Portal 2: As Close to Required Gaming as You Can Come
It is extremely difficult to make a good sequel. The expectations that come from following up a beloved title cannot even compare to the challenge of presenting a sufficiently different experience that can bring in new blood while satisfying the critical eyes of the hardcore fans. Needless to say, Portal 2 achieves all of these feats with outstanding flair and delivers an experience unlike anything ever seen in gaming before.
For those who have not played Portal, the concept is simple. You are Chell, the silent protagonist trapped in a testing facility overrun by the omnipresent AI known as GLAD-OS, who constantly evaluates your testing capabilities with an acid sense of humor. At the core of the tests is the portal gun, a device that let's you place two portals (enter and exit) on select surfaces in each room. As one would imagine, whatever enters through one portal comes out the other. This is taken to a new level when adding the fact that energy is untouched when traveling through the portals. This means that any momentum you build up when approaching one portal will remain when leaving the second. I'll let your brain figure out what could be achieved when you have one portal in a wall and another on the floor.
In the second game, Chell awakens several years into the future and finds the facility in ruins. She befriends a little "personality core" named Wheatley who guides her through some test chambers and puts her up to date with what has happened. In order to avoid spoilers I'll leave it at that, nonetheless I will say GLA-DOS is still alive and the story takes its fair toll of twists before the end. You will run into Aperture's ex-president Cave Johnson (voiced beautifully by J.K. Simmons) who's ideas of grandeur will crack you up and give you some insight into Aperture's past.
Portal 2 is running on the same engine that powered Half-Life 2 back in 2004. While it is amazing Valve has gotten so much mileage out of the technology, technically, the game suffers from some older textures and lighting effects. However, the amount of detail in every area of the game far outweighs the lack of technical superiority. The loading times can get on your nerves, but once you witness how every object in he game has been carefully placed for full effect, all gripes will be set aside.
One of the reasons why the first Portal was such a marvel was the fact that it was so short yet came packaged with the Orange Box, which already gave you several other games. While Portal 2 easily doubles the play time from the first game, there is still that feeling of spending 60 dollars on a game with limited replay value. Once you've solved the puzzles, there is no longer any mystery or challenge involved. While this may be a turnoff for those used to sinking 40 hours on Call of Duty, if you are the type of person who will gladly splurge on a good meal at an amazing restaurant, then Portal 2 will not disappoint.
What made the first Portal such a standout experience was that it was so unique. The concept of puzzle solving in a first person environment had never been done to such a scale before and the world of Aperture Science was so foreign to us. Portal 2's only problem is that it cannot replicate that. Granted, the puzzles in two trump anything seen in one and the pacing is such that you never feel as if you are in an endless loop of test chambers, however, some of that magic is gone. Nonetheless, Portal 2 is a marvel of game design and narrative exploration in games that needs to be experienced by anyone calling themselves a gamer. It is a devilishly well-baked experience that will leave a delicious after-taste in your mouth, and that is no lie.
"Well done. Here are the test results: You are a horrible person. I'm serious, that's what it says: A horrible person. We weren't even testing for that. Don't let that "horrible person" thing discourage you. It's just a data point. If it makes you feel any better, science has now validated your birth mother's decision to abandon you on a doorstep." -GLaDOS
*Due to the PlayStation Network blackout this past week, we were not able to review the multilayer aspect of the game. The views expressed above are based solely on the single player portion.
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