Do you know how often it is that I’m allowed to review a good game? I get ones that are mediocre, passable, even acceptable, but rarely do I have the luxury of sitting back and thinking that a game was good.
Thankfully, Portal 2 is one of these rare games.
We all knew it was going to be amazing – Valve don’t do anything half-heartedly, and while they may have an unusual understanding of time, it has yet to backfire on them. So Portal 2 is exactly what you might expect it to be – a longer, more in depth continuation of the mechanics introduced in the first game. It is the TV series that follows the back-door pilot film. It does everything the first game did – compelling puzzles, superb writing, insidiously clever player instruction – and it adds a whole host of new things that help to keep you engaged for the lengthier plot.
But you knew all that, and if you didn’t then you certainly expected it. What can I tell you from a review that you might not already have picked up from pre-release whatsits? Well, let’s see.
The first game was an obvious experiment. The plot that surrounded the various test chambers was more-or-less secondary, a vague curio for those who needed something a little more concrete than “testing”. Portal 2 drags the plot a little more front and centre, with more direct and personal reactions from what few characters there are, and the backstory of Aperture Science being given a little more room to grow. All of this is done, however, without compromising on the main focus of the game: the puzzles.
It remains apparent that Portal is a series that stands as the gateway between the casual and the hardcore market. The lateral thinking of the casual scene clothed in the trappings of the hardcore. But to maintain this balance while also providing new challenges is a difficult thing. The introduction of gels was Valve’s big improvement in the sequel, and it is in this that I’ll make the majority of my points, if you don’t mind.
There are three gels that alter the environment they are sprayed upon in certain key ways. Applying these gels to the right surfaces in the right quantities is the key to certain puzzles, and having an extra way to interact with the world is welcome. It is somewhat saddening, then, that the gels are oddly underused. There is a great chunk of the game where the gels are your primary focus of puzzle solving, but it does feel somewhat like the entire thing is a tutorial. Once that section is done, the usage of gel starts to fade a little, though it never quite disappears. Admittedly, the puzzles that involve the gels are genuinely interesting and one in particularly really hammers home what it means to think with portals. I just wish that, after having introduced the new mechanics, they stuck around a little longer.
That said, that’s a pretty minor complaint. Portal 2 doesn’t give you room for anything else. The only other thing I can complain about, in fact, is the frequency of the loading screens. This problem becomes lessened once the plot starts to pick up speed, but the first hour or two will have you bumping into a loading screen at the end of every test chamber. When those chambers consist of a single room and a puzzle that can be solved in a minute or two, it is a bit silly. The loading doesn’t take long, thankfully, which keeps this from being a big issue, but it is still irritating. We know the Source engine can do big maps, we’ve seen it before and Portal 2 shows us again that it’s possible. I don’t want to blame the consoles for this because it seems to be an actual design choice, but it’s one that I just can’t quite understand.
And that’s where my criticism ends. There’s nothing else I can pick apart and whine about. The writing is sublime, the graphics are gorgeous, the puzzles are just difficult enough to avoid being too easy or making you feel like a dunce when you get stuck. Even the co-op puzzles, while running the risk of saturation in some, manage to bring a few new things to the table once you consider just how much a second set of portals can change things.
I suppose I could go into detail, give you quotes from GlaDOS and detail a particularly tricky puzzle for reference, but in this case that might be counter-productive to your enjoyment. You should go into it blind, knowing as little as possibly about the specifics, it’s the best way to get the full impact. It’s rare that I feel the need to say that. This is a game that should be experienced, not merely played.
Buy it. Just buy it. If you have a brain in your head, and the capacity to use that brain in the service of bending space time to get from point A to point B, and that brain likes some truly sterling writing while it does that, you owe it to yourself to pick up this game.
Really, it’s that good.
MLG Rating: 9/10
Platform: PC/PS3/Xbox 360 Release Date: 21/04/2011
Disclosure: Midlife Gamer bought a digital copy of Portal 2 for review purposes. The title was reviewed over the course of four days on PC. For more information on what our scores mean, plus details of our reviews policy, click here.