Review: Portal 2
Bundling Portal with The Orange Box a few years back was a great move by Valve. Portal, while fun, was a short almost side game in the series, but felt complete and well tuned. When Portal 2 was first announced, my first concern was length, and how well the puzzle fun would translate if the game were longer. I’ll admit it: I was very skeptical a stand-alone title such as Portal would work. I was even more shocked when Gabe Newell of Valve announced the PlayStation 3 version was going to be the ultimate version to get (giving his previous statements about the system). Did Portal 2 drag me into it’s testing facilities again?
If you’ve never played the original, the breakdown of the game is as follows. You’re a human test subject for a corporation known as Aperture Science. GLaDOS, the computer who controls the test chambers, leads you through puzzle after puzzle using a special gun. A portal gun. It allows you to shoot a portal at a wall for entry, and an exit portal at another location. You need to reach a platform that’s too high up? You can just shoot a portal to the platform and the wall beside you, walk through it, and seamlessly end up at the location you destined. The puzzles in the game are designed in a (usually) single room, where you have to use “science” (gravity, physics, momentum) to figure out how to exit to the next chamber. Portal 2 is very much the same design and premise. It adds some new designs, but Valve decided to use the “don’t break it” tradition to keep the game running. And it works well.
On the PlayStation 3 version, minus some jagged edges, the game looks top notch and holds a very smooth frame rate. Of course, the PC/Mac version looks a lot better, but the impressive visuals on the PlayStation 3 kind of shocked me. The textures are really clear on the console too, which is one of my bigger complaints about consoles. When I went from the console version of Borderlands to the PC version, it made a world of difference. Portal 2 manages to maintain a good sense of visuals without the obvious compression. There’s usually nothing I have to say about audio unless it’s horrible, but I have to actually congratulate Valve on picking Steven Merchant as the voice actor for Wheatley (your robotic core friend). He gives the game a sort of Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy feel, and delivers his lines really well.
Speaking of dialog, this game was happens to be much more hilarious than it’s predecessor. There were several moments I laughed out loud. That just doesn’t happen with me in games. Wheatley is a chatterbox who seems to be missing a few circuits. GLaDOS is back at her old antics again, and also manages to bring back the sarcastic insults. The entire time, it seems like you’re the only one not cracking the jokes.
Going back to my original concern, Portal 2 is not a game you’re going to waltz through. And without spoiling anything, there was a part of the game where I seriously thought the game was over. I was ticked off beyond belief. I was going to join the Metacritic “reviewers”, and punish the game for being $60 and short. But as it turned out, it took me a solid day to beat the single player campaign. The game is just the right amount of length. The question I have is whether Valve is going to properly use Steam on the PlayStation 3 and continue with free updates to the community, like they have been doing for PC gamers, or is the series going to be the start of the nickel and dime techniques posed by other developers in this digital age. So far, in the cooperative mode, it’s looking like it may be the new wave of Valve also, as there’s DLC already (visual DLC – not in anyway gameplay improvements or maps) and it costs a pretty penny to own it all. Over $50, actually.
The Steam system is on the PlayStation 3 now, but only through Portal 2. There’s not a new PlayStation icon that says Steam on it, like rumors were suggesting. The Steam system is neat and fluid in the game. When you press the select button, the Steam menu comes up that displays your friends list and your Steam achievements. Since it’s also using Steam, you’re game is able to use Steam Cloud, which is a cool saving device on Steam’s servers. This also means that if I am playing on my PlayStation 3 and I want to change it over to some mouse and keyboard action, I can easily do so by saving my PlayStation 3 version of the game, going to my computer, and picking up where I left off on the PC. It’s a cool feature, indeed. Oh, and you can play with your friends on your Steam list, or just other PC/Mac users.
TL;DR: Buy, unless you are prone to motion sickness.
Reviewed on the PlayStation 3.