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Portal 2 super review

AT A GLANCE
  • More brilliant puzzles
  • Impeccable dialog, acting, and story
  • A cooperative mode that's actually cooperative
  • It can't have the impact of Portal
  • It's big, but not long
  • 'Still Alive' is tough to follow

Portal 2 isn't everything I wanted it to be, but how could it have been? In 2007, Portal jumped out from behind the release of Half-Life 2: Episode 2, catching us unawares and stupefying our faces off, and we've spent the past four years canonizing it with jokes about Companion Cubes, cake lies, and huge successes. Without the element of surprise, and with an impossible tower of expectations looming over it, the best developer Valve could have hoped to do is make Portal 2 the next best thing. It succeeded.


Above: If you don't mind light spoilers, here are the game's opening moments

Portal 2 returns the series' protagonist, Chell, to the testing grounds of the massive Aperture Science laboratory for another round of discombobulating puzzle solving, and another chance to escape. If you've somehow never played Portal, Portal 2 will ease you into its puzzles with a gentle learning curve. Go in one portal, go out the other - the primary mechanic seems simple enough, but as the complexity of the 'test chambers' increases, the solutions become increasingly unexpected. One of the primary joys of playing Portal 2 is surprising yourself with your own solutions - despite knowing that each test was designed guide me to toward one solution, I still felt like a genius when my seemingly hackneyed plans actually worked.

If you have played Portal, the first few chapters of Portal 2 will feel like repeating Kindergarten (put the cube on the button - got it), but once the game's new mechanics, such as the Discouragement Redirection Cubes, Aerial Faith Plates, and Repulsion Gel, are introduced, your brain will get its due stimulation.


Above: Portal's energy balls have been replaced with lasers (this is a very good thing)


Above: The gels can be cumbersome at first, but once you get used to their properties, they add a significant twist to the puzzles

Mindlessly solving the tutorial puzzles isn't so bad, anyway, because you'll be preoccupied with reveling at the grand set pieces and anticipating every new bit of sublimely witty dialog (GLaDOS is really, really mad) and enthralling plot progression. Unlike Portal, which only briefly pulls back the test chamber walls to reveal the facility's inner workings, Portal 2 is scattered with extended excursions into Aperture's monolithic, mechanical underground empire.


Above: One of GLaDOS' many taunts

Portal 2 fleshes out the rise and fall of Aperture Science, its maniacal AI overlord, GLaDOS, and its apparent last human test subject, Chell. To that end, it introduces the surprisingly expressive (for a cyclops) Wheatley, a bumbling spherical 'Personality Core,' voiced by Stephen Merchant, and Cave Johnson, Aperture's bombastic founder, whose voice, handled perfectly by J.K. Simmons, bellows from loud speakers in a condemned section of the original facility.


Above: Aperture is really, really big

To sustain a longer experience than Portal, and to offer eager fans the sustenance they craved, Portal 2 had to introduce new characters and tell a bigger, more explicit story, but that inevitably killed some of its charm. At the beginning of Portal, all we explicitly knew was that we were a test subject, and that we had to complete tests to progress. We assumed we'd have to confront GLaDOS eventually, but were given no solid explanation of our situation or purpose aside from what we could gather from GLaDOS' snide remarks and the mysterious scribbles hidden behind wall panels. Portal's understated story is part of what made it so intriguing, but while Portal 2 doesn't swing entirely toward direct exposition, it casts off much of that subtlty.

But what was it supposed to do? Portal 2 couldn't surprise us in the ways we wanted to be surprised and still be surprising, so it surprises us with, well, surprises that I won't spoil for you. Surprises are actually a major reoccurring theme in the game, which feels a bit like an indirect acknowledgment of our desire to be surprised by it. OK, it looks like my critical logic is now looping through portals as well, so I'll move on to my next point, which is that regardless of what anyone wanted from Portal 2, it does everything so damn well that our expectations seem moot.


