Review: “Portal 2” by Rory Brenan

Posted on August 14, 2011

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Portal 2 (which I’ll abbreviate to P2) is the latest game from Valve Corporation, the team who created the Half-Life and Counter-Strike series, among others. Now, I’m certainly no hardcore gamer, and I never played the original Portal, but I thought I’d give this novel creation a shot. I should also mention that unfortunately I haven’t yet had a chance to try the multiplayer mode – which looks extremely promising – so this review is only for the single-player version.

Robots!!!

P2 chronicles the adventures of Chell, a woman awakened from a long-term suspended state by the well-meaning, but ineffectual robot Wheatley, a busybody who is to become her guide throughout the seemingly post-apocalyptic underground labyrinth of ‘Aperture Laboratories’. Before long, Chell is equipped with a device which allows her to create linked teleportation wormholes on certain surfaces – it is this ability that allows the player to solve the puzzles which form the basis for the game, gradually progressing through the Labs and completing the game’s various stages. However, it’s also around this time that Wheatley accidentally awakens the jealous and malicious caretaker robot GLaDOS (remember that Simpsons episode where they get a super-intelligent house, but Pierce Brosnan goes batshit and tries to kill them all?), who also happens to hold a bit of a grudge against Chell. Thus the adventures truly begin, with Chell using the portal gun to solve various puzzles and obstacles, in an ongoing game of cat-and-mouse to escape GLaDOS’ grasp.

The visual tone of P2 shifts and morphs throughout the game, sometimes subtly and sometimes suddenly as Chell travels through the different areas of the facility. We also notice that the ‘Aperture’ logo displayed on the loading screens changes throughout the quest for freedom, with a new logo arriving to complement certain new stages of the plot. Overall, there’s a richness to the visual environment that’s matched really well by the progression of gameplay, with levels remaining challenging and inventive for as long as you could really hope for.

The underlying puzzle-solving is straightforward: open the door by tripping a switch, get to the door, leave the room. But each puzzle is cleverly designed, and different enough from the last one that you become enthralled, always wanting to just solve this next one, to just get to the next part (though P2 makes sparing use of the tantalising plotline hints that are normally so ubiquitous in progressive gameplay). The game’s unique physics and numerous clever tricks are always just enough for you to overcome the obstacles, just enough to leave you wanting more.

Portal 2 Logo

The voices and character-acting within P2 also bring a real humour and depth to the story. Although the protagonist is oddly silent and seemingly unmoved by the game’s events (perhaps a deliberate move to allow the actual player to have their own personal reactions), the overall piece is made real and relatable by GLaDOS’ coldly spiteful comments in sing-song tones, Wheatley’s puffery and incompetence (brought to life by Stephen Merchant, partner-in-crime to Ricky Gervais), and later Cave Johnson’s maverick advice and warnings, laced with black humour reminiscent of the Grand Theft Auto series.

For me, P2 ticks all the boxes: it’s based on an innovative concept which is well-executed with a good smattering of ingenious tricks and skills to learn throughout the game. It requires me to think, but still allows me to get lost in the gameplay. The visual environment is immersive; the plotline and scriptwriting are funny and engaging; the controls are fairly straightforward and intuitive, and; (probably most importantly) it quits while it’s ahead rather than falling into the trap of dragging itself out to the point of tediousness. Speaking of which, I’d better wrap up this review. Happy gaming!

Classic Lulz’ video included by Rory (with some semi-spoilers):

What do you think of Portal 2? Is it your gaming revelation, or did you play it and think “…Eh”? To the comments

For another review on games, check out An Ode to ‘Fishy’, the Facebook Flash game.

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Posted in: Games