Feels a little too much like the previous installment.
Story is more developed and explained in this sequel.
Plenty of walking around in gigantic areas that are mainly for presentation.
Puzzles or still of a very high quality and quite enjoyable.
Gel adds a new layer of depth to the gameplay.
Game pretty much reiterates Portal 1 for the entire first part.
The post-apocalyptic redesign of Aperture Science is very bland.
Physics can get a bit wonky at times.
I am kind of over Glados.
The Bottom Linestory
In Portal 2 the player returns to Aperture Science, though the long time that has passed since the first Portal game has done the place little good. We once again take control over Chell who wakes up from stasis to find out the facility has been largely destroyed and she might suffer from severe brain damage. After been rescued from her room, Chell teams up with another AI to find a way out of Aperture Science. This leads to the revival of old fan-favorite Glados and her many daunting tests. This is where I started growing a bit disappointed, as I was actually hoping that we could instead focus on new characters. As the game progresses Glados takes up an increasingly more relevant role and eventually the player has to team up with her to fight another rogue AI, something that I personally didn't really enjoy as she pushed newer characters out of the way.
What I did like however was that the story behind Aperture is more explored in this installment and we get to literally experience the history of the company and the people that formed it. In typical Valve fashion the game avoids using too many cut-scenes and instead allows the player to maintain control over Chell at almost all times. The story is instead told through what the player sees in the environment and the commentary given by a variety of characters and pre-recorded messages. As nice as this was, it did little to make up for Glados been pushed into our faces again, as well as many scenes and puzzles from the original Portal (and even a similar boss-fight with quirky song at the end).Gameplay
Portal 2 is a puzzle/platform game in which the player is challenged to solve physics puzzles using a device. This device - known as the Portal gun - allows the protagonist to place a set of portals through which objects and characters can travel. At the start of the game you indeed start off with just the portals as the main and only focus of the puzzles, but later on more and more elements come into play.
The most prominent new feature are the various varieties of "gel" that are present in the testing chambers. The blue gel makes you jump higher, the orange gel makes you run fast and the white gel allows portals to be placed on locations they normally wouldn't. Most of the elements are present in the environments though, so the player has no inventory to manage and can only use what is given to them. Puzzles are also fairly well designed and I was able to solve most of them myself by observing the environment around me. Only in rare cases was I able to glitch out of a puzzle or solve them in a way that didn't seem natural to me, which reflects good testing.
One area that still needs work though are the physics themselves, as Portal 2 can be terribly obnoxious from time to time. I do enjoy it that when I am forced to land a portal at exactly the right spot while watching from a diagonal angle, I can at least expect the physics to do the same every time, but some of the new stuff is just plain annoying. The blue gel in particular refuses to listen and can be very picky about where the border lies. The white gel that lets you land portals anywhere also has an invisible rule that ignores portals placed at certain points. Gel can also be very annoying when you got multiple colors at the same time, as trying to spray it somewhere is likely to remove other gel, a problem that is especially troublesome when you need to switch portals after a lot of preparation. Gel aside, there are also the few rare items scattered around the environment that are interactive, as opposed to the millions of random scenery that isn't. Figuring out what can be used from what can't is not very entertaining and I would have preferred it if they outlined usable objects.Presentation
Let’s start this section off by saying something positive, namely that Portal 2 takes my favorite moment from Portal 1 and does a lot more with it. Nearing the end of Portal 1 players were suddenly exposed to a gigantic and imposing area with lots of open space. Though made out-of-reach by means of walls, this scene stood out to me as really showing the scale of Aperture Science and it got a kick out of me. Portal 2 starts out like this right off the bat and uses scenes where the player can look around large areas more often in the second act. I absolutely loved it and this time around we received a little more freedom to move around these areas too, though it still doesn’t allow you to wander around completely free of barriers.