Above: Chell's journey is far more varied than it was in Portal

Portal 2 is more emotional than Portal, without losing the tongue-in-cheek irreverence. At times, I was enjoying the gravity and humanity of the game so much that the silliness bothered me, but it's well-balanced overall. It's puzzles are some of the most refined and inventive challenges I've ever encountered, and every moment of every segment of every chapter felt like a piece of a puzzle that I wasn't aware was being put together until after the picture was in front of me.

Everything in Portal 2 is designed, crafted, and paced to eschew fatigue and keep you thinking, wondering, and smiling. The scripted events are so sharply written, well-timed, and fluidly mixed with the gameplay that by the end of the game, I felt like I was having a conversation with it rather than playing it. Valve is starting to seem more like a techno-psychology laboratory than a game developer (perhaps it outsources product testing to GLaDOS?).


Above: In a couple sections, part of the challenge is knowing where the hell you're going

I'm not saying that the single player experience is perfect. I got stuck a few times, especially during Cave Johnson's segments, not because I had failed to make a logical connection, but because I'd simply failed to see a distant platform, and spent ten minutes looking for a more complex solution. Some players will surely experience the same thing, while others will play through the game without ever being misdirected. It's a minor complaint, and may only be the result of the scale of Valve's ambition for Portal 2.

That ambition also includes a separate co-op mode, which is equally great, just in different ways.

More Info

Release date: Apr 19 2011 - PS3, PC, Xbox 360 (US)
Available Platforms: PS3, PC, Xbox 360
Genre: Puzzle
Developed by: Valve
Franchise: Portal
ESRB Rating:
Teen: Fantasy Violence, Mild Language

43 comments

  • JDHutch - April 22, 2011 12:14 a.m.

    Portal is a FTW game. all around =P
  • Dabenguin - April 22, 2011 12:46 a.m.

    Great review, but whats that thing above "Just for you, Metacritic"?
  • cjw415 - April 22, 2011 12:48 a.m.

    Portal rocks. Great review, except, is it really deserving of a 10? I was thinking a 9, but I guess its just me.
  • Ganonpork - April 22, 2011 1:18 a.m.

    XD finished it last night, and i thought the song was actually better than still alive
  • AlSwearengenHatesCocksuckers - April 22, 2011 1:20 a.m.

    Awesome review. Portal 2 is hands down the funniest video game ever. GLaDos' constant, subtle, fat jokes. Cave Johnson. Wheatley and the birds. I was seriously smiling and laughing till I cried almost the entire way through it. It's good enough that I spent 10 minutes in front of a door listening to Wheatley try to hack a computer, and didn't even realize I was supposed to be doing stuff. I didn't realize it was placeholder dialogue, I thought it was legitimately part of the story XD It's also the only game that makes you feel like a retarded genius. The picture on the first page with the lasers (you give away a solution BTW) had me perplexed forever, until I finally realized, "OH! Put more then one laser through a Portal with the cubes!." So I did that, and then realized I still didn't think big enough. It's the only game I have played that makes you think, "Oh man, that is so fucking genius what I just did, but why the hell did it take me 15 minutes to figure it out?!" Seriously, anyone reading this comment, don't EVER, EVER, use a guide for this game the first time through. If you're ever really stuck, go run some errands, take a dump, jerk off, whatever, and just keep that test chamber in your mind. I guarantee that very soon after you start what your doing you will suddenly jump up and race back to the console to try out a solution. It's the best feeling of accomplishment from a game I have ever experienced. Even more so then Portal 1 since the new items and mechanics make some puzzles that put the best of Portal 1 to shame. Especially once it starts to combine more then one mechanic. Nuff said. We're done here.
  • mdiaz033 - April 22, 2011 1:21 a.m.

    i couldn't really focus on the review seeing as how gamesradar is too busy S-ing portal 2's D. I love portal but you rotten bastards are not helping. this sequel was as awesome as it could have been. i sure as hell can't think of a better way of approaching the sequel to a game that practically blew every gamer in existence away. but even so, i still think that it deserves a 9 at most and 8 at the lowest. a perfect ten only makes GR look bad. readers beware of this review.
  • juicenpancakes - April 22, 2011 1:39 a.m.

