We love a good sequel. All too often the end product disappoints, but having polished off the original Portal feeling hungry for more – and knowing what Valve are capable of - a sequel of any description sounded extremely promising. The mere prospect of a two player co-op had us counting the days till its release on April 22.
The game is set in the same Aperture Science facility as the original title; however many years have passed and the place has since fallen into serious disrepair. Your character, the original game’s protagonist, has awoken from an extended period of stasis with her faculties miraculously intact. Thanks to a comedy of errors, the facility’s deranged AI custodian GLaDOS is also brought back online, and she’s not happy to see you. Time to suss out a portal gun and show her who’s boss… again!
Controls are simple, intuitive and ultra responsive, leaving you free to get acquainted with the game mechanics. For those unfamiliar with Portal, it’s a first person perspective platform puzzler, where the objective is to navigate a series of ‘test chambers’, using your wits and a nifty teleport-creation device to bypass hazards and reach the exit. These portals can only be opened on a particular surface type; however the location is not restricted to vertical walls. Portals can be placed on floors and ceilings too, and once you acquire a second component for the gun you can open two such portals. The entry point for one is the exit point for the other (and vice versa). Passing through them can be disconcerting first – especially if you entered vertically and exited horizontally, but it doesn’t take long to adapt. The laws of physics still apply… sort of. Some levels require clever portal placement to increase your exit momentum and fling you across gaps too wide to jump. When it comes to explaining the concept of momentum and portals, nobody does it quite like GLaDOS: “In layman’s terms: speedy thing goes in, speedy thing comes out.” Simple, really…
Speaking of simple, the first few levels are easy, allowing you to familiarise yourself with the use of switches and portals, before dialling up the difficulty and introducing further obstacles. Some of the mid-game and later level puzzles are pretty devious and complex, but never push you to the point of quitting. When it comes to overall difficulty, we reckon Portal 2 is about the same as the original. New features include spring loaded launch pads (faith plates), gels with movement-enhancing and portal receptive properties, lasers – plus reflective cubes to divert their deadly beams, and hard light bridges, which can also pass through portals.
The game is infused with humour, which is delivered both visually and via cleverly scripted dialogue. With her cool detachment and murderous intent, GLaDOS could draw comparison to a certain psychotic supercomputer from I, Robot… except VIKI has nothing on GLaDOS when it comes to grudge bearing and sarcastic wit. Your bumbling robotic companion Wheatley provides an amusing counterpoint to GLaDOS’ passive aggressive put-downs, with a constant stream of lively banter. You’ll either love the comedic narrative or you’ll find it irritating, but for us it was a definite highlight.
Two player co-op adds another dimension (and two extra portals) to the game, with players taking on the role of two robots, Atlas and P-body. It’s a sideways shift from the single player experience, with the emphasis on working together, and each level requires active collaboration from both players. Solving puzzles as a team is a hugely satisfying experience, and you can celebrate with snappy high fives, and other un-robotic emotes. Sibling rivalry an issue? Significant other giving you the cold shoulder for some perceived transgression? This could be the perfect vehicle for sorting out your differences … cheaper than counselling, too!
You can play online; however due to PSN being down for who knows how much longer, we settled for the split screen co-op game instead. There’s a handy ping and timer system to let the other player know where you want them to open a portal – and when; however nothing beats old fashioned verbal communication. Without the ability to talk to your teammate you might struggle with some of the time-critical challenges when playing online (but of course we couldn’t put that to the test).
Graphics are improved over the original, and visually there’s a lot more going on. GLaDOS restores wrecked corridors and trashed testing rooms to their former pristine condition - as you play. It’s impressive, and just a little creepy. There’s a good level of contrast between the stark test chambers, grungy maintenance areas and industrial manufacturing plants. Music ranges from ‘barely there’ subtle to adrenaline pumping techno, as the situation dictates, and is always spot on. Likewise the voice acting, which is nothing short of excellent.
We completed the single player game in a day (with several breaks for comfort and the necessities of life), for an estimated total of 7-8 hours’ worth of brain bending entertainment. There are a few more hours to be had in the two player co-op game, and Portal 2 offers more gaming hours than the original. Ultimately, however, you have to weigh up the cost against the replay value – which is low, unless you’re into collecting trophies or DLC. For us, this was the only downside to an excellent overall package, and a truly worthy sequel to one of the most engrossing and popular puzzlers around.