When you think of puzzle games, you think of small flash or mobile game, with limited production times, environments and virtually no plot. Portal was ground breaking when it came out in 2007. It didn’t just introduce puzzle games to large 3D environments, it also taught the industry that a large, story-driven puzzle game could actually work. Finally, we had a puzzle game for the hardcore gamer, and using the Source (Half-Life 2) engine it doesn’t get much more hardcore than that. It really did take the gaming world by storm, leaving sick days, and empty lecture theatres in its wake. So when Portal 2 came out I couldn’t wait to get my hands on it!
For those not yet introduced to the Portal series of games here is a breakdown: You play Chell, Chell is being made to do tests by Aperture Science’s somewhat crazy computer GLaDOS. These tests take part in what is called a test chamber, however ultimately your goal is to escape. You have been given an Aperture Science Handheld Portal Device (that'd be the portal gun) to help with the tests. This allows you to effectively open a gateway between walls. You shoot one wall with the portal gun creating the entry to a portal, then another to create the exit. You are then able to walk in the entry point and be spat out of the exit. Your goal is to get to the exit door of the test chamber - without dying. Sounds simple, right?
Well no. GLaDOS really has no interest in keeping you alive, so she has gone out of way to make the test chambers as difficult as she can, introducing turrets, lasers and immensely deep pits to try to stop you.
Portal 2 brings more of a storyline than the original did. The addition of the British-speaking Personality Core Wheatley brings another source of humour to the game. Wheatley acts as your guide for much of the first part of the game, and he brings the type of dry humour that only the British can.
In Portal 2, you find yourself awake in what appears to be a hotel-like room built into a container. A lot has changed since you shut down GLaDOS in the first game. Because GLaDOS is no longer around to control the Aperture Science facility it has been run to the ground, however all that changes when you and Wheatley wake her up. And then it's back to testing!
While trying to escape you discover you are in the dark depths of the abandoned sections of the Aperture Science facility. This reminded me a little of BioShock (not 100% sure why). Your goal was not to test, but to escape from the abandoned facility, and in the words of Yazz, “The Only Way is Up!” I liked this storyline more than I did the original Portal, I think the addition of Wheatley brought more depth to the story, and a break from listening to the same voice the whole time. The humour was also up to the standards we came to expect from the first game with comic relief in abundance all the way to the end.
And of course, as you make your way to the top of the facility, it takes heavy use of the portal gun to get you there. One thing I found different from the original title was that Portal 2 used lighting much better (or worse, depending on how you look at it). Portal 2 used lights as hints for where you need to go, with each key spot being lit up more than the rest of the map. This was great if you got stuck, however for me it lit the route up and made it too easy to solve the puzzle.
I guess one of the difficulties for a game like this is finding the balance between easy and difficult. I’m a problem-solving nut, so overall I found everything a little too easy, however I’ve also spoken to people who have found it far too hard, which suggests they have the balance somewhere in the middle. The game featured puzzles that not only made you think about what you needed to do, but also required reflexes to do it quickly, really bringing out every puzzle-solving skill I would hope for in a game.
The maps and environments look fantastic and shows they have put a lot of work into making the game look good, not only in the testing chamber but underground and outside also look brilliant (as you would expect from Valve). The only real complaint I had regarding this was the loading screens, lots and lots of loading, I’m really glad I have a fast PC - if you don’t, you could end up waiting a while. Seamless loading is something I would really love to see brought to the Source engine, especially for the Portal franchise. Elevators are well and good, but to just go from one chamber to another would be excellent. I really did get very tired of seeing the same animations.
It is really difficult to follow up a game like Portal, and it would be hard to find a gamer not familiar with “The cake is a lie” or the concept of companion cubes. To bring that level of humour back for a second game would have been a monumental challenge, but in my eyes, Valve did it.
Although I actually found it a little easy, Portal 2 is a fantastic game. The dialogue and storyline are fantastic, and the humour of the first title is definitely still there (I got a laugh quite a few times).
Would I recommend it to anyone? Of course I would! ...but make sure you play Portal first, otherwise you will find yourself scratching your head.
Jimmy the Geek