Giant Bomb Review

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Portal 2 Review

5
  • X360
  • PC

Valve falls further down its own rabbit hole with this expansive sequel that retains the cynical heart of the original Portal, while blowing out the scale on virtually every aspect of the execution.


 Don't panic! Everything's going to be... OK. Panic.

After the end credits roll on Portal 2, it's kind of hard to believe that this series had its humble beginnings as a student project called Narbacular Drop, which itself just laid down the basic mechanical framework for the kind of fourth-dimensional puzzle-solving of the original Portal. Even the original Portal was all but defined by its tight focus and limited scale; it just executed on all those elements with a consistent, almost preternatural level of ingenuity and humor. 

I use the somewhat dismissive "just" here because the challenges of following up something so inventive and so universally well-received are arguably greater than coming up with the core concept in the first place. The element of surprise was a significant factor in the impact of the original Portal, but going into Portal 2, you know how a portal gun works, you know that Aperture Science is essentially a less diabolical, but equally irresponsible counterpart to Half-Life's Black Mesa, and you know that GlaDOS likes testing, but loves murder. 

With these known quantities in mind, Valve does about the smartest thing it can with a full-blown sequel to such an effectively minimalist package by tossing out many of the self-imposed restrictions of the original and largely ignoring the temptation to lean on lots of easy callbacks. What it lacks in the surprise punch the original packed, it makes up for with scope and scale, couching that now-familiar combination of deadpan humor and brain-boggling puzzles in a game that's significantly bigger and more robust in virtually every meaningful way, but without feeling any less dense. 

 Meet Wheatley. He means well enough!
Since the apparent "death" of GlaDOS at the end of Portal, the Aperture Science Research Facility has gone to seed. After you're awoken from a hibernation chamber disguised as a cheap hotel room by a friendly, motormouthed AI called Wheatley--voiced with a terrific nervous energy by British humorist Stephen Merchant--it's not long before you're once again running a series of "tests" for a revived and coolly vengeful GlaDOS. It would be charitable to characterize GlaDOS as indignantly sociopathic, and her lust for punishing you for your past transgressions is riper than ever.

I'll avoid any specific plot points, but suffice it to say that your journey takes you far deeper into the bowels of the facility than the original game even hinted at. This journey also serves as an Aperture Science history lesson of sorts, providing a glimpse of the company's dated industrial aesthetics through the decades, and introducing you to company founder Cave Johnson--another terrific performance, this time courtesy of perennial tough-talker and boss-man-type J.K. Simmons--as well as the evolution of the company's absurd corporate culture that would eventually give birth to GlaDOS.

The visual style of Portal 2 seems to be in direct defiance of the tight, hermetic feel of the original, eschewing that singular aesthetic in favor of many shades of grimy, long-forgotten industrialism and cavernous spaces that hint at an almost deliberate carelessness. Everything is hastily built on top of everything else, which leads to environments that are haphazard, impossibly dense, and almost constantly in jeopardy on collapsing in on themselves. In fact, the game can be so propulsive that it's easy to blow right past lots of terrific, often funny set details.

 A brief glimpse into Aperture's dilapidated past.
And the puzzles. Oh, the puzzles! Having already introduced the core tenets of how portals work in the first game, Portal 2 runs far more briskly through the fundamentals, and introduces a slew of previously abandoned Aperture compounds and technologies to help constantly re-complicate things for you. Like the original, though, Portal 2 smartly introduces each idea one at a time before requiring you to use them in concert. At a point it can be easy to lose sight of the fundamentals as you get caught up in all these new-fangled gels, laser-bending cubes, hard light bridges, tractor beams, and more. Don't forget! It's called Portal 2 for a reason.

A certain amount of trial-and-error is a necessity in solving many of the puzzles as you boggle out which buttons activate which contraptions, and how you'll need to harness them to get to the other side. While a certain amount of crackerjack timing is key to solving some puzzles, brains almost always trump reflexes, and if you find yourself struggling with the controls--regardless of whether you're playing with a mouse and keyboard or a controller--you're probably doing it wrong. 

Being several times the length of its predecessor, with puzzles that are as hard, if not harder, pure mental fatigue can also be an issue in Portal 2. While the game is constantly luring you forward with the promise of new visual treats and consistently sardonic dialogue from the expert voice cast, a short break can mean the difference between sussing out the solution and turning your brain into a potato.

