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Portal 2May 17, 2011

I remember playing through the original Portal in a single night some time ago. While I enjoyed it a lot, I didn’t quite buy in to the hype which seemed to surround it; I wouldn’t consider it to be the best game ever as a few people do. The length of the game was my main gripe with it. When considered as part of The Orange Box the length was fine, as it was a bonus, an accompaniment to the main game, you wouldn’t have wanted, or expected, a full length game. But when considered as a stand-alone title, as you surely must if you’re considering it for best game ever or something similar, then it was too short. Portal 2 addresses this problem, with a single-player that lasted me at least 8 hours but probably more (I didn’t time myself), and a co-op mode which is good for another 4 hours or so.

The core gameplay remains the same as the first game, but as you progress through the story there are new additions which I felt were really well done. The main new thing is the addition of various types of gel to play with, which you use to coat surfaces in the game, one makes you jump higher, one lets you run faster and another lets you open portals on it. These are gradually introduced separately until eventually you have to solve problems involving all three at the same time. The puzzles you have to solve gradually increase in complexity as you progress, though I wouldn’t say they ever get really difficult. The times I got stuck while playing were purely because I was trying to do something in a complicated or convoluted way, rather than in the simple way that I’d missed. By the time I got round to playing the co-op I’d picked up the main trick to solving a lot of the puzzles: make sure you check everywhere for surfaces you can place portals on. If you’re stuck it’s usually because you’ve missed the fact that there’s a perfectly placed surface that solves all your problems, perhaps hidden in a nook or cranny somewhere, and if there’s a small one hidden on its own somewhere you’ll almost certainly need to use it at some point. That may do a disservice to the puzzle design a bit, but I think it’s true to say that, once you know them, the solutions all seem quite obvious. By which I mean there’s not really any point where you think your inability to progress was caused by the designers making a puzzle with a really obscure solution, you always feel like it was your fault for not noticing something, or for not doing something, which makes perfect sense once you do. Everything is logical, and I think that’s a good thing.

The game has a co-op mode which has its own levels distinct from the single-player. In it you control one of two robots, each having their own portal gun. These need to be used in tandem in order to progress, often in very clever ways. The co-op is probably harder than the single-player, simply because having four portals instead of two opens up a lot more placement possibilities, and also because there are no simple sections designed to introduce a new concept, it’s assumed you’ve already seen everything in the single-player. The levels in the co-op mode are split into several courses accessed from a hub, and at the entrance to each course you can select a particular test chamber to go to, unlike the single-player, which only lets you start from the beginning of each quite lengthy chapter. A good feature the game has is the ability to point out and highlight something on your co-op partner’s screen, which is very useful when trying to explain what you want the other player to do. It also includes a built-in countdown timer you can activate, so you can perform operations simultaneously even if you are not chatting to each other using voice chat, though I think the collaborative nature of the game somewhat demands verbal communication. In fact I could see the co-op being used as a problem solving and team-building exercise by trendy management types (like this, maybe), as it truly needs teamwork to complete, unlike a co-op game which is just the single-player with an extra teammate and maybe more enemies to kill.

I think the voice acting in the game is among the best I’ve ever heard in any game I’ve played, with some of the most genuinely funny dialogue too. There are only really four proper characters in the game, and one is your character, who is mute (this sets up one of the first laugh out loud moments in the game), so I think it’s particularly good that so much humour is gained from so little. The delivery of every line, and the comic timing exhibited, is perfect. The story in the game isn’t particularly complicated, throughout the game you’re basically just following orders and going from A to B, although one section of the game does flesh out the back-story to both this and the original Portal considerably. The game is more about the journey than the destination, but the chat from the characters makes it really enjoyable. I laughed while playing more often than in any other game I’ve ever played, but I suppose there aren’t really many truly funny games around. There are some humorous, light-hearted games, which may raise a few smiles as you play, like the LEGO games for example, but few which are actually written as a comedy like this is. It’s a welcome change.

In fact, without the great writing and voice acting, Portal 2 would be a pretty unspectacular game, as it’s extremely linear and pretty easy, and without the laughs it wouldn’t have much replay value either. As it is, I played through most of the single-player twice; originally I just wanted to get some of the achievements I’d missed, but I ended up playing through bits I could have skipped because I was enjoying it so much. In many ways playing through the game a second time is like watching a repeat of a TV comedy; you still laugh at the jokes you found funny the first time, albeit slightly less heartily as they are less unexpected, and you also occasionally notice jokes you missed before, which add to your enjoyment of the game overall. The co-op is also highly enjoyable, but it has less replay value because it has much less of the dialogue that makes the single-player so compelling. Overall the game is a great package if you’re looking for a really fun and quite relaxing way to spend a few evenings, and I think anybody, even those not really that into games, will find the writing and voice acting well worth the price of the game. However, those looking for a challenge may be left disappointed, I know I was, just slightly. Future DLC may address this, but in the meantime I felt that the overall charm of the game was more than enough to win me over.

One Response

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