Valve’s Portal was gaming’s biggest surprise in 2007. Packed into The Orange Box, it quickly stole the show from Half Life 2: Episode 2 and Team Fortress 2. Portal 2 takes the formula that made the original great and adds to it. More characters, new gameplay mechanics, a longer story and cooperative play have all been added.
Portal 2 begins similarly to the original, with protagonist Chell waking up in a strange place and quickly realizing she needs to escape. Taking place years after the original, the Aperture facility has become run down and Chell will have to venture deeper into the facility than before if she hopes to escape. While the original’s narrative was sparse, the sequel delves into the history of Aperture Science and features a more fleshed out plot. The single player story mode should take most gamers 6-8 hours unless they are really trying to rush through it.
The most important part of the Portal series is the puzzles, and Portal 2 doesn’t disappoint. The sequel ups the ante by adding tons of new mechanics to learn and master. There are light bridges, vacuum beams and three gels, each of which has its own unique properties. These new elements must be manipulated along with classics such as the companion cubes to solve the puzzles. The puzzles have also gotten bigger, and late in the game some puzzle rooms will be double the size of those in the original.
The dark humor and witty dialogue is also back, and is better than the original. GLaDOS returns, with the same personality and quirks. Players will also meet Wheatley, a scatterbrained robot in the game’s opening. Stealing the show however is Cave Johnson, the founder of Aperture Science. Voiced perfectly by J.K Simmons, Johnson has the best lines in the game. It is a shame that Johnson is only present for the middle part of the game.
While the single player campaign largely retains the look and feel of the first game, the new co-op mode is a completely new way to play portal. Players play as the robots Atlas and P-Body as they must work together to solve test chambers. Each player receives a fully functional portal gun and the puzzles require both players to work together to find the solution.
Co-op Portal requires a level of coordination between players that isn’t present in other games. One puzzle has one player operating a set of switches that move blocks up and down in a maze while the other player must navigate through the maze. Another puzzle tasked the players with using all 4 of their portals to direct a laser beam through a set of switches.
Because players need to work together so closely Valve recommends that you play with friends, but there is a system for finding random players. A ping system allows you to mark a location for your partner to place portals or look at but it doesn’t work as well as being able to discuss the puzzle. Even with voice chat it is best to play with a friend, preferably in splitscreen mode if possible.
Portal 2 takes what was a prototype and expands it into a fully realized game. The puzzles are bigger, the characters are better and the new game mechanics are interesting. With all of the improvements however, Portal 2 still misses that X factor. While the first game felt fresh and unique the sequel feels like a longer, more polished Portal. It fails to capture the same one of a kind quality that the original had. While Portal 2 is a fantastic game, and a must play, you can sometimes feel like you have already played this game before.
Played the Xbox 360 version of Portal 2. Played single player mode to completion, played co-op mode for about 2.5 hours.