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Portal 2 – Single Player Review

We put Valve’s latest through its paces… for science! 

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Since the day I picked up the original Portal in 2007, I have been anticipating its follow-up. Portal was such a breath of fresh air when it came out that I was dying for a sequel even before I’d finished it.  It took nearly four years of waiting for Aperture Science to deliver a second dose of mind-blowing puzzles. So, does Portal 2 live up to the grand expectations set by the original?  Better yet, does this sequel deliver that same sense of fresh air that the original accomplished? Read on to find out!

Portal 2 starts with you again taking the reins of Chell, the protagonist from the original game.  Right off the bat there’s a quick comedic configuration scene (“look up, look down, look at this painting…”), followed by the introduction of Wheatley.  Wheatley is a robotic A.I. voiced brilliantly by comedian, Stephen Merchant (of Extras and The Office fame).  Wheatley is your hilarious companion throughout the beginning of the game.  He functions as your bumbling narrator who is trying to be helpful but is not always successful.  He’s a silly little robot that fits perfectly into the Portal universe.

After following this moronic little robot around for a bit, you’ll stumble upon your trusty portal gun.  Exactly like in the first game, you’ll have a gun that shoots an orange portal and a blue portal.  Each color represents the exit and the entrance of a portal, allowing you to traverse magically through space and time.  In the beginning of the game, you’ll spend a couple hours taking down puzzles very similar to those that appeared in the first edition of Portal.  Once again you’ll use your momentum, trusty companion cubes, and much more to sneak through one stage after the next.  

While the puzzles in Portal 2 are similar to those from the first game, there are three new elements designed to challenge not only your mind, but your dexterity as well. New this time around are red laser beams that trigger doors and motorized stairs.  These lasers can be manipulated by new lens blocks that change the beam’s direction.  Finally, laser walkways have been added which allow Chell to add walkways across a level that are full of precarious water (or to block evil turrets).  All three of these new tools fit perfectly into the Portal universe and their intricacies add multiple new dimensions to the game.

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After traversing several hours of challenging old school puzzles, the central story gets flipped on its head.  I won’t spoil what happens here; needless to say, you’ll move from closed-in traditional Portal puzzles to a much more open world.  The exterior level design is highly reminiscent of Valve’s work with Half-Life 2 and provides a welcome new approach to using the portal gun.  

Following this twist, two other major gameplay modifiers appear to add yet more variation to the puzzle-solving gameplay.  Blue and orange liquids add bounce and speed, respectively, to the game.  These two modifiers challenge you to not only manage their speed and trajectory, but also the displacement of liquid.  Valve really pulled out all of the punches with these two because they not only affect how the player traverses a puzzle, but also how they can build a puzzle.  For example, while it might be apparent where you need to have a trampoline placed, getting the liquid to land there is a whole other challenge.  These two new modifiers look and feel pretty revolutionary in use and prove, once again, that Valve (and their engine technology) really is one of the most innovative and inventive game developers out there today.

Beyond the innovative gameplay, Portal 2 also delivers spectacular graphics.  While the minimalist aesthetic of the first game makes an appearance in Portal 2, once the game opens up a bit, there are several large areas with high expanses that really show off what this game can do.  The look of Valve games is so unique that it’s impossible to put into words, yet it’s my job to try (thanks, Valve!).  Not only is the game grand in scale and great to look at, but Valve put a lot of time and effort in highlighting the realistic details of this game’s world.  It’s the little things, like targeting crosses left on a wall for 50 years that shows the company’s astute attention to detail.

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Finally, just as great as the graphics and the gameplay is Portal 2’s story.  With the voice talents of Stephen Merchant and J. K. Simmons at the fore, Portal 2 is charming and endlessly funny.  Despite the gameplay ushering me to continually play, I would often stop just to listen to the hilarious dialogue. Credit is due to the game’s writers Erik Wolpaw, Chet Faliszek, and Jay Pinkerton for delivering, easily, the funniest game of the year.  I highly recommend that you play with the subtitles on to ensure you don’t miss a single word.

Overall, Portal 2 is an amazing accomplishment.  It’s a smartly crafted sequel that honors the original effort while expanding on it’s revolutionary gameplay.  Portal 2 presents multiple new gameplay elements without breaking the game or changing the structure of how puzzles are solved.  I really enjoy how both Portal and Portal 2 put me in a problem solving mindset different from any other experience.  They require me to stop and look at the level to deduce exactly what it will take to complete it.  To date, I can’t think of any other video game that has affected my mind this way.  Portal 2 is worth all of the hype that has been heaped upon it and more.  I highly recommend this game to fans of the first game, first-person shooter fans, and puzzle fans alike.  Like Portal before it, Portal 2 is bound to be a classic.

[Wheatley’s Note: Stay tuned to CraveOnline for the review of Portal 2’s co-op mode. Sorry for the delay on this, but it’s kind of essential to the idea of co-op that Alex has someone to play with. Although, he has learned to play with himself many times before...]