Now You're Thinking.
Portal has become a household name in gaming, the first iteration being nothing more than an experiment which became a phenomenon that Valve, and the student developers of Narbacular Drop, could never have predicted. Portals, cakes, and science (because we can) quickly became the memes of the year and beyond as Portal permeated gaming culture in a profound way. Valve was pleased with this, and set to work quickly on a sequel, promising a lot more than a small experimental game with its second coming. Has Portal 2 lived up to the expectations produced by the original? Read on to find out.
Portal 2 drops you back into the world of Aperture Science as the previous game’s mute character Chell, waking you up from a ‘relaxation vault’ to teach you a few basics on how to move and look around, throwing in a few early jokes before putting you back to sleep. You wake up a second time after an indeterminate time has passed to an abrupt wake up call by the game’s first “Personality Sphere”, Wheatley. Wheatley, voiced by Stephen Merchant, helps you through the initial trials of the game, before becoming separated and finally finding a half-working portal device. The fiction in Portal 2 is very solid, building on what little is revealed or hinted at in the first game, while introducing new characters in due time and making sure not to overload the player with information. Valve has obviously become very good at its character animations, easily giving lifelike characteristics to even the coldest of robotic characters.
The graphics of Portal 2 show that the Source engine is quickly catching up with modern games, and has excellent performance. Everything in the facility is falling apart, and the overgrowth and decay is brilliantly set against the glossy shine of the facility’s sterile testchambers. As GLaDOS, the returning AI antagonist from the first game, rebuilds the facility, things slowly begin to work much better, and show a stark contrast to how clunky everything appears at the beginning. Also of note is the look of the ‘old Aperture’ areas, showing the history of the company throughout the decades with appropriate decor, and revealing the changes in materials the company used over time. In addition to great visual elements, Valve has added the contextual sound technology used in the Left 4 Dead franchise to add subtle (and some less so) sound cues to different testing elements, which gives an excellent feel to the game’s already great music design.
With a complicated game element like the portal device, it was hard to say whether or not the gameplay would deliver in Portal 2. Luckily, it adds several new game elements and testing objects, complicating things just enough to stay challenging, while revealing each item similarly to the original Portal, showing the player each element and making them familiar with it before thrusting them into further testing. The addition of a competently implemented cooperative mode adds a layer to the gameplay and story. Co-op gives players a lot of situations that require new thinking (with portals), and gives a lot of new perspectives and puzzles that bend the mind in brand new ways.
Portal 2’s only pitfall is the lack of replayability, as solving a puzzle gives little reason to go back and play it again. The single player has a large amount of secrets and small easter eggs that are worth returning to Aperture to search for, but co-op leaves little reason to come back. Hopefully, though, Valve will have this in foresight and will work on new challenges for the game’s cooperative testing.
I purchased the PS3 version for myself, and the PC version for my wife, and played with her on both platforms. I must say that the Steam integration on PS3 is excellently done, and led to nearly no lag when playing cooperatively with my wife. Valve has done a flawless job of doing what many companies refuse to do: Cross-platform multiplayer gameplay. Portal 2 is an excellent puzzle game, a worthy successor to the first game, and a great milestone in Valve's gaming lifetime.