|Platforms||Windows, OSX, Xbox 360, PlayStation 3|
|Buy from Amazon|
As the sequel to my 2007 Game of the Year, I had high expectations of Portal 2, and so did the developers Valve, and everyone else mildly interested in video games. This was a milestone release, and Valve has been rewarded with many accolades and undoubtedly excellent sales numbers. I was able to sit down with Portal 2 for Windows and beat it in three extended gaming sessions over a few weeks.
That last sentence might be rather revealing, yes, the game took me weeks to beat. I took on the original Portal in one sitting. Of course, Portal 2 is longer than the original, and I have two kids now instead of none, but I’ll say right off the bat I felt like some kind of spark was missing.
So let’s just dive right into my review of Portal 2. This review will probably be shorter than usual simply because of my personal pact to spend less time writing full reviews this year, so hopefully I can more succinctly say what needs to be said. If you would like to read a lot about Portal 2, we also have a first hour review of the game.
Portal 2 is the rare game that makes you feel like a genius. The puzzles are constructed in such ways that when you finally take one down, you honestly feel like you accomplished something great. The game has a way of rewarding you constantly for deep thought and perseverance, like it is doling out small doses of joy medicine whenever you fall through the final portal. It’s a marvelous thing to feel like a genius, even for a moment.
For the uninitiated, Portal 2 is a puzzle game from the first person perspective. Armed with only a gun that can create portals connecting point A to point B, your job is to solve a puzzle, one room at a time. Combined with a pair of awesomely written artificial intelligences to pair up with and face off against, Portal 2 is not your typical puzzler.
The original was a short, superb piece of art that transcended normal video games in numerous ways. The writing for the antagonist GLaDOS was excellent, and the portal-based gameplay was mind-bendingly original. Portal 2 has the challenge of living up to that legacy, and tried to prove its worth by piling more of all the good stuff on top of the already delicious center. It mostly works really well.
As for the new stuff, there’s Wheatley, a somewhat dim but good-natured artificial intelligence who acts as your guide through Aperture Science laboratories for parts of the game. GLaDOS is back, so there are plenty of traps to avoid and puzzles to solve. Many of the puzzles include brand new gameplay elements, including goop with various physical properties, gravitational fields, and laser reflectors. Of course, the portals are still the star and everything revolves around how to pair their super technology with everything else.
The voice cast is bigger this time around too, with GLaDOS’ iconic voice returning, and then Stephen Merchant as Wheatley and J.K. Simmons as... well, you’ll see. The voices and writing power this game along and the Portal games would not be what they were without them. People will be talking about potatoes and birds and the moon for years to come, and for good reason.
Valve designed Portal 2 to be about three times longer than the original, with three acts and all that jazz; Portal 2 is a proper game when judged by the regular gaming community. But I’ll be honest and admit it felt like it overstayed its welcome. Portal was so tightly written and scripted and there was no cruft, you’re drawn in by the puzzle rooms, then the game switches to high gear and it’s a race to the finish. Portal 2 is constantly up-shifting and down-shifting the action, this is not really a knock against it, more of an observance, but it just doesn’t feel as... adventurous and epic the third time you break through the puzzle room wall and run behind the scenes for a few minutes.
My main beef is with the middle act, which is a big change from what you would expect from the game in terms of setting - it has a distinct BioShock feel to it for a while. While I loved it at first, it started to drag on after a few hours and then I came to a realization: Portal 2 is just a puzzle game now. It’s not a narrative/puzzle experience like the first one was, this is just a puzzler with some hilarious lines of dialog lining the halls between puzzle rooms. While still really fun, it lacks the tight completeness of Portal 1.
I still love the game, I don’t mean to sound like the lack of that magical feeling made the game any less good than it actually is, but it seems like there could have been more. Or less, in actuality. The second act could have been cleaned up a bit and the third act could have been less of: Wheatley talking, solve puzzle, GLaDOS talking, Wheatley talking, solve puzzle, GLaDOS talking... repeat. Things began to feel a bit routine by the end and that’s not what I expected at all.
Speaking of the end, the final boss battle is amazing, the climax blew me away, and the credits song (with memories of hearing Still Alive for the first time ringing very strong in my head) is just kind of... there, I smiled a few times at it, I guess.
But it shouldn’t be ignored that Portal 2 is still a rare game, the kind that makes you feel about twice as smart as you really are all while plastering a smile on your face. If every game did that, well, we’d be lucky because Valve would still be making games that were better than everything else.