Treasure hunts, rumours and potatoes. Portal 2 is finally here.
Yes VALVe, you got me. Like many others I had pre-purchased Portal 2 through the steam platform amid rumours of an early release. With considerable smugness at the thought of being proven correct with my early release predictions, I cleared my weekend schedule, switched off my phone and defied man’s natural instinct to go outside when the sun shines. Only for VALVe to double back and delay the release for several days until a certain amount of indie games were played. Oh VALVe, you big tease. Out of spite I’m going to try and hate Portal 2, and fail miserably.
After escaping in the original Portal game, our muted protagonist and everyone’s favourite human lab-rat, “Chell”, is seen being dragged away by a robot figure. It emerges that Chell has been placed in stasis for a few hundred years. You awake to find the Aperture Science building is in a state of disrepair, decaying and overgrown with vegetation.
Guiding you through the ruined building is Wheatley, a personality sphere, wonderfully voiced by Stephen Merchant, who delivers every line with comedic aplomb. Together you meander through the twisted metal and wind up back in the old testing chambers from the first game. While exploring the main facility you accidentally awaken the dormant test junkie and sarcastic goddess GLaDOS. GLaDOS sets out to rebuild the broken facility and start testing, you again agreeing to “put our differences behind us. For science. You monster”.
I’m not going to reveal any of the plot twists and turns or the related conspiracy theories that go along with them. Reviewing this game is bloody hard without spoiling anything. After the first hour or so of gameplay so much happens that revealing any of it would rob people of the sheer shock and awe that the game presents. The ensuing story, however, will have you descending to the depths of the Aperture Science facility. Along the way you will gather a greater understanding of the history of the building and the reason you and GLaDOS are there. Overall, the story is tied neatly together and the character development is astounding, considering the three main characters are a mute human and two artificial intelligence beings.
A typical single-player campaign will take between 10-12 hours (some boasting a 4-6 hour completion time), which isn’t really a lot considering it won’t be a game you will replay too often (and the fact that Steam rinsed me for €50 as well, grrrrr). Playing the game is as fun as the first one. The standard elements are there with the portal gun being the ever-present problem solving weapon, however a number of new aides have been introduced to help keep things fresh. Excursion Funnel tractor beams and Hard Light Bridges have been added to offer the player extra transport and the game also introduces special paint-like gels that boost various attributes when applied to a surface, such as Propulsion Gel, which boosts speed, Repulsion Gel, that allows the player jump and bounce extremely high and Conversion Gel, which allows any surface coated with it to become a platform to shoot a portal onto.
The new gameplay features mesh wonderfully well together and make the most of VALVe’s source physics engine (built on the Havok physics engine). Combining all the elements together to solve the test chamber has a free-flowing feel to it and the game is a lot more thought provoking due to the added combinations of factors that are needed.
With the single player campaign being so short, it was going to need a few added extras to make the game worth a full, independent release. Thankfully, VALVe has included a co-op campaign, which is a 4-6 hour extravaganza (depending on the intelligence and willingness of your playing partner). While most multiplayer games seem like nothing more than the single player campaign with an added character, VALVe has somewhat mastered the whole concept of multiplayer gaming.
As anyone who has played the Left 4 Dead multiplayer will testify, you need full co-operation or someone will have zombie teeth marks where their ears used to be. It all means that “Johnny Testosterone” can’t rampage ahead of everyone, scooping up all the achievements and trying to finish the game themselves. Like the single player campaign, you will need all elements to solve the test chambers so team work is absolutely vital.
I must admit I built Portal 2 up in my mind long before its release. The first game was an absolute gem and caught many people by surprise with its gameplay and witty humour. Does Portal 2 live up to its hype? Well, the answer is a resounding yes! The plot and story are wonderfully thought out and tight. The gameplay is fantastic and other superlatives I may not have used yet and the whole game is wrapped in the typical pitch black humour we have come to expect from VALVe. I must admit I’m not a massive Stephen Merchant fan but hats off to the man, he brought a lot to the game and the dry wit worked wonders.
One small niggling criticism I have for the game is the non-stop loading screens it confronts you with. It is a little annoying in a game so atmospheric, balanced and well paced to be running down a corridor in terror with dramatic music playing and be halted by a loading screen. It breaks the flow somewhat and the multiplayer campaign features this neat little rebuilding of robots loading screen which is fun on first viewing, but after being played over and over again during loading it becomes very tiresome, very fast.
I didn’t let these petty annoyances perturb me though. Portal 2 is great and it will take something ridiculously special to knock it from a game of the year award (the coveted Siliconrepublic.com chocolate hob-nob award for game of the year is still a realistic possibility). 10/10, five stars, two thumbs up, A+, 12 donkeys in a row, whichever clichéd metric of scoring you want to use, this is gaming perfection and the most fun you will have with your console this year.