Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Portal 2 Review


As you probably know by now, the original Portal was a surprise hit. The game managed to get a lot of publicity after being bundled with the awesome Orange Box compilation. Valve has built a bit of a reputation when it comes to hiring promising developers; Counter-Strike, Team Fortress 2 and Left 4 Dead are examples of smash-hits thanks to Valve financing the brains behind the projects. Portal was no exception as it was developed by students at the DigiPen Institute of Technology. Many of the ideas were borrowed off their game project called Narbacular Drop.

Anyway history lesson aside, I very much enjoyed the original Portal, and I wasn't the only one. It was critically acclaimed and has a Metacritic rating of 90%. So it's no surprise that I jumped on the bandwagon to get a copy of Portal 2.

I noticed when buying Portal 2 that it was more expensive than its predecessor which meant I already had the expectation that the game had to work harder, better, faster and stronger for my money. This wouldn't be an easy task considering how successful the first Portal was.

Sound (4/5)
Voice acting wasn't really a challenge in the original Portal, I mean GLaDOS uses a synthesised voice after all. It's a robot, and in sci-fi, robots are meant to sound imperfect. They're meant to sound like Dr Sbaitso, by Creative Labs (PLEASE ENTER YOUR NAME).

However, in this iteration Wheatley (who is also a robot) bucks the trend and has a very human sounding voice provided by British comedian, Stephen Merchant. You also get to hear the voice of J.K. Simmons, acting the role of Cave Johnson, original founder of Aperture Science. Both are welcome additions and they perform their parts well.

As there isn't that much music during the levels (as is the case in the Half-Life games) background noises become important to immerse you in the environment. Portal 2 manages to achieve this with the distant creaking of dilapidated platforms, the whirring of motors and whooshing steam all being present when you expect them to be.

The only thing I can criticise about the audio is the usual sound stuttering problems that some people get (including myself) when playing Source games. They're pretty rare, but they do happen occasionally.

Music (5/5)
I was tempted to give a 4 for Music since the game is actually lacking quite a bit of it, but penalising a game because it doesn't have a lot of music even when it's not required, is probably not right. Playing music sparingly can in itself be the right thing to do for a game. This is the case for Portal 2.

One interesting gimmick with the music is that it's generated procedurally. e.g. when you start jumping on bouncy gel, the notes are generated in time with the bouncing. This means the music in the game is directly related to whatever actions you are performing. Pretty choice!

Oh, and the game wouldn't be a Portal game without a hilarious credits song sung by GLaDOS. Fans of the original will be glad to know this is the case :).


Graphics (3/5)
The graphics haven't improved that much from the original, but it's still a decent enough engine to play on.

Plot (5/5)
Not only is the scriptwriting funny like the original, you also get to learn a lot of the background story.

In Portal 2, you return as Chell, the female silent protagonist from the original. The Aperture Science facility has fallen apart and is now overrun by nature. Plants are starting to grow through their cracks and everything is in disrepair. A robot known as Wheatley wakes you up and tries to help you escape the facility. However, in doing so he inadvertently wakes up GLaDOS which of course means more testing for the unlucky Chell!

The game will take you to the deepest depths of the Aperture Science facility where you'll learn about the company's history and how GLaDOS came to be.


Gameplay (5/5)
This is a really fun game to play. Just like the original, the game will have you progressing from room to room solving puzzles with a mixture of portal creation and timing. However, instead of just rehashing the gameplay in the original, they've improved on the formula by adding some new elements to the puzzles. A list of them are provided below:


- Bouncy blue gel (gel that makes you jump higher)

- Orange speed gel (gel that makes you run faster)

- White Portal Gel (gel that allows you to create portals wherever it lies)

- Bridges (energy bridges that can be used either as walls or as a means of crossing chasms)

- Artificial gravity tube thingies (these can be used to transport you or other objects, even gel, from one side to another)


Anyway, there's lots of new stuff to play with and the game is much longer than the original too - but you'd expect that considering it does cost more.

Replayability (4/5)
Both campaigns are pretty linear so there's not going to be much difference in a second playthrough, although there are achievements to strive for.

One of the big new features however is that there is two player co-op with Portal 2. Not only that, it's an entirely different campaign to the single player with puzzles especially tailored for cooperative play (i.e. if you don't work as a team, you're not going to get past the level). The multiplayer campaign complements the single player campaign so you actually learn more about the world that Portal 2 is set in by completing it.


Polish (5/5)
The game is pretty well polished, besides the occasional sound stuttering issue (which I've always had a problem with Source games) - however, I've already penalised the game in the sound section of the review :).

Score - 9/10

It seems impossible but Portal 2 is harder, better, faster and stronger than the original.

If you want to get the game, grab it off Steam.

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