Portal 2 (PC)

Portal 2 (PC) review: We share our thoughts on the return of GLaDOS and Aperture Science

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EA Games Portal 2 (PC)
  • EA Games Portal 2 (PC)
  • EA Games Portal 2 (PC)
  • EA Games Portal 2 (PC)

Pros

  • Improved gameplay over the original
  • A more fleshed-out storyline
  • Hilarious dialogue

Cons

  • Co-op may kill friendships
  • The game's plot twist is somewhat predictable

Bottom Line

Even though it's more immersive and funnier than the original, the return of GlaDOS alone should be enough to convince you to play Portal 2.

Would you buy this?

I genuinely don’t think Valve predicted the mammoth success Portal would achieve. Squeezing the game between two renowned titles and releasing it in The Orange Box was a hint. The single player puzzle-platformer from 2007 left such a mark on the gaming world that four years later, dedicated fans — including myself — held even higher hopes for Portal 2.

Read our review of Portal 2 on the PlayStation 3.

Who could blame us? Valve massively hyped the sequel, and the company is hardly the type to pull a Peter Molyneux making empty promises. The Portal 2 preview at E3 2010 was a strictly hands-off experience, but that did little to quell my excitement — especially with all the nifty new elements being demonstrated.

Long ago, on a PC far, far away… in Australia

Portal 2 is set in the dilapidated Aperture Science facility, and the homicidal GlaDOS — the resident bipolar artificial intelligence — is Still Alive (I’ve used this joke before, but it never gets old). Having relived her demise repeatedly in the period between the two games, GlaDOS' behaviour has evolved from passive-aggressive to bitter and blatantly sadistic. She talks a lot more now, and it's mostly about how much she hates you.

The sterile setting was partly what made the first Portal game so memorable — the eerie silence and clinical cleanliness of the Aperture Science laboratories made it all the more jarring when GlaDOS decided to bake you alive, for example (presumably to make that elusive cake she kept promising). Moss-green overgrowth and ailing machinery now fills the facility in Portal 2, and my first thought when I saw the place was how different it looked from the original. There were familiar sights — like the glass corridor which leads into GlaDOS’ chamber — but Portal 2 is built on a much grander scale, and everywhere looks so much bigger.

The game's protagonist Chell, rudely awoken from her slumber/coma at the game's start, is still stuck in the Aperture Science nightmare. But this time around, she's not alone — while isolation was a big part of Portal 1, Chell now has the loquacious Wheatley, one of GlaDOS’ discarded personality cores, to assist her intermittently. I won’t spoil the game by divulging too much, but I will say this: Portal 2 features a couple of major plot twists and opens up the world significantly; Chell is not just confined to the Aperture Science facility, and the game is better for it.

Portal’s famous humour remains intact in the sequel. In fact, they’ve turned the funny dial to 11. It’s almost a bit of overkill — nearly every line uttered in the game is intended to make players laugh. GlaDOS even has a few fat jokes up her robot sleeves. But the dialogue never feels forced, and it's always a moment of levity in situations where the atmosphere can definitely seem scary.

Portals, etc.

The dual-portal gun from the first game is, of course still the weapon of choice... or, rather, the only weapon. The basic Portal gameplay laws still apply: Object goes into one portal, and out the other. In the words of GLaDOS, “Speedy thing goes in, speedy thing comes out”.

Valve has, however, spiced things up with the addition of a few new tools players can manipulate to assist them in the mind-boggling puzzles they face. As seen at last year’s E3, there's a repulsion gel, propulsion gel, aerial faith plate, pneumatic diversity vent and more. A favourite new addition is the light beam walkway which can be passed through a portal to act as a walking surface or a turret shield. There's also a deadly laser beams which can be refracted by a special cube and used to make those pesky turret 'bots explode — killing them has never been so fun.

The puzzles in Portal 2 are definitely more challenging than in the first game. The additional mechanisms means Valve could play with stage concepts a lot more — quite often it's not just about where you place portals, but how you use other tools as well. In one scenario, we used an aerial faith plate and portal combo to launch Chell upwards in order to head-butt a weighted cube in a particular direction.

Since the first game was entirely contained within the Aperture Science test facility, the stages were controlled and there were usually handy directions in the form of small pictorial signs — this meant no matter how hard a puzzle looked, there was a way to solve it. With Portal 2 more expansive than the original, there are some parts outside of the stock-standard test setting where you are left with no instructions at all — not even a voice over the PA system telling you how you were adopted.

I remember coming across a bit in the game where I literally stood in one spot for five minutes scratching my head trying to figure out a way to get to point A to B without plummeting to my death. But this makes it all the more satisfying when you finally have a light bulb moment and solve the puzzle. The bottom line is: Portal 2 is much longer game, and poses far more challenging scenarios than its predecessor.

How to lose friends and alienate people: Portal 2 co-op

When it was revealed that Portal 2 was to have a co-op feature, fans rejoiced. After all, Portal was awesome with just a single-player component — so having a friend play with you as well should double the fun, right? Right? I’m afraid it’s not that simple. Since none of my friends had Portal 2 at the time of the review, I decided to go for a random pair-up... but perhaps it was best I didn’t play with friends.

In co-op, players assume the role of either Atlas or P-Body, two friendly Aperture Science robots. The puzzles themselves were not too complicated, but Valve has really made the stages demand effective use of teamwork. It was the teamwork I found issue with: my comrade and I got each other killed several times attempting to perform simple tasks. If not for the formalities and platitudes reserved for strangers, we may have descended into an angry war of words (ur doing it wrongz).

Allowing for gestures is a nice touch, but even that didn’t provide the faculty to forgive my team-mate for misfiring a giant laser beam at me. Playing with a friend may mean clearer communication, but it might also mean there would be less restraint when it comes to expressing your feelings about accidental mistakes. Friendships may be lost, bonds may be broken. You have been warned.

Do you remember...

Portal 2 is more than a trip down memory lane. Sure, it brings back happy feelings of playing the first game, but at the same time it makes the original look like just a technical demonstration of what could be done with the Source engine. With improved graphics, a bigger world to breathe in and the addition of innovate gameplay mechanics (even more so than the original), Portal 2 captures the essence of the first game and mixes it with a big hit of steroids.

Portal 2 stands on its own as a well-refined game. Although it's only April, I think it could very well be one of the best games to come out in 2011. The cake may be a lie, but Portal 2 is the real deal.

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