Portal 2 (PC review)   Leave a comment

Developed by: Valve Corporation
Published by: Electronic Arts
Out now
Reviewed on: 5th May, 2011.

Presentation: Graphically, it’s been fairly polished since the days of the original Portal, but the visual style remains true to what the first game gave us.

Atmosphere: Again, as with Portal, the atmosphere follows its predecessor and remains true to its spirit. This isn’t, in the least, a bad thing as it allows the game to take the thematic content of the original and expand on the storyline and puzzles.

Control and Mechanics: Compared to Portal, the controls aren’t much different and the mechanics are pretty much what you’d expect from the original. In an age of overly complex controls for FPS games, it is refreshing to see something more basic.

Who should buy this: Those who are fans of innovative physics-based puzzle games, those who really loved the original, those who don’t mind a lack of replay value.

Who should avoid it: Those who expect it to be a better experience than Portal, those who can wait for a drop from the somewhat steep release price, those who don’t like the fact that Valve seem to want to milk whatever extra cash they can.

If I have to give a score: The first Portal was a 4 and while this is a great game, and a worthy successor with new content and tasty future DLC, the game isn’t a Portal beater, but it never needs to be and it is a great game 3/4.

Review

Portal 2 is a great game with which I can only find two faults. One of those is relatively minor and the other is something beyond the gaming experience itself. First, as with Team Fortress 2, there is a system of microtransactions (for the co-op game) that one normally finds in F2P games. Secondly, while this should in no way detract from the fact that Portal 2 is a great game, it really doesn’t compare to the effect the original had upon its release and bears the burden of comparison.

Let me expand on one of these points first before I write about what makes the game worth playing. The microtransaction system here is fairly trivial compared to TF2. Team Fortress 2 has in-game chests you can open with real money to get, potentially, items that have in-game effects like a gun that fires faster (albeit normally with a trade-off). This means that not only are people with cash to burn getting edges via paying extra cash, but that the game has microtransaction elements within the game itself that make themselves overt when I’m just trying to play the game.

Portal 2 avoids this extreme by making the available items aesthetic-only, there are no super-powered portal guns or extra-high jump boots, just things like hats, extra gestures, and so on. What it also does is restrict the acquisition and advertisement of these items to the item shop. There are no in-game chests that you’ll come across or anything like that, though it should be noted that there were not in Team Fortress 2 originally.

Call me cynical, but this effort to keep a paying customer paying also finds its way into design changes in elements returning from the first game: logos, cubes, the beloved companion cube and even the two main characters themselves undergo design changes that will no doubt trickle their way into merchandise. It’s an unhealthy obsession Valve have there and I really wish they would seek professional help, it’s not as if they need the extra cash all that much.

But that brief rant aside, the game is great. First of all, it takes the tried and tested formula of the first game and builds upon that solid foundation. A lot of the same old tricks are there at first, but the game blossoms with new features like liquefied moon rock that allows you to make a portal on an otherwise unusable surface or a bridges made of hard light that can travel through portals. These features are really what expands and adds depth to the  game, making it move beyond the first game.

Besides that, there is the expanded plot and that takes a more prominent role here. One of the original game’s endearing features was the vast amounts of discussion about what the game’s plot hinted at, whether Chell was a clone, what of the things GlaDOS said were true or false, whether the companion cube was sentient or not. This game expands that effect by allowing a much greater access to information about the origins and nature of GlaDOS or Aperture Science and its insane founder. Like the first game though, it leaves enough gaps for player speculation to fill.

With a nicely expanded setting and interesting new quirks to the puzzles, the single-player does a good service to the original, but the game also sports the co-op mode. This involves a sort of story-mode progression that takes place after the single-player playthrough (though can be accessed from the start, albeit with potential spoilers). Two bots are each equipped with a portal gun and forced to work out a variety of puzzles together.

This is where a lot of the fun of the game lies, but the very nature of the game means that the puzzles aren’t going to repeatedly offer you a challenge, once you’ve worked them out you can’t just run through them again for the same challenge. What this also means is you cannot really play this through with someone who has already beaten the game entirely as you won’t be able to work out the game by yourself, just watch as they direct you in what to do.

Which leads me to my last point of criticism, one thing that added replay value to the first game was the challenge mode. This curiously missing from the second game and it would be interesting to see how the game would implement a two-player challenge mode. Further, it would be great to see expanded multiplayer games with the portal concept, like a team-based game perhaps based on getting and taking the companion cube to a certain spot or setting up traps for enemy team members. The first (free) DLC for this game promises new replay value and a return of the challenge maps (and, hopefully, advanced maps). This is something the first game had and is noticeably lacking from the second game.

All-in-all, it depends what expectations you take to the game. It’s great, there’s no denying that though I could easily see a few people thinking the price tag is a bit steep and the item shop is a bit of a silly move that strikes me as pointless. Making me pay extra for minor content in a game whose price tag is already a little on the high side isn’t going to work, Valve. If you are not an early adopter type and can hold off for a better price, do so and this game will not disappoint you. It’s just that it always ends up compared to its predecessor, which came out of nowhere and hit like a thunderbolt. It isn’t going to wow most of you like Portal did, but do not let that spoil a great game.

Portal 2 is out now and available via Steam or boxed retail. Price is £29.99 on Steam.

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