Once solved, the puzzles themselves offer little reason to revisit the single-player campaign--which, in some ways, ends much more climactically than the original--though I still found being able to focus more on the game's plentiful gags on my second time through to still be quite fulfilling. Additionally, there's an enlightening developer commentary track provided by key members of the team at Valve that can be absolutely fascinating in its own right.

 Robots don't have to hug! But they sure like to.
Portal 2 also sports an equally well-crafted co-op campaign, casting you as one half of a gangly, curiously likable robotic odd couple built by GlaDOS for the specific purpose of running through her diabolical test chambers. It's much less story-intensive than the single-player game, though having sets of portals with which to solve the puzzles, while also being fundamentally dependent on another player's puzzle-solving abilities, can unsurprisingly complicate things. This mode features a "ping" tool which allows you to better direct your partner, though I found voice communication to still be an absolute necessity. Frustration looms throughout Portal 2, though if you're not operating at the same speed as your partner, you don't know your partner well enough, or, God forbid, you know your partner too well, it seems more likely to rear its head during the co-op campaign.

Despite being so much bigger than the original, I actually felt a little melancholy once Portal 2 was over, simply because it's so rare to find a game this smart, this funny, and this rich with detail. It elevates Portal from an odd, memorable experiment to one of the most significant series in Valve's stable with a unique voice and an incredible level of quality that all developers should aspire to.
116 Comments
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Posted by KarmaPoliceman

Nice

Edited by Ghost_of_Perdition

Double the review!

What a great week for games. It'll be hard trying to split my time between this and MK. Unless I make a schedule...an itinerary of sorts. Thanks, Ryan!

Posted by Slaker117

Double Flawless

Posted by Eaxis

Awesome! Can't wait to play it.
Posted by rjayb89
Edited by Hoffafiles
I assume this is how most feel about this week
Posted by abdo

Great. I was worried it was gonna be short like the first Portal, glad it's several times longer.

Posted by ReyGitano

So many great games this week! I really missed Ryan's 5 star picture.

Posted by ThePhantomnaut

Wish I had money.

Posted by Marz

Review overload!

Posted by PatVB

Goddammit, I want this game so hard.

Posted by JJWeatherman

Woo! Reviews for days! Good review, Ryan.

Posted by Trilogy

Fucking MK and Portal... STOP STEALING MY MONEYZ!

Posted by Kjellm87

Good to hear it dosen't disappoint.

Posted by mastrbiggy

Awesome! Only a few more hours for me.

Posted by bkbroiler

Been playing through the co-op campaign with a friend... and wow. So much fun. Puzzles are amazing. Game looks really good. Artistically, they're miles ahead of Portal 1. This game isn't a letdown in any way. 

Posted by Eyz

This game was looking good since it has been teased...in Portal 1!
The challenge and fun seems to be back, glad to hear that~

Edited by Crispy

Waiting for my copy to come in via Amazon... arughghgurhgrugh.
P.S. Might wanna clean up the summary blurb a bit.
" Valve falls further down its own rabbit hole with this expansive sequel that retains the cynical heart of the original Portal, while blowing out the scale on virtually ever aspect of the execution."

Posted by Khann

Awesome review Ryan. Can't wait 'til I have the cash to grab the game.

Posted by itsjoncharles

Can't wait to get my copy later this week, or perhaps next. Really excited for this.

Posted by Jedted


"Several times longer than it's predecessor..."

 

 

What is that approximate to?  Portal x2, x3?

 

Posted by fishmicmuffin
@Jedted said:
"


"Several times longer than it's predecessor..."

 

 

What is that approximate to?  Portal x2, x3?

 

"
The developers said it was anywhere from 2 to 2.5 times as long as the first. So take that for what it's worth.
Posted by snoopytimes

That Amazon order can not come sooner.

Posted by Claude

I'm not gonna get it for a while. But my mouth sure is watering.

Posted by Wuddel

Cool. Ordering now ...

Posted by pslayer666

Sounds awesome!!! Can't wait till my copy finally gets shipped!!! Dammit!!! *mad*

Posted by FuzzYLemoN

Argh, hate it when people put spoilers in reviews! Is it really so crucial to explain exactly what happens at the beginning of the game? I need to go in naked, dammit! NAKED!

