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Adam Ghiggino
21 Apr, 2011

Portal 2 Review

PS3 Review | These points of data make a beautiful line.
What is a game? A miserable little pile of levels, some may say. Is it an exercise in pure enjoyment? Teamwork? Competition? Immersion? Do we play games to be entertained, or to give our brains a workout? If a game has to have any of these qualities, or indeed all of these arbitrary qualities we have just put forward for the sake of an introduction, then Portal 2 is a game's game. It's a gamey game's game. After the original Portal made waves not just for its brain-bending gameplay, but its meme-spurring humour, there was a lot of expectation on Portal 2 to deliver the goods. It hasn't just delivered the goods, but it's then taken us and a friend out for a lovely lobster dinner for two, which really is very nice of it. So, yeah, it's pretty good.

Portal 2 sees Chell, the first game's protagonist, waking up in what appears to be a poorly decorated motel room. However, she's soon sprung by Wheatley, a rogue robotic personality core, who reveals she's still being held inside the massive test chambers of Aperture Science Laboratories, and from the state of the facility, has been in stasis for probably hundreds of years. As Wheatley tries to do his best to help Chell escape, they accidentally re-activate that most insane of all artificial intelligences, GLaDOS, who immediately puts Chell back into testing, as she begins to re-awaken the rest of the facility.

The most important thing to know about the plot of Portal 2, without giving too much away, is that it's funny. Really funny. For most of the game, you're going to have someone talking in your ear, whether it's Wheatley rambling (a brilliant Stephen Merchant), GLaDOS calling you fat (Ellen McLain, hilariously blunt) or the recorded messages of Aperture's CEO (J.K. Simmons). All of this is sharply written, with plenty of memorable lines that will no doubt survive in signature quotes for years to come. The story does have a few twists, and there is an attempt to explain more of the backstory of both Aperture and GLaDOS, but overall it's just a fun ride, that continually gives you reasons to press on. The single-player story took us around eight hours to complete, which makes the game longer than the original, but still a brisk adventure overall.

Horribly, this means there's a Karl Pilkington personality core somewhere out there...

Horribly, this means there's a Karl Pilkington personality core somewhere out there...
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For the Portal virgins out there, the fundamental aspect of the gameplay is the portal gun, which allows you to create a wormhole between two flat surfaces and pass through it, keeping any momentum you've gained. While trying not to spoil too much, the game alternates between long stretches of test chambers with specific puzzles for you to solve using the portal gun, and more open environments with few clues where you have to rely on your own observation and ingenuity to navigate to the exit. Of the two styles, we preferred the more open environments, which gave Portal 2 a real Half Life feel that works very well, and we wish there were more of them.

While the first third or so of the game is very similar to the original Portal, Valve was obviously not content in simply treading the same ground over and over, as they introduce several new gameplay mechanics. At the forefront are the gels, which can be applied to any surface to imbue them with certain properties. The blue gel allows you to bounce on any surface, the red gel makes the surface extremely slippery and gives you greater acceleration and the white gel allows you to create portals on surfaces which previously would not take them. These mechanics alone make for some difficult puzzles, as painting gel becomes much more free-form than simply shooting portals. When you can splatter gel almost anywhere, it becomes challenging to figure out exactly where you should be splattering it. And which colour you should be using.

Along with the gels, Portal 2 also introduces lasers which can be redirected with special cubes, aerial faith plates for jumping, as well as tractor beams and hard light bridges that continue on through portals. The tractor beams are essential for floating over certain parts of levels, while light bridges come in extremely handy not just for walking on, but for blocking bullets from turrets. Unfortunately, the environment-sucking pneumatic diversity vent that was originally demoed does not make an appearance in the game. In any case, all of these mechanics essentially leave the possibilities for puzzles wide open, and Valve try every trick in the book to get the most use out of all of them, and if you think that can get complicated, then we haven't even talked about the co-op yet.

We do what we must because we can.

We do what we must because we can.
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Alongside the single player campaign is a co-op storyline, with its own characters and levels. Playing through this with a buddy will last you another five to seven hours if you barrel straight through it, although it does depend on how much the two of you clown around. As you play with a friend in split-screen or online, you take on the role of two robots sent by GLaDOS to participate in tests and recover specific items for her. The storyline takes place after the single player game, but it's definitely not a requisite that you complete that first. While technically you are helping each other as well, GLaDOS never fails to intervene to try and instill some competition between the two of you, which actually works in a sense as you find yourself never missing an opportunity to mess with the other player (taking advantage of 'trust' situations particularly is amusing).

