Playing Portal 2 is probably the equivalent to watching Myleene Klass work her way through a Mensa book while listening to TV comic Jo Brand rattle off her latest one-liners, all while being strapped into the Nemesis Inferno at a theme park designed by Stephen Hawking. Oh, and he’s constantly whispering into your ear how much he wants to kill you.
Don’t get where we’re going? Let us put it into layman’s terms. Portal 2 is one of the funniest, classiest, most rewarding and strikingly beautiful games you’ll play on your PC this year. It’s full of twists and turns that’ll keep you pinned to your seat, its script will reduce you to tears of laughter at regular intervals, its puzzles inspire some of the most ingenious scenarios we’ve ever seen, and it’s accessible to all while remaining utterly faithful to its core set of fans. And Jo Brand? Well, she’s just there for the cake.
But more impressively, Portal 2 somehow succeeds in making its predecessor look decidedly amateur – a bizarre turn of events given that it doesn’t actually deviate all that much from the blueprints of the original. Indeed, the differences between this and Portal 1 are minimal (Portal’s core values remain the same: enter one end of a room and spend minutes – or sometimes hours – working out how to reach the exit), yet they’re subtle enough to keep even the most exhausted Portal player interested across its 10-hour campaign.
The key is in the pacing. Valve’s incredible mix of intuitive puzzles and hilarious script-writing merge to provide an experience unlike any other, and one better equipped than its forerunner to keep the player engaged and compelled for a longer play time. We needn’t tell you how funny GLaDOS’s hard-to-love, difficult-to-hate, robo-bitch character is – if you’re reading this, you’ll likely have already found that out for yourself in the first. But she isn’t quite the star of the show that she once was. Instead, it’s new bot Wheatley who has been given some time in the limelight, with The Office co-writer Stephen Merchant putting in a show-stealing performance as the loveable little bot. Merchant’s performance as Wheatley is flawless, and his ability to leave the player in fits of laughter will likely turn out to be the envy of every other developer.
As will the story in general. Without delving into spoiler-territory, Valve’s flirts with the origins of Aperture Science are wonderfully explored, and Portal 2 turns out to be surprisingly emotional for a game about avoiding bottomless holes and lining up laser beams.
The puzzles are even better and more ingenious than those of the first game too, particularly some of ones found later on which combine the use of Portal 2′s new gels, tractor beams and lasers with the crowd-favourite loop jumps of the original to create utterly mesmerising sequences. And if you’re worried about puzzle repetition given Portal 2′s longer playtime, don’t worry: Valve always manages to introduce a brand new element for you to get your head around just at the right time.
Puzzles found in the game’s co-op are even more complex, involving two portal guns, four portals, and some pitch-perfect timing and communication between the two players. Yet they’re never overly intimidating, Portal 2′s balance and learning curve so finely delivered that a solution is never as far away as you may at first think.
But despite being the focus of Valve’s marketing, in our opinion, Portal 2′s co-op takes a back seat to the single-player. That’s not to say it isn’t any good – quite the opposite: Portal 2′s co-op is probably the finest co-op game we’ve ever played – but its structure lacks some of the highlights of the game’s single-player campaign. It’s built very similarly to Portal 1, testing players in challenge room after challenge room before returning them to a central hub after completing each room’s set of tests, and as such the side-story is largely ignored, instead reliant on jokes based around the player’s incompetence to keep it going.
Puzzles range from the obvious to the obscure, and the bonus of having four portals to play with provides opportunity for some utterly genius moments. Later puzzles can frustrate more than the earlier ones as they tend to favour split-second timing over finding a solution, but regardless of their shift, you’ll often be left thinking how on Earth Valve managed to conceive some of the more extreme puzzles.
Valve has done it again, carving an extraordinary and unforgettable experience. Filled with memorable moments, an award-worthy script and an end song that’s even catchier than Still Alive, Portal 2 deserves to go down in history alongside the other PC greats. Huge success.
This review will also feature in issue 53 of PCGZine.
Tags: Portal 2
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