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Game Review: Portal 2

Wednesday, April 20, 2011
It was just over three years ago (was it really that long?) that I reviewed Valve Software's the Orange Box, the world's introduction to the surprisingly revolutionary game Portal. The concept of Portal was frighteningly simple: navigate a series of obstacles using a gun that could open a portal between two spots. You didn't have a choice of different weapon types, you couldn't peek around corners, you simply had this gun, physics, and a pair of spring-loaded boots that prevented you from taking falling damage. Oh, and there was a homicidal AI controlling the whole thing. That's probably not a huge spoiler right there. Finally, the song "Still Alive" at the end of the game took the whole package from great to absolutely fantastic.''

With that background firmly established, it was over a year ago, in March 2010, that Valve Software announced a sequel to the game: Portal 2. The ending of Portal was retroactively changed so that your escape was much more temporary than you were led to initially believe, inasmuch as you're immediately dragged back into the facility. A little more is explained in the awesome comic "Lab Rat".

Portal 2 logo

So, on to Portal 2. I'm going to try to do this with as few spoilers as possible, having just completed the single player portion of the game and looking forward to mainlining the new cooperative mode.

First off, GLaDOS is back and, honestly, she's a little pissed. Whereas her personality was that of a glitchy, mildly homicidal AI through most of the first Portal, in Portal 2 she's mainly got the less-glitchy, more-homicidal AI we saw come out in the last battle in the first game. She's very mission-focused, really, and that mission starts with "testing you to death".

As we progress, we learn so much more about how and where GLaDOS came from, we learn more about the history of Aperture Science and its founder, Cave Johnson, and we find out more about the Portal world than I thought was possible. Through all of this, the humor is bitingly sharp and the gameplay continues to take on new dimensions as new elements are added. Instead of just two portals, we get to add "gels" which coat a surface and modify its properties, or "light walls", which are solid walls made of light and can be redirected through portals. The elements complicate the game in a welcome, wonderful way.

But in the end, it's the story and the voice acting that take Portal 2 from "fun" to "amazing". While the gameplay is like the first Portal, with a few extra complicating tools thrown in, I progressed through the game because I my character wanted to escape - and I wanted to find out what was going to happen next. The quality of those elements was never less that brilliant, and, for a game where the most violent experience is either being shot at by the occasional sentry turret (they're otherwise very friendly) or redirecting a few explosive boxes in a more helpful direction, a new bar has been set for the first-person shooter genre.

Verdict: Please buy it, so that Valve might continue its tradition of releasing fantastic games.


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