Portal 2 Review: Is This A Triumph?

Portal has come a long way since showing the cake, in fact, was not a lie.  Ever since the success of the first, Valve has meticulously planned a sequel to the franchise.  The initial fears of the sequel were apparent.  Sequels in the video game world have not been doing quite well to hold to the original (Call of Duty, Dragon Age, BioShock; all with their corresponding reasons).  However, this was different….this was Valve.  If anyone could make an awe-inspiring sequel, it would be Valve.

POSSIBLE SPOILER ALERT.  I say possible because there are a lot of jokes and actual story elements in this iteration.  If you do plan on playing the game, some of the jokes might be spoiled.



Gameplay (5 out of 5)

Right out of the gate, the game assumes you are a new person to the Portal series (or video games themselves).  This means you will have to go through the initial tutorial levels once again, with loading screens after each simple test.  Fear not though, once the game ramps up the difficulty, and you travel deeper into the Aperture Science Laboratories, the loading screens become less apparent.  After playing through the entire Single Player campaign (and parts of the co-op so far), veterans to the series will come across some new found difficulty.  The new additions of a Hard-light bridge, Excursion Funnel, and 3 different types of gels give you a whole new sense of trying to think outside the box.  I found myself pouring over every corner of rooms before having that “oh…..duh” moment.

The addition of the co-op campaign adds the most unpredictable variable you will come across in this game…a 2nd player.  The co-op campaign is completely separate from the single player campaign (so do not feel like you are cheating yourself out of any experience by going with one or the other).  With 4 portals now (instead of 2), puzzles become even more mind-boggling than before.  Thankfully, Valve introduced gestures to help players (who might not be able to speak to each other).

There are non-mission gestures and mission.  Non-mission gestures include waving, playing rock paper scissors, teasing each other, and even hugging…awwwww.  Quite frankly, after figuring out some of these tests, you mind yourself hugging the other out of sheer excitement that the test is finally over.  Then there are mission gestures.  These act as more notifications for the other player to follow, like if you want the other player to look somewhere, or put their portal in a specific spot.  It also include a 3sec timer for times you need to complete an action at the same time.

Make sure you are a close friend with someone before playing co-op.  You might find yourself yelling at the other because they deployed the wrong portal FOR THE 1 BILLIONTH TIME KILLING YOU BOTH.  sorry…it does get frustrating if communication is not made a priority.  You will find yourself dying over even the simplest puzzles if both of you are not on the same page when navigating through these.


Story (4 out of 5)

Believe it or not, there is an actual story to be told in Portal 2.  You start the game where you left off from the first,  still captured, and doing exercises to keep your body and mind in shape.  However, something goes wrong, and you are not waken up for many years, until a new AI called Wheatley comes to free you from your slumber.  From there, you must once again, battle the over powering AI GlaDOS (who does not feel the emotion revenge for you killing her at all….you monster) and escape from Aperture Science.  Without giving away too much, you learn much more about all the characters, including the foundations that Aperture Science was built on, and even get to see some of their early experiments (which are quite hilarious to explore).  The narration by all the characters makes for very interesting conversation between tests, that I even looked forward to.  I was always looking forward to what was going to happen next or who would say what.  The reason I do not give this a perfect 5, is because in the end, the story elements do feel short.  With basically only 3 main characters,  there is not too much to explore.  Valve instead crams as much personality into them as possible…and it works quite well.


Controls & Graphics (5 out of 5)

Valve goes again with the Source engine to power the game.  This leads to the familiar feeling of swinging the view around to get your bearings correct.  For any people new to the series, the game will still give you hints as to what a certain button press will do (and sometimes, what control will help you in a situation).  Overall, the controls should not hinder your performance in any way (coming from the PC version).

Graphics wise, the game has made some improvements since the last iteration.  It adds many more moving parts and higher resolution textures to compliment the setting of the game.  You quickly learn that every square of a test chamber is hooked up to an actuator arm that can modify the room in any given way.  Seeing this in action gives a new sense of awe.  Environmentally, Valve does a great job of showing that the center has not aged well over the years.  With plants growing out of control (including those damn potatoes) and random floor sections missing or failing, it keeps the sense that the building feels alive.


Audio (4 out of 5)

Random dialog moments make up the bulk of this score.  Between Wheatley’s random moments of stupidity or one of GlaDOS’s retorts, you find yourself stopping so you get to hear the full dialog (so it doesn’t get cut off by entering another room and triggering another scripted event).  Included in some of tests are some music points (whether its smooth jazz or 8-bit retro sounds) that will ramp up as you progress through the test.  It is not overpowering and is a nice touch.  There is a new final song after you beat the game.  It does not match the awesomeness of Still Alive, but it is still enjoyable.

