Saturday, April 23, 2011

Portal 2 - Better Than The First

If you have been on the internet in the last 4 years, it is incredibly likely that you have heard of the game Portal, or have at least heard a quote or two from it. Yes, it is impossible to escape Portal, a game first packaged with Valve's The Orange Box in 2007. While the game was short, it was very enjoyable and gained a phenomenally large fan base, enough to warrant a sequel. With the follow-up, Portal 2, having been recently released, I am very happy to say that it has taken everything I have heard about the game and has exceeded every one of my expectations many times over.

I would begin by talking about the story, but saying absolutely anything about it would spoil the experience. There are some twists in the story, albeit expected, but that's not important here. What is important is that the story does a very excellent job of immersing you into the world laid out in front of you. No matter how you feel about the events, it is all but guaranteed that you will become very invested in the story, unable to turn away from the next major event, of which there are plenty. Along the way, many of these moments will be very unforgettable. I still can't believe some of them even hours after playing.

One of the new aspects of Portal 2 is the introduction of two new characters, Wheatley (Steve Merchant) and Cave Johnson (J.K. Simmons). Both of them do an excellent job at portraying their characters, with Wheatley's English accent and Cave Johnson's unending charisma married with absolutely perfect comedic timing and plenty of humorous dialogue making them very likable characters. I just couldn't get enough of these characters, and I would sometimes stick around to listen to as much of their lingering dialogue as possible before moving the plot forward. The same can be said for GLaDOS, who has some memorable dialogue, but thankfully a lot of the dialogue of the game seems less "meme-able" than before, which is great for those who got tired of hearing GLaDOS' lines repeated endlessly.

The game looks much better than the previous entry, showing us less pristine environments and showing us that time has indeed passed between the two games. It is unknown exactly how much time, but it's fairly obvious that the world has aged, complete with some plant life creeping into the chambers. I also found it breathtaking when I first saw the test chambers or parts of Aperture Science that were less cramped and instead more spacious, some even having no bottom. This was a very welcome change, letting some moments have more of an impact. At times, I would even stare at the environment for a few minutes at a time to view the painstaking amount of detail put into the game; I could even go so far as to call them beautiful.

While an environment should be good to look at, it's also good to have a soundtrack that fits. Fortunately, Portal 2 delivers in this department. While Portal didn't have much of a soundtrack, it was there and largely forgettable, save for Still Alive during the credits. The sequel, on the other hand, has a more prevalent and memorable soundtrack, with a score that matches the onscreen events beat for beat. At the same time, the new ending song Want You Gone is perhaps not as memorable as Still Alive at the moment, but I'm sure that with time you'll be singing that along with your friends during discussion.

The most important thing about an environment, however, is being able to navigate it. That is never a problem in Portal 2, with simple controls that respond perfectly without a hitch. As portals are the main source of navigation, this is very good, and the ability to zoom in on a surface for a precision portal placement is a very nice and welcome feature, since sometimes you need to hit surfaces at odd angles and it can be hard to make sure that you have done so. Since the test chambers this time around are more spacious, it is also very helpful that you can see where you have placed your portals even through walls. This also helps you confirm better what portal color you have placed where, preventing you from accidentally undoing a few minutes of effort.

Being that Portal 2 is a puzzle game, design is very important, and it appears that there was absolutely no shortage of creativity here. At first, the puzzles seem familiar, but with time they evolve into bigger and more challenging puzzles. Challenge is never a bad thing when it comes to Portal, and it's the kind that feels very rewarding for being able to figure something out. The new mechanics, such as the Excursion Funnels and Gels, also offer some great fun once you experiment within the chambers and figure out how things interact. This is especially obvious when all of the mechanics begin to interact with each other to form new mind-bending puzzles you would never even dream of. While the original Portal could be finished in as little as 2 hours or so, the sheer amount and length of the puzzles in this game will keep you busy for upwards of 8 hours, which is great because it really makes the purchase more worthwhile.

But the biggest addition by far has to be the full-fledged Co-Op mode, in which 2 people, locally or online, can solve a new diverse set of Test Chambers. The puzzles here are equally as impressive as the Single Player campaign, which sets up a lot of interesting gameplay feats when four portals are in use, such as when players need to extend a Hard Light Bridge to overcome Emancipation Grills that could kill a lot of progress. As PSN was down at the time I started playing, I cannot comment on the online functionalities of the PS3 version, but I do know that communication can be crucial when it comes to puzzle-solving in this mode. When both players are working together, the experience is much more enjoyable and fun for everyone. While this mode is shorter than Single Player, about 5 hours or so, it's really fun to play with a friend or relative in this game. I should also note that GLaDOS' dialogue is simpler here, but it's still very humorous to listen to.

While the Co-Op mode takes place after the Single Player mode, it doesn't really matter which one you play first, as both parts are very self-contained. I had a lot of expectations for this game, and they have thus far exceeded them far more than any other game I have played. If you are a fan of the original Portal or have the tiniest curiosity whether or not the sequel is any better than the original, you definitely will not be disappointed with this game. If you are a newcomer, do yourself a favor and purchase the original Portal and play through that first, as there is a story and it is helpful to see it in order. I have fallen in love with this game, and it certainly helps that even in the real world, I can't stop thinking with portals.

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