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Portal 2 Review

Review; May. 3, 2011; Channels: Video Games; By Edward Kaczynski
Valve's Latest Opus a Pinnacle of Story and Design

When Portal 2 was first announced, I don’t think I was alone in thinking, “How? How can an almost entirely story driven game garner a sequel?” Because (let’s face it) the most interesting thing about Portal was the story and the writing. Yes, some of the puzzles were head scratchers. Yes, the Portal Gun game mechanic was interesting, if a bit simple.

Portal 2 Screenshots 
Click the image to view game screenshots 

However, the fact is it wouldn’t have gone down in gaming history as an experience – a step forward in game design – without the off-kilter and nightmarish quality of the developed Aperture Science setting and the dark humor provided by one of gaming’s most influential antagonists, GLaDOS. A large portion of what made this story interesting and fun was the increasingly hostile interactions between Chell and GLaDOS and the growing realization on the part of the player that there was something really wrong in the Enrichment Research Center Laboratories. 

So, for myself, it became a question of, “Will the writing in Portal 2 live up to its predecessor?” I didn’t think it would, but I would have to give it a fair shake.

I was pleasantly surprised.

Portal 2 is not just as good as Portal. It’s better. It’s actually beyond better – Portal 2 is the experience that people were building it up to be, the experience I was hoping for. It brought actual joy to me, as a gamer, rather than simple interest or distraction. Aperture Science is as nightmarishly off-kilter as ever, but after being allowed to decay for hundreds of years, it has taken on a strangely organic feel – at least, at first.

The inclusion of other characters beyond GLaDOS and Chell adds an interesting dynamic to the world of the Aperture Science – the idiotic caretaker Wheatley adds a degree of dry wit to the story, and the absurd, apathetic and (increasingly) deranged Cave Johnson brightens up the dark, dank and industrious middle portion of the game. 

The game features a host of new game mechanics – laser deflecting storage cubes, bridges made of pure light, Aperture Science Brand Accelerant Gel, etc. – but ultimately, it’s Portal – you’re stuck in a room, and you have to figure out how to get out without killing yourself. Use your brain, and you shouldn’t be stuck there long. Sometimes, less is more, and in this case, it works. 

The multiplayer mode, however, is not all I was hoping for – which is, I suppose, because I don’t know WHAT I was hoping for.

It’s fun to play with your friends – it always is, no matter what you’re playing. That said, the point of each of these multiplayer maps is to cooperate and work together for a common goal. The point of playing with your friends is to screw around and have fun. These two sets of goals don’t always go hand-in-hand. I found myself finding new and interesting ways to kill my roommate by removing exit portals while he was in mid-air, or dropping platforms out from below him as he was about to land.

Like I said – this is fun, but it doesn’t allow for forward progress. Which may be the point, thinking about it now – Valve wouldn’t have to create much in the way of multiplayer content if it knew that players were going to spend as much time as possible messing around.

Of course, if your friends aren’t around or are busy, you can have the game find a multiplayer match for you to join. Of course, you’d be stuck playing with some random gamer online, who you don’t know. Have you met Internet people? Join some random games of Left 4 Dead and see what you’re missing. If you’re not vomiting out of anger within 10 minutes, you’re doing something wrong.

The multiplayer story, however, just doesn’t garner as much interest as the single player storyline does. With Chell, GLaDOS was a homicidal sadist bent on causing you as much grief as possible within the confines of her programming. With Atlas and P-Body (the multiplayer robots), GLaDOS seems to act more like a scolding parent – which, in this instance of course, she is.

Oh, and loading screens. There’s lots of them. But I suppose, if that’s REALLY a point of contention, then Valve is doing pretty well.

Overall, Portal 2 is (yet another) milestone pinnacle in design. It’s a near-perfect example of how an old dog can learn new tricks. I only hope that Valve can continue this level of professionalism with Half-Life 3 because a sequel to Portal 2 is implausible and unnecessary.

Which is exactly what I said at the end of Portal 1.

Comments

JCXanirus

JCXanirus - May. 4, 2011 at 3:20:53am

Is there cake this time around? Or have they moved on to my preference, pie!

rfludwick

rfludwick - May. 3, 2011 at 11:46:03am

I thought Portal 2 was very, very excellent. I think everybody complaining about the game's length are wrong. Length of game doesn't mean quality. I'd rather have an immensely high quality game that's shorter than a shitty game that takes forever to slog through.

Review Score
9.5

Everyone 10+

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