7 Posted by owl_of_minerva (1455 posts) -

As a synopsis of the game I agree almost entirely except for the conclusion. Both Portal 1 and 2 have a narrative focus that's somewhat hard to reconcile with extremely complex puzzle design, which will will hinder or stop narrative flow. If it were a game that had invested everything into its puzzles then your criticism would strike truer, but as it stands I'd say it's only partially true. The game should have harder puzzles, certainly, and perhaps a separate and extremely hard challenge mode (this will almost certainly be DLC, if I had to bet), but on the other hand the single-player campaign shouldn't be messed with too much because spending days or even weeks between plot points isn't good design.

#8 Posted by Icemael (6316 posts) -
@owl_of_minerva: I know what you're saying. I recently played Ghost Trick: Phantom Detective which had even easier puzzles than Portal 2, but the story was so expertly crafted and well-told that I barely minded (and to an extent appreciated) it.

But here's the thing: I don't like Portal 2's story. It feels like Valve found bits and pieces of an old Pixar script, and decided to fill out the missing parts with mediocre puzzles and middling jokes. The setting, the characters, the plot -- as with the mechanics, there's potential for something great there, but the developers just don't have what it takes to fulfill it. So as far as I'm concerned, "hard puzzles would have ruined the flow of the story" is not an excuse. Not when the story isn't anything special.
#9 Posted by PrivateIronTFU (3874 posts) -

Can't please everybody. I found it to be the funniest game I've ever played. The voice actors all put 110% into their characters. The puzzles, to me, were just the right balance of fun and challenge.

#10 Posted by owl_of_minerva (1455 posts) -
@Icemael:  
"There is incredible potential in the Portal series (now more than ever, with all the newly introduced mechanics) and I would love to see it fulfilled, but as long as the developers remain incapable of or unwilling to create truly diabolical puzzles, there is simply no chance of that happening."
 
That you don't like Portal 2's story should probably be mentioned as a qualifier in the conclusion of your review: something along the lines of "although Portal 2 sacrifices mechanical complexity because of its narrative focus, the narrative fails to make up for it because of x". My point is not that the narrative excuses the game's other failings (unless it's particularly good), but rather that it should be analysed in accordance with its centrality to the game, which is pretty high in comparison to the non-narrative end of the puzzler spectrum. And you could explain more where you felt the characterisation, setting, and the plot failed. Although it's clear to me where you felt the mechanics didn't live up to their potential (they introduce cool new puzzle elements but never integrate them to make a truly challenging puzzle) I'm still not sure where you feel the narrative should improve as a whole beyond having better jokes.

This is more of a suggestion for improving the review, as although I agree with it, I think it could be better secured against the objection that you missed the point by focusing so much on mechanical complexity without really going into the narrative aspects, an impression which your final sentence reinforces quite strongly.
#11 Edited by Sooty (8082 posts) -
@Icemael said:

"Problem is, it doesn't. The new puzzle elements – the tractor beams and the gels? They're cool, but they're never combined in especially intricate ways. Even the most advanced of the puzzles are extremely simple (in practically every puzzle chamber, you can see the solution simply by taking a single look around the room) and like the original game the entire experience feels like one long tutorial for a harder, better game that is nowhere to be found."

Extremely simple? Come off it, yeah the game wasn't particularly hard but extremely simple? Get over yourself you freaking hipster.
#12 Edited by Icemael (6316 posts) -
@owl_of_minerva: I try to avoid bringing up stories in reviews unless I have some special reason. Stories are generally the least significant parts of games, and for me Portal 2 is no exception. I also don't believe the story was the reason they made the puzzles easy, so the only real point of mentioning it is as you say, guarding myself against objections from people whose priorities are different from mine, and that's not something I'm interested in doing.

@Ygg: The puzzles are extremely simple. "Hipster", lol.

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