Posted by Mayu_Zane
@FuzzYLemoN said:
" Argh, hate it when people put spoilers in reviews! Is it really so crucial to explain exactly what happens at the beginning of the game? I need to go in naked, dammit! NAKED! "
Here's a spoiler free review:

"I like this game."
Posted by virtorio

So... Valve still got it.

Posted by indus

It's an odd feeling to realize you just played a game for 3 hours straight and never really stopped smiling, great review Ryan. 

Posted by Zero_

Is GiantBomb going to do a PS3 version review? I'd love to know how the integrated Steam is like.

Posted by Clenchmask
@Ghost_of_Perdition: Opeth ftw, referring to your name of course.
Posted by IshimuraD

Just take all my money, Valve. Take it all. I'm ready for this, picking it up in a few hours. Can't wait! I'm so glad to hear it's amazing!
...now when am I going to get MK9?

Posted by Synergy863

Aw.... why no video review also?

Posted by mithhunter55
@FuzzYLemoN Then why read the review.
Posted by Popskinz

Awesome!

Posted by Dogma
@Mayu_Zane said:
" @FuzzYLemoN said:
" Argh, hate it when people put spoilers in reviews! Is it really so crucial to explain exactly what happens at the beginning of the game? I need to go in naked, dammit! NAKED! "
Here's a spoiler free review:"I like this game." "
Where is the spoiler? That's nothing we donät already know because of trailers and stuff like that. If you want to go in naked then dont watch anything at all. I also must ad that I think many of these reviews are boring as hell. They sound very cookie cutter and plain. Portal is game that can sound extremly bland and plain if you're not allowed to speak in some kind of detail. No offence to Ryan but this gave me nothing that I didn't already knew or suspected. He only confirmed that yes, it is good.
Oh well...time to run out and buy this game, NOW. *poff, gone*
Posted by Y2Ken

Looks fantastic. I feel like Steven Merchant is inspired casting, and what I've seen of Wheatley just confirms that suspicion.

Posted by craigbo180
@Jedted said:
"


"Several times longer than it's predecessor..."

 

 

What is that approximate to?  Portal x2, x3?

 

"
Well how long is portal, surely that depends on your ability solving the puzzles and how long it takes you to figure them out.
Posted by Cook66

@Ryan:
Hey, is this spoiler free or do I wait with the reading until tomorrow?

Posted by Bubbly
@Cook66:
 If you've actually been following the news for this game then there are no spoilers. If you somehow avoided everything about this game then Ryan only talks about the characters that you meet. But like I said all of these characters have already been shown in videos that came out before the game release. There are no plot points given away in the review. 
Posted by Bouke

I can't wait!

Posted by radioactivez0r

First time I've been glad I moved to graveyard; I can go pick this up after work and play until I pass out and have to go back to work again!

Posted by DiscoDuck8k

It'll be quite a while before I play this, but I'm looking forward to it.

Posted by Cook66
@MODernChris:  Hey, I've been able to avoid pretty much everything, even characters. Thanks for letting me know. I'll check out the review later today after I've played the game a couple of hours. :)
Posted by MrBlowfish

 Seven a.m., waking up in the morning
Gotta be fresh, gotta go downstairs
Gotta have my bowl, gotta have... wait... Portal 2 is unlockable?? And I have to go to work like right now?? Fuuuuck

I so wish I was unemployed right about now... I am literally staring at a my remote home desktop with Portal 2 on it, and considering playing it with 1 frame/sec...

Damn.

Excellent review though.

Posted by AhmadMetallic

FIVE/FIVE IS NOT ENOUGH


YOU HATE THE PC AND ITS GAMES. BIASED BULLSHIT

FUCK YOU
Posted by swamplord666

I called it :D quadrupled my winnings on ici! 

But yeah... I'm doing the unreasonable thing and buying this game even though I have the busiest week this year ahead of me... yaaaaaaay....
Posted by Kartana

Feeling the motion sickness already...

Posted by Ares42

 Started playing it a bit earlier. Gotta say I'm not a huge fan of the loading between every puzzle. Might not be as big of a deal later when puzzles take you a while, but gets abit much in the start. Other than that the game is great though :P

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