Platform – 360 (reviewed) | PS3 | PC
Developed and Published by Valve
You could say I’ve been putting this review off, especially considering the game came out a month ago and I completed everything it had to offer a couple of days after that. You’d be right. The problem is I’ve spent all the time mulling over the parts I didn’t like and the parts I didn’t like as much as 1. I’m not saying Portal 1 was the best game ever, but in its execution it was a perfect game. It didn’t have enough time to screw up. Portal 2’s duration gave it that capability and I believe there were some screw-ups. There were also several elements that I didn’t like, but can appreciate others very much did. So, with some spoilers, let’s delve into the wonderful world of Portal 2 and Aperture Science. You monsters.
Let’s get all the good stuff out of the way. Controls are perfect, but that’s unsurprisingly because they’re all very simple. Despite the engine’s age, the game still holds up and looks absolutely fantastic. The art direction was pulled off sublimely. The game has a hell of a lot of ambition that, for the most part, it hits perfectly. This is a game that the overwhelming majority of all people can and should enjoy. It really drives home the “Just fifteen more minutes!” mantra, that ever telling sign of a fantastic game. And as you can surely tell, I’m just prolonging the ‘but’.
But, the comedy which saturates the game is perhaps oversaturated. But, the plot that was subtle showcased in 1 was built up on far too much and went from laughably-evil-genius to “…what.” at times. But, I felt the design of almost the entire second act was not good and as a result, the difficulty curve went off and wondered around. But, I wasn’t totally satisfied by some of the characters.
The best description I’ve seen of Portal 2 is that it’s a comedy game. I’d buy that notion in its entirety. The base gameplay, a puzzle mechanic where you must use the titular portal-gun to move yourself, or other objects, from A to B seems to take a back-seat to the comedy-driven narrative. The result is that the comedic aspect is the main factor of the game, driving the puzzles. I say puzzles, they’re not. The majority have one solution. As environments change, particularly notable for the entire second act, the solutions fundamentally decrease replayability. Why play the same thing if you’re going to be doing exactly the same thing each time you do it? Portal 2 is undeniably a fantastic game, but it’s undeniably a fantastic game that I would wager a lot of people will only play once, especially the co-op (more later).
The comedy is mostly “Yay, science!” and I can get behind that. A lot of the dark humour from the first game has been set-aside, although there is still some. Thematically, that was a really enjoyable aspect of 1. Its loss in 2 is certainly not a deal-breaker, but some variety would’ve helped. I also thought some parts the developers, and indeed a lot of other people, found absolutely hilarious fell completely flat on me. Such is the risk of comedy. Considering the narrative of 1 and the first act of 2, I wasn’t expecting this flatness to occur quite so often for me. But, comedy like many things is subjective. 99% of players I’ve read or talked to loved every single second of it. Fair enough. It just felt like it was all very throw-everything-at-the-wall-and-see-if-it-sticks.
My favourite humour, however, came from accidental moments, where you could spend minutes on end hearing lines from robots off the side or for main characters to come up with alternative dialogue. There was a two room sequence where I spent half an hour simply listening. The dialogue had me in tears. It’s a shame a lot of people will have missed this.
So then, the pacing. Act 2, and basically the majority of my complaints could be summed up as ‘Act 2’ and then filed and stamped, mixes things up with a tremendous change of scale. I didn’t like it, thematically. There are times where you’re wondering around and I didn’t enjoy it. I wanted to be tested. I thought they dragged. What made it worse was the fact that a lot of the solutions to moving around were “Please, shoot me!” walls that were either obviously placed or required x-ray vision to see past all the other stuff on the screen to notice. That’s not good game design guys, come on.
Act 2 also introduces a load of new ideas that rarely hit their stride, despite regular use. It’s a shame, because one awesome three-second long sequence has you bounce from wall to wall with no floor. The knowledge you’ve made that happen is great…and it never happens again. Elements of this are sprinkled throughout the game and possibly for the best, but it just felt that whenever something had been done it had been dismissed again moments later.
Special note has to go to the characters. They’re voice acted incredibly well and ones from Portal 1 are fleshed out considerably. For better or worse (your mileage, again, may vary). The co-op gets a nice touch of character that you can specifically inject. Shame the rest of the care wasn’t given to co-op itself. It’s technically more difficult than the single player, which isn’t hard, but once it’s done…that’s it. What’s worse is if you do it like I did, with a friend who had already completed it. He tried to let me work things out, but we did just drive through it thanks to him. What after that? I didn’t want to do it again because I knew exactly how to do it.
You probably think I’m ragging on this game unfairly. You may be right. I have more things to say, too, but I think the general picture is given. The game is so very fantastic and will unquestionably go on to win numerous Game of the Year awards, or at least it should do [Update (2012) – it did]. There were times though where I just wanted to put down the controller though and walk away. Frustrated, in some reason or other, or perhaps just not interested enough. But that’s just me. And this is what these last 1000 words have been about; my experience with the game. I was entertained, but evidently not as much as others. I’m disappointed by that too.
Boring Stuff: Game was played through to completion in both single player and co-op modes.