Portal 2 Review: Still Alive

During the crowded video game market of 2007, The Valve Corporation released a phenomenal all-in-one package of games titled The Orange Box. While notables like the Half Life series and Team Fortress 2 received a ton of praise, it was Portal that ultimately stole the show. Known for being an engaging single-player puzzle-platformer, Portal changed the formula of the genre by adding style and substance to the experience.

Now with 2011 turning out to be another banner year for gaming, Portal 2 aims to recreate that same magic by offering a great story and addictive cooperative play. Here is a detailed rundown on why you should continue testing at Aperture Science.

Portal 2 takes place within the Aperture Science Labs, following up after the events of the first game. The player once again assumes the role of female protagonist Chell. After waking up from an extended stasis period, our hero proceeds to escape the confined facilities with the aid of a portal gun. While navigating through the ruins and preliminary testing chambers, the player is guided by Wheatley, an AI sphere-shaped robot companion. For the most part, Wheatley is totally independent of other mainframe systems and instantly takes on the persona of being lighthearted and comical in every exchange.

This dynamic is equally matched by the returning antagonist operating system, GLaDOS. Once again fully functional after being in a dormant state, GLaDOS appears much darker and deceptive in her instructions, stemming from a vengeance to torture Chell for having killed her in the first game. There are also appearances by the Rat Man, the last known Aperture crew escapee who was mentioned in Portal but never properly introduced.The idea of offering all these very different types of characters adds a unique twist to your standard story by assigning certain behavioral characteristics to each persona. The mastery of such humanistic personality traits in robots has been done before in movies like Wall-E and Short Circuit, and thus succeeds in crafting an entertaining piece that all audiences would admire.

Even more interesting than the performances, is the level of character development and how it trickles down into gameplay goals. As GLaDOS continues to make smart remarks upon the completion of each challenge set before you, the system also begins to show its vulnerabilities and dislike for you having solved the puzzle.Fans of the first game will recall being at a disadvantage primarily because GLaDOS had the upper hand in knowing the site well enough to easily throw challenges your way.

By that same token, many complained of the spike in difficulty when trying to surpass obstacles and unfortunately lost enthusiasm for beating the game. This time around, the environment is severely rundown and thus GLaDOS has to quickly restructure ways to improve tests. This technique succeeds by showcasing solid character progression and encouraging a clever understanding of how to conquer current and future tasks effectively. When you add in all these factors along with the superb writing and voice acting, then you’ll be able to conclude exactly why Portal 2 is a must have game.

When it comes to gameplay, the aesthetics remain the same but with some significant additions. First and foremost, the size and scope of the game is far larger than that of Portal. Bigger areas require a great deal of thought to maneuver through carefully and avoid perceptive turrets and deadly ray beams. The enemy A.I. is fairly quick on the draw, which adds a level of timing and precision to your encounters. While transporting through portals continues to be the standard mode of play, the inclusion of light bridges and jump pads brings the strategy component to another level.

This means that if you initially already had a particular plan of attack, then you’ll probably need to go back to the drawing board to perfect it. On the other hand, you also may be overlooking a simpler approach to a seemingly complex problem. All along, the puzzles remain balanced in difficulty level and uniquely gratifying to complete. The time it takes for you to get through the story mode will depend heavily on how good you are at solving puzzles. Once you’ve mastered the basics of the new props available to you, then it’s safe to say that you’ll be able to move along fairly quickly.

Another added feature to Portal 2 comes in the form of seamless 2 player cooperative play. The premise of the mode revolves around a story that takes place after the single player campaign. Both players step into the roles of Atlus and P- body, two independent modified personality cores, who must embark on the aggressive “ Cooperative Testing Initiative” administered by GLaDOS.

In theory, this is very much an easy way for two players to experience what the regular campaign has to offer but with one added stipulation. When two players are each armed with his or her portal gun, the amount of portals that can be created span from 2 to 4 dramatically. This alone will result in increased communication between players to develop survival strategies. While this mode is set chronologically after the main campaign, Valve has stated that you’re free to play either mode at any particular time.

During Sony’s E3 2010 Conference, Gabe Newell made an announcement that the PS3 Version of Portal 2 would offer steam support and compatibility on both PC and Mac platforms. The end result is the ability to sign into steam and play with your friends online. If you don’t have a steam account, then you’re able to generate one with a pre-registered code that you receive when you buy a new copy of the game. Connection times may vary based upon the reliability of your Internet service provider.

After having experienced a few games with a partner, I found the mode to be a nice bonus to an already stellar package. The fact that they even bothered to add somewhat of a story to this mode shows that Valve is confident in their product and can only perfect things further with future installments.

Often times in this industry, genre specific games are limited only by their resources and fail to emphasize key elements like story, dialogue, and gameplay. Portal 2 changes that mold by creating a fun, entertaining title destined to change the way you think about puzzle and strategy games forever.

This review is based on a physical copy of Portal 2 for the PlayStation 3 provided by Valve.

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