If you thought having two portals with all of the new gameplay mechanics was difficult, try having four. The puzzles in co-op start off very basically, but increase quite dramatically in complexity about halfway through, and by the end you'll really be scratching your head in confusion, or jumping up and down in frustration as your partner fails to realise the same solution to the puzzle that you do. Every time you play with a new co-op partner, you're forced to go through a short introductory sequence that gives you some basic puzzles to solve. After that, you're shown a hub environment, where you can select which level to tackle. If you're further ahead in the co-op campaign than your partner, that's fine, as the game remembers how far you've progressed and will allow you both to continue from where you left off. Our only complaint in all this is that in both the single-player and co-op there's not a great deal of replayability. Once you're done, you're basically done, although we suppose the door is open for DLC in the future.

As you can imagine, communication is key in the co-op mode. While text and voice chat are options, Valve has also equipped the co-op campaign with gestures and the ability to 'ping'. You can highlight a location by 'pinging' it in your field of view to draw your partner's attention, and you can even select what action you'd like them to perform from a limited range of icons, as well as initiate a countdown if a timed action is required. Gestures are purely cosmetic emotions your robot can display, from laughing at a partner's failure, to giving them a bro-hug or high five. This all works rather well, especially on home console, where typing is not really the easiest solution for communicating.

Move the blue portal for trolling hilarity.

Move the blue portal for trolling hilarity.
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We played the PlayStation 3 version of Portal 2, which comes with a line of rather interesting features. On top of receiving a free code for the PC version of Portal 2, the PlayStation 3 version is equipped with 'Steamworks'. This overlay allows you to login to your Steam account to share achievements and saved games, and more importantly it allows cross-platform play and chat with PC and Mac players. This all works pretty wonderfully, and we never had any connection issues or the like. If you don't have any friends on PSN or Steam with Portal 2, then you can still search for other co-op players if you wish. The game has a fair bit of loading between levels, which can break up the experience a little, but fortunately they're not too long.

Portal 2 is still running on the old Source engine, but comes off looking remarkably good considering. This is a game where it's not necessarily the quality of the visuals that's stunning, but the art design, animation and scale of the environments that is. Characters like GLaDOS and Wheatley really have a lot of emotion to their movement, and there is an epic amount of destruction that occurs throughout the game in the various subterranean locations you discover. The music is full of computerised melodies and atmospheres, and seems somewhat interactive as it responds to your actions within a level. It's all terrific, by the way. And yes, there is a song at the end of this one, just as there was 'Still Alive' in the original, and while this one isn't quite as memorable, it holds up rather well against it.

If you've been waiting a long time in eager anticipation for Portal 2 then it's hard to see how you'd be disappointed. The single-player campaign doubles the length of the original, and is crammed with even more hilarity and devious puzzles than ever before, as well as extending the concept with the introduction of larger environments and new mechanics like the gels. The co-op is amazingly fun, and while the story is less complex, the gameplay is even more concentrated insanity than the single player. If you have an affinity for the series, Valve, puzzle games, funny games, or just awesome games in general, you must not miss out on Portal 2. GLaDOS won't let you.
The Score
Portal 2 is a rare, delicious burst of creativity, originality, humour and fun.
Looking to buy this game right now? PALGN recommends www.Play-Asia.com.

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18 Comments
3 years ago
Adam wrote
What is a game? A miserable little pile of levels...
Take me.

Great review, too. Totally spot on (although, I can't help but feel that the quiet 'half-lifey' section was a little... empty without the constant banter. Still awesome though) icon_smile.gif
3 years ago
Adam wrote
Unfortunately, the environment-sucking pneumatic diversity vent that was originally demoed does not make an appearance in the game.
Massive chance to appear as DLC I would have thought.

The game does a good job of staggering all these mechanics to you little by little. That and not over-using any of them and including them in levels just for the sake of it, it all (pun intended) gels well.

Great review by the way!
3 years ago
Game of the forever.
3 years ago
Actually, on the matter of the game doing an good job of introducing mechanics and then making you use them blah blah meow...

spoilerz for maybe some possibly kettle wrote
When you're going through the Bouncy Gel introduction, one of the ways you have to use it is to coat two parallel walls with blue and bounce left-to-right back and forth off the walls across the gap(e). I thought that was rather rad, and yet that never happens again in the sodding game! What the crap, Valve? Way to tease. I am hoping that there's more of that kind of coolness in the co-oppery, as I'm yet to play through gel-use co-op chapter.
3 years ago
I just read the first paragraph (very nice) then looked at the score.

I'm now thinking I should probably watch what I didn't play of the first Portal (yeah, I got sidetracked) on youtube, and then get Portal 2.
3 years ago
Oh valve how i love you. Keeping PC gaming alive!
3 years ago
Furianshi wrote
I just read the first paragraph (very nice) then looked at the score.

