Thursday, 26 May 2011

REVIEW: Portal 2

From the ashes of Half Life 2 came a weird creature called Portal that created quite a stir and ended up having a rather large, cult following. It was an attachment with The Orange Box which went on to sell millions and Portal itself had apparently revolutionised the puzzle genre in a way that hadn't been seen since perhaps Tetris. Now Portal 2 is here - so what's all the fuss about?

Truth be told I never got into Portal. In fact I never got into Half Life 2, I never really got into Counterstrike and I never even completed Half Life. However, such was the excitement for Portal 2 and that I kept being repeatedly told that I would enjoy it that I thought I'd give this game a go.

Essentially, it's beauty is in it's complexity in simplicity. Even though all you do is point, shoot and occasionally jump, it becomes a joy to solve each and every puzzle and the reason why is because of the physics involved with using portals. You have a gun that shoots two different portals, an orange one and a blue one, and that's it. You can only shoot them onto certain surfaces, but when you do you can walk through them. That's the entire game. However, where you place them and how you get to certain places is the trick and once you've figured it out you can't help but feel the satisfaction that you were able to figure out something that was actually very complicated.

If you get to a certain height for instance and put a portal beneath you, with a second portal in the distance which happens to be at a 45 degree angle then when you fall into the portal, it will launch you in the air on the other side of the room. This might not make sense, but this is probably one of the simplest tricks you have to learn how to use in order to continue through the game. Along the way there are buttons, holo-bridges, mini turret robots and different liquids that let you bounce, speed up and more. All you need to know is nothing is there on accident, everything has a purpose. Including the little blocks that really do help.

It's extremely well thought out and makes the puzzle solving enjoyable without being too easy yet not frustrating either - a hard line to manage and one that Portal 2 successfully pulls off. However, my problem is that it actually relies too heavily on the puzzle solving and, as a full game, I thought it fell rather short of delivering a fully packaged experience.

Firstly, the plot carries on from the first Portal (I think) and so everything that was once bright, white and shiny has been slightly ruined. Stephen Merchant plays the robot helping you out and provides the laughs, but in a sense his voice is so unique that you can't help but think of his face rather than the robot. At the same time, his voice acting, especially near the end is laughable for different reasons and even though it's meant to be a bit tongue-in-cheek in his very self-aware way, it takes away from the immersive experience of the game. The graphics are also somewhat dated and it just feels like a PC game from about 5 years ago. The sound is almost awful at times, often a signature riff is heard when you're doing different things to do with the puzzle but  it sounded cheap and farcical. The plot of merely trying to escape is simple enough, but you'd rather just solve the puzzles and Portal 2 knows this. So it does have a story, but it's always trying to move you on to the next puzzle, which is probably a good thing.

I enjoyed this game, but thought that so much time had been spent developing the puzzles that by adding a nice, whole story they thought they could sell it as a full game when I thought it was rather short. The co-op was something I dabbled with, and would work well if with the right person but I can imagine it could get very frustrating very fast. Overall, the puzzle element was amazing and well worth it, but as a gaming experience I'd rather there just be a whole load of levels as I really wasn't bothered about the story. Great, simple and a whole lot of fun but it's not one of the best games I've ever played - I enjoyed it as much as I enjoy sitting down with a book of sudokus - which might give me a whole heap of satisfaction but doesn't necessarily make it one of my favourite books.

Great fun, but smash it out over a few days and move on.

Rating: 7/10

1 comment:

  1. After overseeing a friend playing the first one when The Orange Box was released - I really couldn't work out what the fuss was about. After a couple of weeks I noticed a few friends at University were chatting about it's awesomeness'. For some reason when I launched Steam to buy it, it was already there - ready to be installed. Maybe because I bought HL2 and other Steam products so it was a freebie.

    So, I installed, played the first few puzzles and thought 'wow check me out, buzzing through this'. Once I realised that this is a intelligant puzzle game that has a small story, but one that grabs you to keep 'Testing', I thought this is different to any game I've played since Impossible Mission on the Master System (1992?).

    But speed up a few years to Portal 2, when I heard they were charging a full 39.99 for a game that was originally a 'freebie' / 'extra game - in the bunch'... I thought, cheeky gits. But once I read on how it's been created in to a game that has a flowing story all the way through, more complex situations and a co-op option - I then though, I give it a go.

    So when bought and started playing, I got back into the flow of Portal straight away but this time you've got a bonus of Stephen Merchant following and guiding you around the joint, which I felt was a great choice. The storyline along with the new additions in the game that includes the liquid, huge environments and potatoes was a great improvement on the first. I was attached to the game and didn't want it to end! Yes I am a Portal geek.

    When I heard co-op was going to be involved I was buzzing. When I think of co-op I think of games like Perfect Dark (smashing up countless bots), Gears of War (sawing heads off as your mate is sticki' grenading a big mofo), then Halo 3 (several mates playing on campaign on Legendary) aahhh memories.
    But when I came to play co-op on Portal 2 I realised that my mate who hadn't played much Portal was very slow compared to me and I was pretty much telling him what to do and thought that this is not a good idea. So played a game of Fifa instead.

    But overall, loved the single player and would like another but don't think it will happen.