The story behind Portal could have come out of Hollywood: Students at the Digipen Institute of Technology worked on a game that caught the eyes of Valve. The students then did a presentation for Valve President Gabe Newell who offered them jobs at Valve. They then made a game called Portal that was released in The Orange Box alongside Valve staples Half-Life 2 and Team Fortress 2.
This team nor Valve had high expectations for Portal, but the next thing they knew, their little puzzle game was THE hottest thing in the gaming world. Everybody has high expectations the sequel, but can Portal 2 possibly live up to the hype three and a half years later?
Upgraded Story - Portal did an exceptional job when it came to its narrative because everything about it unfolded slowly and subtly. In fact, the major plot point in the first game was that there was an actual plot behind the seemingly ordinary puzzle game. Portal 2 starts up an unspecified amount of time, although it has clearly been a very long time, after the events from Portal. You once again control the silent protagonist Chell who was put in a cryogenic stasis after she seemingly destroyed GLaDOS in the first game. GLaDOS has been recovering from the damage that Chell caused. This time, Chell is not alone in this story as she’s joined by a personality core named Wheatley who is trying to help her escape. What makes the storyline so enjoyable in Portal 2 is that it works. There’s no point where you stop and think “That couldn’t have happened” because Valve made sure that the story easily flows from one plot point to another. It has everything you can ask for in a story with likeable characters, plot twists, and comedy without a feeling that it’s been crammed into the game as an afterthought.
The Same With a Bit More - In the first game, you were introduced to a simple concept: a gun that shoots two portals that are linked to each other. From there, it was a matter of the developers testing your wits on how to reach a goal at the end of each level. Valve has taken the original idea and gone a few steps further with it. Most notable are the various gels in the game. These liquids have different properties associated with them (white lets you put a portal anywhere, blue lets you jump higher, orange makes you go faster) , and it’s your task to make use of them to figure out how to get to the goal. Something Valve really made more use of than they did in the original was the use of acceleration through one portal to shoot out another portal in order to reach farther distances. A small change is the energy pellet dispensers of the original being switched out for lasers that have to reach certain spots to activate a switch with the aid of cubes that act like mirrors to reflect the laser in another direction. Valve has kept what worked incredibly well and added a new twist to prevent it from feeling old and stale.
Double the Portals, Double the Fun - What could make the already fun gameplay of Portal even more of a blast? Co-op levels where two players can dick with each other for hours on end. Seriously, screw the puzzle solving and having the power to control the fate of your partner as you both work towards the goal, but instead you kill them for the sake of a good laugh which takes the entertainment level of the game to a whole new level. In the Portal 2 co-op, you and a friend (or complete stranger if you’re into that thing) control 2 robots: Atlas and P-body. Both robots have their own portal gun that shoots out 2 portals distinguished by their own set of colors. Like in the single player, there is a goal you have to reach in a room and the two of you will have to work together. More often than not, one player will be in charge of the other person’s life, and typically this is where the big laughs are reminding me of New Super Mario Bros. Wii in which killing your teammate is practically your job in order to get the maximum amount of joy. There is a subtle plot to co-op that makes sense if you beat the single player mode first. There are a few missteps that Valve took with the co-op mode with the most glaring problem is that there’s no way to do a quick reset of the room. Being that some rooms have parts that need to be completed to reach your goal (you’ll know when you’ve completed said part when the auto saving message appears) sometimes you want to start from the very beginning to get a better feel of the room. The problem is that when you try to do this, you have to start back at the Hub which is, as the name states, a hub that connects the different stages of the game. Always having to go back is tedious and was one of the few things overlooked by the developers. Aside from these minor problems, co-op is a remarkable addition to Portal 2's single-player mode providing a truly rewarding experience.
I <3 Stephen Merchant - If you’re not familiar with Stephen Merchant, I really couldn’t blame you, well, if you live in the U.S. Known for his work with The Office creator Ricky Gervais, Merchant isn’t a household name unless your household is filled with British comedy fans meaning that you actually have relatives with a sense of humor. In any case, Merchant is the voice of Wheatley and he provides an incredibly hilarious performance. When it comes to games, comedy writing can work well in text, but when you have an actor read a script that’s supposed to be funny, the hilarity that looked good on paper might not translate as well as one hoped. Merchant, on the other hand, plays the part perfectly, being the main source of comedy throughout the game. That’s not to say that the voice of Cave Johnson (J.K. Simmons) and GLaDOS (Ellen McLain) aren’t up to snuff. Both voice actors played their parts flawlessly, although I have to say that the monotone punchlines from GLaDOS really started getting to me after a while. Still, it has to be said that Merchant’s performance is that perfect blend of the right script with the right actor in mind and that actor providing a great performance. It literally blows all previous voice acting performances away as there are simply no noticeable blemishes in the performance. If you think of what you considered the best voice acting performance up to now, you know that there were points in which the delivery of the lines were off in the less important conversations in the game like in a greeting or transaction. It happens because those minor pieces of dialogue don't play an important role in the grand scheme of the game. In Portal 2, every word feels and sounds natural. You will literally hang on every word throughout the game as they not only provide vital pieces of the narrative, but you simply want to hear each word that the characters have to say. I can’t think of any game where I’ve felt that way before. Merchant is a big part of that with his performance and should he receive every possible award imaginable for his work.
NEEDS SOME TWEAKING
Give Me MOAR! - This is going to be a touchy subject. On the day of its release, word was making its way through the Internets that Portal 2 was a short game. Most gamers left it as simply a “haters gonna hate” attitude that some people have towards Valve and let it slide. Thing is, the game is on the short side with the single player clocking in at about 6-8 hours. Co-op helps circumvent that feeling of too much money spent on a short game but it’s also just 6-8 hours. Keep in mind, this is for your standard players, Portal pros can probably make their way through much faster, especially if they choose to not explore and take in the surroundings. Now, that is much longer than the original game which was about 1-2 hours for most people, but the first one was a side game that was packaged with four other full games. What it comes down to is that once you beat the game, there is very little reason to pick it up again unless you’re an achievement whore. Unlike the original Portal, there are no leaderboards or rewards for beating a room as quickly or creatively as possible. I’ve seen videos of people completing rooms in seconds, and they will not receive any credit for doing it because of this missing part of the game. Of course, many people have played through the game several times already, yet I would think that an aspect of the game that kept people playing Portal for so long after they initially beat the game would be an obvious inclusion in the sequel of the game. Fortunately, Valve has already stated that more levels and leaderboards will be available to download for free this coming summer to remedy this gripe.
As much as people want to joke on how long Valve takes to make a game, you have to hand it to them; they do rise to the occasion and make the game worth the wait. Portal 2 is everything that fans wanted, more of everything while keeping the feel of the original game. That’s an incredible feat by a very talented bunch of developers.
This review was based on the PS3 version of the game with a review copy provided by the publisher.