Gaming Guru Review of Portal 2

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by TRACY-MARK GORGAS / Special contributor to NWCN.com

NWCN.com

Posted on May 13, 2011 at 2:38 PM

Updated Wednesday, Nov 6 at 4:25 PM

One of the most anticipated sequels ever has finally been released Portal 2.  Aperture Sciences' testing can continue under the ever watchful eye of GLaDOS, but are the tests worth taking?  Say good-bye to your companion cube, grab your portal gun, and let's go.

Full disclosure, my review version was for the Sony PlayStation 3.  Because Sony's PlayStation Network (PSN) has been down I have not played the co-op portion online.  I have played the co-op portion though in the slpit-screen configuration.

Story

Portal 2's story picks up hundreds, possibly even thousands, of years after the events of Portal with you playing as Chell, the same character from the first game.  You are awakened from stasis by a personality core named Wheatly.  He informs you that the Aperture Science facility has decayed to a point where he has become concerned enough to wake someone up to help him.   With Wheatly's help you "break" out of your stasis room and into the testing chambers where he tells you to look for a gun that "makes holes, not bullet holes.  Um, you'll know it when you see it."

Once into the testing chambers a prerecorded voice tells you that while the main systems are down backup systems are still in place to keep testing going.  Eventually, with Wheatly's help, you find a portal gun that allows you to fire blue portals only.  Wheatly then tells you that in order to get out you have to go through "her" chamber, meaning GLaDOS' room.  Once in GLaDOS' room you see that her destroyed frame has remained right where you left it.  Wheatly has you looking for a switch to activate the escape pod.  When the two of you are unable to find it he asks you to plug him into the computer system to see if he can find it quicker.  As he fumbles through the system Wheatly accidently revives GLaDOS.  Needless to say GLaDOS is not exactly happy that you "murdered" her, but is willing to forgive you, as she says, "for science, you monster,"  with that she plucks you up and drops you into the bowels of the facility to find a fully functioning portal gun. She Immediately starts running you through deadly tests all over again, for science.

I will stop here because I do not want to spoil any part of the story for those who have yet to play through the game.  There are quite a few plot twists this time around and are best experienced firsthand.

Additionally there is a second storyline for the co-op portion of the game.  It involves two robots that GLaDOS guides through testing so that they will be ready to work outside the testing chambers in order to find a special vault within the Aperture Science facilities.

Controls and Gameplay

Portal 2 uses the same simple controls that were available in the first game; move, jump, interact  look/zoom, crouch,  and shoot blue or orange portals.  The only added controls are in multiplayer co-op with gestures, partner views, and point.

You again have a first person view of solving puzzles just like in the first PortalPortal 2, however, has some new elements.  First there are various gels; Repulsion gel that allows you to bounce really high, Propulsion gel that allows you to move very fast,  and Conversion gel that allows any surface covered with it to accept portals.  Second are new "technologies" like; Excursion Funnels which are like tractor beams, Hard Light Bridges, which are self explanatory, Aerial Faith Plates that launch anything set on top of them, and Redirection Cubes that are used with Thermal Discouragement Lasers  to redirect them.  The old favorites are back also; the Companion Cube, the Weighted Storage Cube, Sentry Turret and the 1500 Megawatt Aperture Science Heavy Duty Super-Colliding Super Button.

All of these elements are used to create deadly testing chambers for you to solve your way through.  While the testing chambers start off simple enough, such as redirecting a Thermal Discouragement Laser, they eventually get very complex involving multiple elements and timing to solve.  Once again, solving the puzzles allows you to move on to the next area and one step closer to escaping the facility.

Graphics and Sound

The realistic graphics from Portal went through a nice upgrade for Portal 2.  Most are subtle like the Companion and Weighted Storage Cubes getting slight lighting, while others are very noticeable such as the makeover GLaDOS gets, or the slimmer elevators that transport you from chamber to chamber.

In addition to the updated graphics, the voice cast also expands.  Ellen McLain returns as the voice of GLaDOS and the Sentry Turrets,  joining Mrs. McLain are J. K. Simmons, as Aperture Science CEO Cave Johnson, and  Stephen Merchant, as the personality core Wheatly.  All three perform their roles perfectly, bringing their respective characters to life.

Jonathan Coulton also returns with a new ending song, "Want You Gone," again sung by Ellen McLain.

Overall

The original Portal was a surprise hit game that was essentially a filler in The Orange Box games set.  I have to admit that seeing the various new elements for Portal 2 introduced over the last couple of years I felt that Valve might have been making the game too difficult, my fears were for naught.  Portal 2 has great pacing, introducing each element and allowing the player to learn how the elements can be used and interact with each other.  The challenge is still there, but easier than what I thought it was going to be.

Portal 2's story is very well laid out.  I especially liked the way the older sections of Aperture Science are shown so the player can see the slow decline of the company from the prosperous and promising late 1950's through the modern times.  The casting of J. K. Simmons for these sections was perfect.  His comedic talents shine as the former shower curtain salesman turned somewhat clueless CEO of Aperture Science.  Personally I would have loved more sections with him as they were very entertaining.

The co-op section can also be very amusing and challenging.  If you and your friend are not communicating and working together to solve the puzzle you will fail.  But even in failure there is entertainment to be had.  Chiding from GLaDOS or just from the way your friend's robot was destroyed.  I will note that the split-screen co-op works well as long as you pay attention to your side of the screen! I walked into my destruction a few times while looking at my friend's side trying to figure out a puzzle.

The only thing I find any fault with in Portal 2 is the length of the game.  I completed the single player in about a day.  Even so I think that if it was much longer it might have ruined the story. 

Portal 2 is a perfect combination of story, pacing, puzzle structure and voice acting.  I give it a 5 out of 5 and highly recommend it, especially if you enjoyed the first Portal.

Portal 2 is rated Everyone 10+ by the Electronic Software Rating Board for Fantasy Violence, Mild Language.  It is available now for Windows PC, Mac OS X, Microsoft Xbox 360, and Sony PlayStation 3.  For more information, you can visit the official Portal 3 web site, www.thinkwithportals.com.

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