Every so often a game comes along that changes your perception of a particular genre, that makes you smile and remember all the amazing moments you had with it, even while you’re still playing through it for the first time. Portal 2 is such a unique and polished experience that it would be unfair, no, an insult to compare it to any other puzzler, shooter or even the original Portal. That’s right; Portal 2 is so much more refined and streamlined that even the original is shrouded in its shadow.
From the moment you first wake up, Valve displays their uncanny ability to combine seamless narrative and comedy, while still keeping strong gameplay at the core of the experience. Wheatley, a small spherical bot who accompanies you throughout the game, conveys more emotion though rapid eye movement and body language than most games are able to accomplish with an entire human body. Add in a timid, yet unwittingly hilarious performance by Stephen Merchant (of The Office and The Ricky Gervais Show) and Wheatley steals the show, with the exception of GLaDOS.
Yup, Portal’s cake stealing, party submission position, neurotoxin spewing baddie is back, and boy is she pissed at you. This is one of those elements that show just how evolved Portal 2 is when compared to its predecessor. Throughout Portal, GLaDOS was far more reserved, dipping occasionally from mad robot scientist to straight-homicidal during the test chambers, and then going full-on maniacal during your escape. This time around, the big bad bot is stone cold, playing more of a Jigsaw role by keeping you alive just to go through more increasingly difficult and deadly tests.
The actual gameplay of Portal 2 remains largely intact from the original, with the energy pellets being swapped out for “thermal discouragement beams,” lazer beams that can be redirected to open doors and destroy those cute-as-hell turrets. In addition to the discouragement beams, Portal 2 features bridges made of pure sunlight, gel that can be used to speed up movement and propel you through the air and tractor beams. These puzzle features add a new wrinkle for series veterans and make navigating test chambers even more treacherous and fun.
While Portal 2 is a relatively short game, coming in at around 10 hours, the addition of a cooperative mode that allows two people to run a separate series of test chambers does extend the experience. However, the sheer quality of the content that is there more than makes up for any shortcomings, and with additional downloadable content (the first of which will be free, by the way), Portal 2 is a game worth hanging on to.
Valve has once again taken the lofty expectations of a fervent fan-base and completely shattered them. Do not hesitate to pick this game up, regardless of your gaming preferences.