Well, the cake may have been a lie. But the fact that this sequel to one of the best loved games of all time is absolutely great is undeniable truth.
The original Portal game began life as a student project before becoming the thing of legend on the PC, Xbox360 and PS3 as part of The orange Box and introducing us to the ground-breaking Portal gun, mysteriously silent hero and dry-witted super computer with a penchant for sadism. The game was incredibly short and had very little replay value once the player had worked out all of the puzzles that it contained. But that didn’t stop it from being loved by pretty much anyone who played it. Although lacking much by way of story, much of the games’ charm came from the things that were not revealed in the game, alongside an entertainingly sarcastic humour and some agonisingly complicated puzzles. The game was a masterpiece.
Which obviously presents it’s own problems when it comes to a sequel. is it possible to improve on something that many thought of as perfect? It is no real surprise that the sequel took so long to emerge considering the fear that must have been running through Valve as to whether the game would be able to at least match up with the original. Fans of the first game are a fierce bunch and would likely be incredibly vocal about the sequels short comings. So, in true Valve fashion, we were made to wait until the game was, in their eyes, as perfect as it could be. And it seems that their eyes have done a pretty good job of identifying perfection.
I may be coming across as a fanboy at this point, and maybe I am to a slight degree. But I am not going to pretend that Portal 2 is without some issues. The puzzles seem less challenging than before, Chell, the hero, still doesn’t speak and, although much longer than before, there is still very little replay value. But really these are minor problems in the face of the improvements that have been made over the first.
Players begin the game back at the Aperture Science facility after the destruction of GLaDOS, the venomous super computer, at the end of the first game. With the help of Wheatly, voiced by the hilarious Stephen merchant, the player must try to escape the now derelict and decaying facility. Without GLaDOS to to keep things ticking over, the place has pretty much fallen apart, with things smashed up and destroyed, weeds growing in the hallways and test chambers malfunctioning. It is through this first part of the story, which has been masterfully woven by Valve, that the player will first come across the Portal Gun and learn the basics of its use.
The story is one of the highlights of the game which I firmly believe that everyone should experience with as few spoilers as possible. As such I will go so far as to reveal that, fairly early on in the game, GLaDOS is bought back to life and is not best pleased. The rest of the story I will leave to the player to discover, but let’s just say that there are plot twists, moments of compassion, surprises and a potato.
Of course, the other main aspect of the game are the test chambers and the puzzles. Players of the original will be at home for the most part. The portal gun is used to solve puzzles that include such fan favorites as cubes and gun turrets, as well as the classic pressing of buttons, weighting down pressure pads, redirecting lasers and so forth. But there are some new toys to be had in this sequel. Special gels that can bounce the player, or items, to great heights, or speed the player up allowing them to leap further. There is even a white gel that can spread on surfaces to allow the use of the portal gun. Then you have the plates that hurl the player through the air and the light bridges that players can walk across or use as defence against turrets. There are a lot of nice new ideas in Portal 2 keep the game fresh through it’s considerably longer play time.
Now I said earlier that the puzzles are easier than before, but that may not be strictly true. Players that have already enjoyed the first game will likely come to this one with the advantage of experience, making the game seem easier. I can only imagine how mind-blowingly complex some of the puzzles must seem to someone who has never played Portal. The test chambers themselves are all well designed and give a satisfying feeling once the puzzles within have been completed. But the player is not limited to just the test chambers, with frequent excursions into the facility behind the testing. It is perhaps at these points, with such vast expanses of space to negotiate, that the puzzles are at their most difficult. In the test chambers, the player knows that they have to get through the door. Outside of the test chambers, the first puzzle is finding the door.
But what happens when the game is complete and the newly composed closing song has finished? Well, that is when the player can get busy with some co-op action. Oh yes! No longer is Portal a solitary affair.
The co-op campaign is offered as a separate story to the single player game and puts the two players into the metal shoes of Atlas and P-body, robots designed to test the test chambers. Whilst there are many similarities to the single player game, the co-op campaign is an individual experience that is as easy, or difficult, as your co-op partner makes it. Playable either locally or online, these puzzles are designed for two and will require a decent amount of communication to solve. A ping tool is provided with which the player can highlight points for the other player to see, but nothing beats voice communication and a headset is a must when playing online.
Not only do you get the frequent vicious comments from GLaDOS throughout your co-op adventure, but the two robots themselves are not without their fair share of humour, unlike the hero of the single player game. They even learn various gestures throughout the game that enable them to interact with each other, much to GLaDOS’ disapproval. The co-op game is as superb as the single player campaign and would quite happily hold it’s own were it packaged separately.
Portal 2 is offered as a stand-alone, full-priced title and, with the amount of content and entertainment that can be found within, is well worth the price. It may be lacking the originality that was in part responsible for the success of the first game. But with the extended single player campaign, the brilliant co-op campaign and the return of fiendish puzzles and dark humour throughout, Portal 2 can easily take it’s place alongside its predecessor as one of the best games of all time.
“We’ve both said a lot of things you’re going to regret”