Portal 2 however falls flat for me in the presentation field. The reason for this is the more decayed (read: post-apocalyptic) redesign of Aperture Science and its brightly lit testing chambers. These rooms are still scarcely present, but the rest of the time is spent exploring dark and rusty industrial areas. I know this complaint kind of contradicts with what I said earlier about the large areas, as almost all of these are part of the industrial sections of the game, but my earlier statement would apply even more if the large areas also had some kind of spirit to them. I understand Aperture has gone through some rough times after Glados fell, but the unique art-style of the first game earned it a lot of praise, so doing away with that almost completely is just willingly making yourself more bland. Don’t rusty corridors all start looking the same after a while? Did we really need to make Portal look a bit more like Modern Warfare 2?
Areas also tend to be inconsistently strung together: one moment you are walking through ravaged corridors with overgrown plants and the next you arrive in a perfectly clean test room, one moment you are jumping across the remains of grated walkways and the next you arrive in a perfectly clean office that’s so shining that you’d think somebody wrapped it in plastic. Humor is still present, but on a brighter note, it has also left some room for story development now. Portal’s characteristic humor is still very much present in the form of Glados and some of the new characters can be even more entertaining than her. However, by the end of the ride you’ll also feel like you really experienced something fascinating from a story perspective. Both the story and the humor can get a bit grating though, especially when you die and need to get through the same loading-screen-airlock sequences again and again.Replay-value
Portal, at its core, is not very fun to play over and over again. Unlike Left 4 Dead (another Valve game) the dialogue and jokes are set, so if you play the game over again, you will also have to hear the same commentary at the same moments. Even if you avoided death and never had to hear repeated dialogue in your first playthrough, this will still be very obnoxious. Puzzles are also naturally not very enjoyable to replay, unless the game is so sizable that memorization becomes impossible (Kameo, Legend of Zelda and long RPG’s for example). This is also made rather frustrating because Portal 2 doesn’t have a list of each room and instead you’ll have to play entire chapters or go into challenge mode if you want to play a specific level again.
BUT! You don’t really have to replay Portal 2. New to the series is a very neat level-editor that allows you to easily assemble and try out your own testing facilities. This is made easy due to a graphical interface that is comparable to RPG Maker, but even more accessible. A child can quite literally make his own maps using this. Levels can be shared online with ease, so there are potentially unlimited amounts of levels. I normally wouldn’t count modding as part of this review, if I would every game would have endless replay value, but because it’s so well weaved into the overall story and made so accessible, I’ll make an exception for this once.Extras
Portal 2 doesn’t really have any collectibles of sorts, but for the completionists out there, there are over fifty achievements available on the Steam version of this game. Sadly though, most of them are obtained through simply completing the story mode and doing stuff in the co-op mode of this game. None of my friends got this game legally, so I can’t play it with any of them, meaning all the co-op fun goes right out of the window for me. Only a few of the remaining achievements are centered around doing interesting tasks within the story mode, this is only a real problem when you are limited to single-player only though.
Like Batman: Arkham Asylum, Portal 2 also has a “Challenge Mode”, though it’s hardly as difficult as advertised. When you select this mode it will put you in a test room of choice and have you run it on a timer. It then scores you based on how long it took you and how many portals you used, a number comes out of it and you may choose to post it on the Leaderboards if you want. It’s not too bad and I definitely prefer this over Batman’s challenges, but I don’t see why the scoring couldn’t be part of the regular game. It seems silly to make an entire separate mode around replaying the same stages, if you keep in mind that the leaderboards could just run in the background of a single-player game as long as an internet connection is maintained.Recommendation
Portal 2 is most certainly an enjoyable game, despite of the many points of criticism I have named here. Mechanically the game is functional, the puzzles are fun and at times challenging and the humor is still as enjoyable as ever. The main problem however is that this sequel is struggling to have an identity of its own. At times it completely remakes Portal 1, but then it suddenly changes its mind and does something new. This inconsistency, along with some bad decisions doesn’t make Portal 2 the sequel we were hoping for, but at least a game that is still more enjoyable than most other games that come out in this day and age.
If you are interested in Portal 2, then I recommend playing Portal 1 first. Admittedly that makes the audience for this game quite gigantic, taking in consideration Portal 1 has always either been cheap or completely free. If you have and you are still up for some puzzles in the same style, but with a bigger budget, then sit down and enjoy Portal 2.