Overall (5 out of 5)

I’m making a note here: Huge Success.  Portal 2 is an excellent sequel to the original.  It adds enough new elements to challenge veterans of the series, while bringing in some new players.  With co-op, you can now share frustration and anger with a friend (just make sure you do not share violence.  Violence is not part of the test and will not help you along).  Valve has outdone themselves by making a very respectable sequel.  They did not hang around memes created by the first game, and set off to correctly expand the game and its horizons.

P.S.: One note though, co-op store for hats/skins that do not help and only have one other person see at a time….really Valve?  I forgive you for wanting more money….but really?

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Rating: 5.0/5 (2 votes cast)


Posted On
May 10, 2011
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I cannot stop yelling about burning people’s houses down with lemons.

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Posted On
May 10, 2011
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You are crazy. Story gets 5/5. Mind you, story was where I thought they were most likely to drop the ball, so it may have helped that I didn’t hype myself up too much. Yeah, I know Valve spins a good yarn, but Portal was, well. Portal was a bonus game – it was short, it played like a puzzle game, it was delineated in clearly-defined arcade style levels, and what little story it revealed was really icing on the cake. When Portal became a runaway success and you couldn’t go a day without someone saying “The cake is a lie!” or “HUGE SUCCESS!” (heck, I made my kid a Portal-inspired cake with “HUGE SUCCESS” written on it for his birthday), the thought of the sequel made me a little nervous. I suspected it would be much more strongly story-driven, but I couldn’t imagine what sort of full-game story they would expand it into, and I worried that they might bring out the Sledgehammer of Fan Wankery with cake jokes and such.

Fortunately, I was wrong. The sequel takes Portal’s story to a place that flows naturally. It retains enough from the original to be hauntingly familiar but claims its own identity. And I think the story benefits, not suffers, from the small cast – a wider range would have diluted the experience. This is largely a game of solitary exploration. The game environment as written evokes a sense of isolation, bewilderment and loss that is perfectly suited. The few characters who are there can be more deeply explored and developed, and there are still the many gizmos and ghosts of Aperture to add depth. Read everything. Find every lost room.

Portal 2 has all the craziness of Portal but with a darker, more emotional undercurrent. For that reason I have to disagree with you on the song as well – when I first beat the game and heard it I thought “It’s good, but it’s no Still Alive.” But then I listened again, and I let it soak in. I can’t rate the two songs against each other because each is perfect for the game it appeared in. “Still Alive” does have that dark humor, but lighter, more in keeping with the “wtf is going ON here?” feel of Portal. The song at the end of 2 has a more bittersweet feel, and more closure.

If I personally had to take a point off anything in these categories, I’d take one off for controls/graphics. For the most part gameplay flowed well (and it’s fascinating to listen to the commentary tracks and hear about the thought process and playtesting that goes into it), but there were still times where I found the controls a bit cumbersome, or got stuck for a long time only to realize I simply hadn’t seen something, or couldn’t get the TIMING right!! I hate, hate, HATE puzzles that are dependent on doing something awkward…with perfect timing. Nothing like realizing you have figured out the answer…and then still spending another 15 minutes doing it over and over again.

ANYway. I know this sounds more like a supplemental review than a comment, but I can’t help rambling. Portal 2 took my breath away. It may very well be one of the best games I’ve ever played.

P.S. (cryptic spoiler!)

Forget the cake. I predict the new meme will involve SPACE!

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May 10, 2011
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ha, very awesome comment. I knew some would take that story portion with a grain of salt. It’s more because it left me wanting more (you know, some, you know what would be neat moments). It is more of a personal matter than to the game. The amount of info they threw out was always enough to keep you interested in wanting to know more. By all means, the whole only 3 characters is not to knock the story. Valve does work REALLY REALLY well to work with them, to the point as, you mention, does not bloat the story at all.

As for the song, the music behind the vocals just didn’t seem to keep with me. It doesn’t feel like a fit with the game. As for the lyrics…ok, probably the only rant I actually do have for Portal 2… I get the whole revenge/hate, the game delivered that just enough. I was more waiting for something more witty/random for the lyrics. It just seemed like a really bland song to me (even after the 3rd time listening).

As for controls, I did wonder how the puzzles would translate to controller. I wondered if any quick movements involved would be better suited and translated nicely.


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