I'm now thinking I should probably watch what I didn't play of the first Portal (yeah, I got sidetracked) on youtube, and then get Portal 2.
Or play the first? It can be finished in 3 hours, I can gift you a copy if you want, I've got one but no one to gift it to.
3 years ago
That would be awesome, but what platform? atm I only have a PS3 and a laptop that probably wouldn't run it...

Edit: since it didn't come out as a stand-alone release on PS3, I'm guessing you mean on 360 icon_sad.gif
3 years ago
Furianshi wrote
That would be awesome, but what platform? atm I only have a PS3 and a laptop that probably wouldn't run it...

Edit: since it didn't come out as a stand-alone release on PS3, I'm guessing you mean on 360 icon_sad.gif
No, on Steam. Source games don't have high system requirements though, Portal 2 runs perfectly on my old iMac with low specs.
3 years ago
Okay, I'll give it a go. Thanks heaps man! icon_smile.gif

My steam acc username is Furianshi
3 years ago
Okay cool, you'll just have to wait until my mum gets off the computer sorry, but it'll definitely be tonight icon_biggrin.gif
3 years ago
A witty, devilish puzzler, but in all honesty it felt slightly padded and less potent than the original. Minimalism was the key to Portal's success, and Portal 2 just doesn't boast the same kind of purity or focus. For me, the game's middle stretch was actually pretty boring and visually unappealing. Luckily things pick up again towards the finale.
3 years ago
^ I guess you could accuse it of that...but really? As a sequel it's surprisingly robust expanding on just about everything that made the original sublime and beautifully contrasting that purity with decay. And I'll take the padding, I never wanted this to end. Nothing, not even Portal 2, can ever take from you that first perfect portal experience you know... this is merely a 9.5 out of ten.
3 years ago
Michael Kontoudis wrote
A witty, devilish puzzler, but in all honesty it felt slightly padded and less potent than the original. Minimalism was the key to Portal's success, and Portal 2 just doesn't boast the same kind of purity or focus. For me, the game's middle stretch was actually pretty boring and visually unappealing. Luckily things pick up again towards the finale.
Gotta disagree with all of this. In fact, the disagreeing is what I consider to be one of Portal 2's strongest points. I felt it was paced almost to perfection. I never felt like there was any unnecessary padding or repetition. It's one of the aspects of game design I honestly feel Valve get consistently right; a sense of progression and variety in the game's pacing that prevents it from ever becoming repetitive, boring or bland.

In Portal 2's case, I always felt like there was something awesome around the next corner, whether it be a new gameplay quirk, an awesome set piece, or a humorous line. I cant think of any part of the game's stretch, middle included, that I would cut down.
3 years ago
I too think it was perfectly paced, and I never wanted it to end, or to even stop playing it. The only time I stopped playing was when I got stuck, and so I had a break. It took me 6-7 hours to finish, but it honestly didn't feel anything like that, and I can't remember ever finishing a game as quickly as I finished this, usually I try to make it last longer, but I just couldn't stop playing this. There really wasn't one moment I wished it would just end, or that it didn't belong. The only time I thought anything close to that was near the end, but that's only because I was excited to find out what happened.

It honestly felt like every part of the game was the perfect length, and it's easily my GOTY so far.
3 years ago
I find it interesting that I didn't connect with this game in the way so many obviously have. The writing is honestly the best thing about it, and the vast majority of the puzzles are exactingly designed and clever; I see all of that. It's just that I don't feel that Portal 2 is as perfect as its predecessor. For one thing, the entirety of Act 2 takes place in a desperately dull setting full of murky browns and greys and just goes on and on. In this respect I found the pacing to be really uneven.

I suppose the best way I can put it is that if, in ten years' time I wanted to go back and revisit the series, I'd inevitably turn to the original Portal before I'd consider its sequel.
3 years ago
Yeah Portal 2 is essentially two doses of Portal 1 stuck together with an extra long, drab and boring tutorial in the middle.

Still, it is a hell of a game. Loved the ending. Now I need to trophy hunt!
3 years ago
I'm really surprised people didn't like the second act. I loved not only the visual change from the first act, but also the visual shifts throughout that act (trying not to spoil). I loved the extra lore it gave, as well as the shift in humour. I loved the developments it gave to a certain character.

Above all, I loved that it introduced three new gameplay mechanics, all of which were used well and then continued to be used in the third act.

Opinions and all that, but I just cant see it. I think it's great that Valve seperated Act 1 and Act 3 with such a massive shift, especially in the visuals and gameplay. Im quite surprised people didn't enjoy it.
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