Portal 2 Review

Posted by in Video Games

I think I was disappointed with Portal 2, but not in a bad way (nor am I entirely sure it’s 100% accurate to say “disappointed”). I know this doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, but just go with it for a second.

The first Portal was a wholly revelatory experience, a quality that can be at least partially attributed to the fact that not much was known about it when it came out. As far as anyone knew, it was just a puzzle game that happened to be in the first-person perspective. Little did I and everyone else know that we were in for a surprise; the game had depth. It had a story, it had humor, and it had some truly awe-inspiring gameplay.

There have been games with time and space bending elements in it before, but Portal made it feel real. Aperture Science and its Handheld Portal Device may not actually exist, but the physics governing the movement and whatnot of the game felt immediately and absolutely right, so that’s not the issue with Portal 2.

The issue is that everything else I loved from the first Portal has been…diminished. Not through time or lack of polish but because it’s quite literally impossible to experience what I and everyone else experienced their first time through Portal. You don’t hit that “oh god, GLaDOS is crazy” moment or discovering the infinite-fall-to-launch combo for the first time. Instead, you hit that “yep, GLaDOS is still crazy” moment and discover that the infinite-fall-to-launch combo still works.

That’s just a problem with every sequel, I guess, though Portal 2 doesn’t succumb to much of any other sequelitis symptoms. The story is, once again, surprisingly compelling and funny and urges you to discover more of the world. If you haven’t read the Portal 2 web comics, I suggest you do that immediately regardless of whether or not you’ve played the game. You’ll want to know more, trust me.

And there are new gameplay elements that are actually new. The gels are pretty fun and occasionally require some out-of-the-box thinking, though truthfully, if you get exceptionally lazy, you could just douse the entire level in every kind of gel and you’ll probably be almost done. In fact, the white moon powder gel was the worst offender of the scorched Earth tactic in that once you can get a portal on one wall with the gel, you can get them anywhere and solving a puzzle becomes completely and totally trivial.

What I really enjoyed were the Hard Light Bridges. My first encounter with them had me questioning myself a fair bit (“is this right? Is this allowed?”), but once I realized that yes, you can do that and that is pretty cool, I was won over by the seemingly simplistic obstacle.

The only problem is that the puzzles seemed a bit easier. Perhaps it’s because this time around I’m familiar with some of the portal puzzle tropes, but there weren’t many exploratory puzzle solving sequences such as the ones I found in the first Portal. Everything was along the lines of “okay, everything is decrepit…that thing is rotting…oh wait! That wall is white, let’s shoot that” and you were usually well on your way to solving the puzzle.

It’s a sufficiently long game, too. Some people may complain, but I got a good six or so hours out of it and all six were pretty much sublime. And once you include the four hours of co-op, the value just rockets up. It once again becomes the argument of would you rather have 30+ hours of mediocre content or a scant 10 hours of ridiculously amazing content, but I think you’ve already sussed out my stance on the subject.

Speaking of the co-op, color me impressed. Thinking with two portals is pretty simple, but once you introduce a second set of (disconnected) portals, things get rough. At some points, I thought my partner and I would just be stumped forever. However, it usually turns out our impasse was the result of playing at 4am after a full day of dicking around, but coming back the next day and solving the puzzle still felt immensely satisfying. There is one in particular that involves some simultaneous acrobatics. If you’ve played, you know which one I’m talking about. If you haven’t, I can’t wait until you get through it yourself.

Not only that, but the co-op actually requires cooperation. If you and your partner don’t work together, you’re dead in the water. Poor communication or lack of willingness to allow each other to explore possibilities will result in an absolute deadlock.

The only problem is that since I played the co-op splitscreen, I encountered an unfortunate issue regarding stuttering. Maybe it’s only with splitscreen, maybe it’s only on PS3, but there were numerous occasions of abhorrently slogging framerate, and not just while the action was super intense. Even during loading screens or when you’re just walking down a hallway, there were cases when the game just stopped for about .2 seconds or so. It wasn’t even my particular PS3 that was the cause as I also played with a different disc on a different PS3 and encountered the same stuttering.

However, being that some purely co-op framerate issues are my only qualms with the game, it’s hard to say I found Portal 2 lackluster, but here we are. It’s not that there aren’t great moments because there totally are: seeing turrets being made, encountering my first, um, less-than-potent turrets, and the ending where you [REDACTED] the [REDACTED] and totally [REDACTED] all over the [REDACTED]. After all that, it’s hard to say I was disappointed, but living up to my times with the first Portal have proven to be impossible.

(Here’s a spoilercast from Giant Bomb where Ryan Davis sits down with Valve’s Jay Pinkerton, Erik Wolpaw, and Chet Faliszek where they talk indepth about some of the things in Portal 2 that may have left you wanting. Also, SPAAAAAAAAACE (don’t click if you haven’t beaten the game))

Final Grade: A+