Tuesday, 31 May 2011

Game Review - Portal 2 (2nd opinion)

Finally, a full four years after we all became tired of 'the cake is a lie' memes, Valve returns with the sequel to 2007's sleeper hit and industry darling, Portal. Having wowed critics and gamers alike with Portal's mix of first-person shooting, lateral puzzles and unadulterated charm, Valve are tasked with creating a bigger, better and er, more charming experience. Will they be able to recapture the magic of the first game, or will it fall through like so many weighted storage cubes through so many portals?

Portal 2 picks up several years after the events of Portal, after test-subject designate: Chell has been stored in suspended animation. Having destroyed the malignant AI that ran the Aperture Science Enrichment Center, the facility has since fallen into disrepair. Following a daring escape with the aid of an unusual AI module named Wheatley (brilliantly voiced by a bumbling Stephen Merchant), Chell must traverse the abandoned test chambers and beyond using the Aperture Science Portal Device (a gun that opens inter-spatial portals between two flat surfaces). Chell must use all of her wits, intelligence and cunning to escape the deadly test chambers and navigate the labyrinthine depths of the entire Aperture Science facility.

Valve did well to develop the story and world of Portal, creating an engaging back-story through the use of environments, dialogue and pre-recorded messages. Nothing is explicitly pointed out to the player, but clues and inferences are given which make the player feel like they are piecing together a different kind of puzzle, the mystery behind Aperture Science. By dividing up the action between the standard test chambers and more 'behind the scenes' areas, Valve manage to keep the game-play fresh enough to last over a period much longer than the previous game, as well as giving the player hints as to how Aperture Science, GlaDos and Wheatley were created.

Valve have also given Portal a graphical overhaul, with more detailed environments and character models. The incidental animation of the facility rebuilding itself around Chell as she moves through it is really impressive, as well as the realistic fluid effects used for water and the new reactive gels.

The new gameplay mechanics, such as the aforementioned attribute-enhancing gels, add great variety to Portal 2's challenges. The player must use a combination of hard-light bridges, lasers, tractor beams and gels in concert with their portal device on order to progress. Combined with the added challenge of the new co-operative campaign, Portal 2 offers a wealth of cerebral game-play. Understanding the obstacles one faces when playing online, Valve has integrated multiplayer-specific controls that allow players to communicate with each other without the use of headsets. The only problem I can foresee with the co-operative mode is that if one player has passed that specific test chamber already (or has a massively superior intellect) the experience can be a little wearing while you wait for your partner to figure out the chamber.

All in all, Portal 2 not only improves on its predecessor in terms of a bigger and better game, but also manages to recapture that fragile magic that made Portal such an unmitigated success. The only bad thing is that I have to wait another four years for Portal 3.

Lukao gives Portal 2 9 Aperture Science Edgeless Safety Cubes out of 10. Digg Technorati Delicious StumbleUpon Reddit BlinkList Furl Mixx Facebook Google Bookmark Yahoo
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