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Review – Portal 2 (PC)

Probably one of the most anticipated games released this year, it was proceeded by a gimmicky and ultimately disappointing Augmented Reality Gaming blitz, loads of hype, actual television commercials, and generally, a large bit to live up to.  People love Portal 1, and they should, it’s an amazing game that did a lot to make us rethink what an FPS game was supposed to be.  Specifically the idea that you must run around shooting and killing things.  It also gave us the amazing Portal Gun.  i remember first hearing about Portal many years ago in a magazine and an explanation of how the Portal Gun would work and it seemed really really intriguing.

Portal 1 also had a great narrative to go along with it.  There is only one real character, the demented yet sympathetic GladOS.  She starts off encouraging but as time goes along she becomes a bit meaner but she still keeps up her robotic test obsessed demeanor for most of the game while still trying to kill you… in the name of SCIENCE!  It’s a great concept, the game itself is a test, even after the twist, you still kind of get the feeling that it’s all part of the same test.  In fact even after the game is over, you get the sense that the whole thing was all part of some planned out plot.

Portal 2, picks up essentially where Portal 1 left off.  In fact, the plot of Portal 2 pretty much doesn’t work unless you play through Portal 1.  At the end of Portal one you get dragged back for more testing, Portal 2 starts off with you locked away in your small Aperture Science apartment.  Some time passes due to a malfunction of the equipment, likely caused by the lack of a central controller due tot he actions taken by the player in Portal 1.  After being “rescued” by the drone Wheatley, you start off, once again, navigating test chambers.

One of my favorite aspects of this entire game is the ruins of Aperture Science.  Early in the game, you revisit almost every area from Portal 1 in a revamped depressed state.  In fact you start off early in the very same glass chamber from the first game.  Fairly quickly you end up in the same regions from the end of the first game as well.  This whole experience is greatly enhanced by familiarity with the first game as it’s very recognizable and you see it and know “GladOS is there…”  Or was there.  You don’t really know until you make it back inside.  It gives a great sense of suspense and creepiness knowing that this is where you were before, last time it was all a test, tests and test  and tests, is it still a test?

Of course the game wouldn’t be very much fun if it were just “Portal 1 with more trees”, so after some more plot twists, the player will embark on a whole new adventure through the history of Aperture Science.

This too is handled pretty interestingly.  You escape from the ruined modern era Aperture, and find your way to the ruins of the very early Aperture.  Guided by the recorded voice of Cave Johnson, founder of Aperture you must traverse some very rough early test chambers.  This also introduces another Aperture product, the Propulsion and repulsion gels.  One type of gel will cause the player, or other objects, to travel at great speeds, like some sort of super grease.  The other will cause the player to be pushed off, useful for jumping higher or bouncing from one location to another.

There are also some new devices to content with called Hard Light Bridges.  These can be positioned using the Portals and are essentially clear platforms of light that you use to travel over chasms, stop objects, or protect yourself from Turrets.

Other new devices, in addition to the plasma balls used previously to power equipment there are now also lasers which can be directed using prism style mirror cubes.

All of these new tools are pretty unique and interesting and make for some interesting new twists on the old Portal Gun puzzles.  The puzzles are of course the main driver of the gameplay.  The interesting story and plot going on in the background i just an excellent bonus that helps solidify the game as a whole.  I’m doing my best to avoid any real spoilers here but sufficed to say, the game climaxes out pretty well and you’ll have to use most of the tricks you’ve learned in the end to escape destruction and ‘save the day”, or at least save yourself.

To top things off, the game includes a multiplayer Coop mode.  The player and one other companion can play a 2 player mode where each controls a robot instead of the human Chel.  These courses are pretty cleverly designed to require both players and it is quite a bit of fun.  The real issue seems to be finding people to play with as there isn’t much replay incentive on the multi player Coop.

The game really does live up to it’s hype.  I do have two main complaints.  Firstly, there is a serious lack of Turrets in this game.,  Granted, for the most part, the turrets are kind of annoying to deal with sometimes but they do add some difficulty to what is otherwise a “think for a bit and go” style of gameplay.  Things shooting at you help keep you on your toes and force you to think more quickly.  The lack of turrets is more or less explained by the plot but it’s kind of disappointing, especially when Old Aperture could easily have had “Old Turrets not affected by the plot gimmick.

Secondly is the pricing.  The original asking price for portal 2 was $50 bucks, it’s now down to $30.  I hate complaining about pricing since I know I am spoiled to death by sales and cheap indie games but $50 is WAY too much.  $30 is more reasonable.  Generally speaking, the game takes 10-15 hours to complete, max.  The original is about a 5 hour game, just for a comparison.  $30 is more reasonable though it still seems a little steep.

So here’s the deal, Portal 2, is pretty much everything it’s expected to be.  It looks great, the story is fun, the puzzles are interesting, etc etc.  It’s essentially, Portal 1, plus a lot more, in a sense, and it continues to carry over the fun of Portal 1.  The real problem, like Portal 1, is there isn’t much incentive to replay it at all.  Kind of a disappointment there.  Even the multiplayer, by design, isn’t really replayable, once you’ve figured everything out.  This is the only real drawback I found with the entire game, other than the related secondary problem of game length vs price.  there has been promises of some DLC or map editors or something to help extend the value from Valve but as far as I can tell they have not even added anything new to buy to the Portal 2 store, which brings them in bonus money.

Portal 2 is available via Steam.

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