Friday, May 6, 2011
Back in 2007, valve software (a bunch of cool guys) released a game bundle containing all their source engine games to date (except CS:S. I don't like CS.) It had been called one of the greatest deals in gaming history, as it included the fast paced story driven shooter Half-Life 2 and it's standalone expansions, an ever-so-fun throwback to the good old days of multiplayer with Team Fortress 2, and finally the puzzling platformer Portal.
The original portal is very much a prototype. When compared to its sequel, you can see just how experimental it was. Not to say it was a bad game, though. Portal etched itself into the hearts and minds of gamers across the world with it's fantastic writing, challenging and inventive gameplay, and... Well, that's it, actually. The original portal was criticized for its length. It was a very, very short game.
Portal 2 hoped to remedy this by becoming more of an actual game. It felt much more finished than the first, with a larger cast of characters, bigger environments, and new gameplay elements. It seemed to have succeeded when it was released back in April to staggeringly good reviews. It currently holds a 95/100 on metacritic.com.
Of course, what you're really here to read is my opinion, not the opinion of some gitface that's all the way over in America. You want the pure 100% New Zealand beef instead of some smelly foreign meat.
Giving it to you may be a tricky feat, however. There's a lot to go over in portal 2, what with it's excellent writing, all-star voice cast, and huge production values.
Graphically, Portal 2 isn't likely to dazzle you. It's certainly no Crysis with dated textures here and there, the occasional blocky model or bad lighting effect but an attractive stylization keeps it afloat. You're certainly not going to forget what you see in the game, that's for sure. Most evident would have to be the characters.
Atlas (blue) and P-Body (orange) are the perfect pair of lovable rascals. You'll play these two in the game's new co-op multiplayer mode. Also new on the scene are Wheatley, a defective AI core and Cave Johnson, eccentric CEO of Aperture Science. They are voiced by Stephen Merchant (The Office) and J.K. Simmons (Spiderman movies) respectively. Ellen McLain returns as GLaDOS, the maniacal AI with a seemingly unending supply of deadpan humor.
Back in the land of graphics, there's an amazing amount of detail packed in. The game starts with you being thrown into a carefully reconstructed version of the first level from the first game. Portal 2 is set a long, long time after the first game (I think it was 200 years?) and you've just woken up out of cryogenic sleeping to find the science facility in ruins. The facility has become overgrown with plants, the walls and panels are dirty and covered in rubble, and everything has a very nice destroyed feeling to it. As you press onward through the game, you'll notice that the style of the environments subtly changes from the aforementioned destroyed look to a very clean, sleek appearance. You'll see less grime-covered panels and vines, and see more pristine, carefully built rooms.
Of course, they won't be pristine for much longer with the new gameplay elements. You'll have to do quite some redecorating before the game is over.
Take this stuff, for instance. This blue goop is the Repulsion Gel. It'll send you flying if you jump onto it. This is one of the aforementioned new gameplay elements. It would probably have to be my favorite, but it's tied with the Propulsion Gel, it's sister compound that is ludicrously slippery. Also new are the Thermal Discouragement Beams, high power lasers that can be used to fry sentry guns or power doors, and the Hard Light Bridges, solid surfaces constructed from solar energy.
The gels, beams, and light bridges all come together to form some truly great game design in Portal 2's puzzles. Each one of these is carefully done right down to what seems like every pixel. Sure, there's a few real headscratchers involved but give it some time, take a look around, and remember that you're holding a portal gun and you won't have much trouble. There's nothing quite as satisfying as getting everything into position, and executing your own brilliant plan.
Still, Portal 2 and it's puzzles will only truly work well when you get into the mood of it, and there's nothing better to help you do that than the music. Portal 2 utilizes a very inventive procedurally generated music system, where the music will crossfade into other soundbites or tracks depending in the player's actions. This could be things like the music picking up during an exciting moment, or slowly building in the background as you think up a plan. Most interesting is that the game's lead composer Mike Morasky has stated that at least one particular piece of music (and I quote) "only repeats itself every 76,911 years, 125 days, 7 hours, 56 minutes and 30.3 seconds.". While it might not sound like it, all the procedurally generated music feels fairly natural and definitely does build a sense of wonder, as you push that last box into place and finally see how to make that last, big jump.
Sadly, however, none of this can excuse Portal 2's biggest flaw: It's still short. Long games are becoming a thing of the past, what with things like the call of duty series becoming more about multiplayer and less of telling a good ol' action movie story and it seems that the Portal series is taking up permanent residence on the bandwagon.
The game does not have a lot of replay value, or a lot of content. Once you're done with the singleplayer, you'll probably move onto the multiplayer and then finish that up as well. That's that. No challenge maps, less than a handful of easter eggs, and an overall dissatisfaction. There's little point in replaying the game as you'll already know the solutions to all the puzzles, and the same goes for multiplayer. The only challenge there will be getting your moronic buddy to cooperate with you once you're done with it.
Portal 2 is a quality product that is definitely worth your time, but as I said nothing can excuse it's length. Still, if you're willing to look past that fact you'll have a wonderful time full of laughs and fun that you won't soon forget. It's just a shame it's over so soon.
Graphics - 9.0: Not quite the scenic vistas you'll see in other games, the game has an attractive style and well thought out environments.
Presentation - 9.0: Slick menus and a clean interface will help you enjoy the game with a great co-op interface.
Sound - 9.0: An inventive music system and well done sound effects are a pleasure to listen to, as well as the all-star voice cast that is endlessly hilarious.
Gameplay - 8.5: Not much has changed here, outside of refinements, clever design and excellent new elements.
Overall - 8.5