    @mdiaz: Yep, GR giving a great game the score it rightly deserves makes them look bad.
  • PimplesInYourAsstista - April 22, 2011 1:46 a.m.

    @mdiaz033 Well, first, get your head out of your ass, then actually pay attention to the review. If you actually played Portal 2, you'll most likely find the review pretty much spot on. Also, "readers beware of this review"? What, are reviews used vehicles now?
  • AlSwearengenHatesCocksuckers - April 22, 2011 2 a.m.

    @mdiaz033 Why would you give it a 9? Because even though it's better then the original game in almost every way, but it doesn't have that first time charm? That's ridiculous. The only complaint I had was the same as everyone else, that Cave Johnsons levels were more about finding a portal-able surface then any real puzzle solving. Other then that 30 minute segment the rest of the game was golden. I don't think I've ever seen a more deserving 10, other then the original. 10 does not mean perfect in EVERY way. It means perfect in all the RIGHT ways. Also, seriously GR, you want a community, but every time I make a comment I have to do this fucking captcha? Hypocrisy much? Make it like funnyjunk, do one captcha and your account is free to post for a week. No offense, but it's not like this site is SO POPULAR it's going to be bombarded by spam the minute the captcha disappears.
  • BackwaterRifle - April 22, 2011 2:03 a.m.

    @ Pimpleinyouasstista Driving a lemon? make the call to 1 800 lemonlaw! @ mdiaz033 But on a serious note how the ef is a 10 making GR look bad. You dont deserve the sacrade number 33 in your name.
  • Z-man427 - April 22, 2011 2:26 a.m.

    Fully agree with the 10. I actually would rank this as one of my top 10 favorite games. And I really did not like the original Portal. That's how good this is.
  • austincharlesbond - April 22, 2011 3:09 a.m.

    I enjoyed it more than the original :)
  • Limbo - April 22, 2011 3:59 a.m.

    Just finished the single player and absolutely loved it, even more so than the first one. This one is much more interesting and the levels and tests are more varied. The new tools and tricks like the light bridge and colored gels were really fun to mess around with and kept it fresh the entire way. I only wish that it included some sort of challenge mode like the first one had. The advanced puzzles and portal/step/time challenges were really fun to try and beat on the original. Now I just need a co-op partner.
  • Roofmonkey - April 22, 2011 5:43 a.m.

    I agree with the 10, it is a great game. I just hate the fact that I'm already done with the game, both single and multiplayer. =X Took me 3 days to get everything (including all the achievements). Thats the only thing I hate about the game, 60 bucks for 3 days of gameplay. :P Then again, I might as well play it again in a few weeks
  • iFeastOnAntista - April 22, 2011 6:04 a.m.

    Great review, Tyler. I love this comment at the end. I see what you're doing here. You're funny. :) "Halo? Psh, that shit is too pedestrian to deserve comparison (I mean that facetiously... but not really). So there you go, Portal 2 is better than Limbo, not that anyone was asking. But they're both great."
  • totalweapon - April 22, 2011 7:02 a.m.

    i knew this would get a 10 before i looked at the review. what a surprise.
  • sexyman500 - April 22, 2011 8:16 a.m.

    funny that the game is given 10/10 and the game itself sponsors the site itself.....interesting
  • Roofmonkey - April 22, 2011 10:30 a.m.

    @sexyman500 You sir are an imbecile. Return to your bridge at once.
  • FireIceEarth - April 22, 2011 10:47 a.m.

    So, definitely a game to play, but with the length issues, would it be better to rent it than buy it?
  • hoba - April 22, 2011 11:16 a.m.

    @FireIceEarth That's my main concern too. There's a part of me that likes playing games for the experience, regardless of how long it lasts. I really enojyed Vanquish, and didn't mind the fact that it only lasted about five or six hours. But there's also a part of me that thinks £40 might be too much for something I can apparently platinum over the bank holiday weekend. I suppose it largely depends on how flush I am feeling...

Showing 1-20 of 43 comments

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