(***NOTE: This post was originally written on my other blog on the SA Current website on April 22nd, 2011. It is under the name “The People’s Gamer”. I am reposting here on my own blog to maintain all of my personal work. In any case, hope you like it.)
Let’s Face it: Valve knows video games. They were born to do it, just as much as Samuel L. Jackson was born to drop F Bombs. Since the time of the original Half-Life that garnered critical success, Valve has maintained a stellar track record that symbolizes proper narrative development and unparalleled game play innovation. But not only do they boast awesome video game development talent, they can also spot it in others. The origins of the Portal franchise started as the work of a few graduate students back in 2006. When Valve saw the original game, they hired the team to foster the idea into becoming the Game of The Year in 2008, known as the original Portal. While only lasting 4 hours, millions of gamers flocked to it’s beautiful mixture of calculated horror with dry humor set amongst three-dimensional puzzles that can only be solved by using a “Portal” gun. Sequel-itis can be a very tricky thing to do right, but Valve is no stranger to making genre-busting franchises (Sorry Halo fans, Half-Life 2 is the greatest FPS ever, and that is final), As Portal 2 is a beautiful, clever, hilarious masterpiece that will keep you entertained for months after you solved its final puzzle.
Since going into any part of the story will undoubtedly spoil the fantastic arc of the sequel’s plot, I will avoid specific details and keep to general statements. You take up the Portal Gun again as the original protagonist Chell as you are forced to run through a gamut of new “tests” awaiting to be solved. Portal 2 expands upon this background, however, by delving into the origins of GlaDOS, Aperture science, and the true purpose behind all of the insidious experiments. From the beginning to end, Portal 2 is chock full of the precise and comedic writing the original game is known for, and yet so much more. Introduced in this game is Wheatley, an observation bot voiced by Stephen Merchant, from the Ricky Gervais show. A comedian in his own right, Merchant performs beautifully by delivering line after line of dry wit coupled with a bizarre type of levity that could only come from a wierd robot. The disparity between Wheatley’s animated voice and the cold and calculated GlaDOS allows for some of the funniest moments in the game as the two AI try their best to persuade you.
While you aren’t explicitly told how much times has passed since the first game, the environment of Portal 2 provides an easy answer. Much of the white surface of Aperture science has been replaced with dense foliage and jungle vines. Mother nature appears to be trying to take back the space, which provides for an excellent dichotomy between germ-free enclosure and the unkempt wild. Much of the facility is in some form of disarray, and it plays into the solving of many of the games later puzzles. While there are still countless places to throw up a portal, the new jungle will sometimes force you to take an extra step in your creative thinking to continue moving forward. In a sense, some of the games hardest puzzles aren’t designed by GlaDOS at all; they are ordinary environments not designed for portals at all, yet it is your only way of moving forward. Portal 2 also pushes the puzzle boundary with new mechanics such as different colored gels with various properties. Blue gel will bounce you off any surface, while red gel acts as a speed booster to help you leap across huge distances. While these are just a few new gimmicks, they alone lead to a new level of puzzle-solving that will stretch even the most clever person’s imagination.
But it doesn’t stop there. If the single-player campaign still leaves you unimpressed (it won’t), the Co-Op campaign raises the bar even higher. While controlling 2 portals is fun enough, Co-Op allows you and a friend to link up for puzzles designed for teams of two. with the ability to manipulate 4 portals, Valve has masterfully created some of the most complex and mind-bending puzzles ever conceived. The difficulty is honed to increase just enough to keep you challenged at each turn; never too difficult to be discouraged by, yet never easy enough for either you or your friend to say “I see what you did there…”
The difficulty in reviewing puzzle games is that I can’t go in depth about very much as I risk ruining the surprise and joy of discovering everything for yourself. Having said that, general statements are nowhere near the proper detail or praise this title is worth. Backed by a story that keeps you challenged, entranced, and laughing until the very end, Portal 2 will always be some of Valve’s finest work. As someone who tends to avoid puzzle and fighting games, I can safely guarantee that as you are read this, I am currently playing Portal 2 again with my friends across town. In the midst of dozens of games that pack on mediocre content and online bonuses to maximize every dollar you throw down, Portal 2 is a solid reminder that with the right quality—and a few jokes—even the simplest game can be worth every single penny.
See you in the next level,