Valve’s highly anticipated Portal 2 has at last arrived. The FPS puzzler is a mind blowing experience which you will both love and hate; love because its outstanding and hate because it’s so challenging at points that you will be tearing your hair out in frustration. One thing is for certain, once you pick this game up you will not be able to put it down, even if you’ve been caught cursing Valve and its puzzles on more than one occasion.
This review will try it’s best to explain the game in full without giving away any spoilers, as the story is just so much fun to watch evolve that I certainly wouldn’t want someone cursing me for ruining it. What I will say is that you will find your way to the end of the single player campaign after about 8-12 hours of play, and those hours will certainly not be wasted.
Portal 2 takes place years after the events of the previous title, in which your main enemy, Glados, was taken down. When the game begins, Chell, the game’s main protagonist, awakes in a strange room; this part of the game takes the form of a small tutorial as you learn the basic moves and during this time you will also meet a personality sphere named Wheatley, who is voiced by Stephen Merchant. As the story evolves you eventually find yourself back at Aperture Science labs (the setting for the first game) along with Wheatley, and then the adventure begins.
As with the last game, Portal 2 sees you placed through a series of test chambers, solving numerous puzzles along the way. This time though there is a whole load of adventuring thrown in, as well as a few huge plot twists which I am trying my best not to mention.
When the testing starts the game takes it fairly easy on you, therefore you should find yourself speeding through the test chambers as you work your way towards the end goal. The beginning test chambers see you use your portal gun to get to hard to reach places and also solve puzzles, often with the aid of storage cubes to press down buttons and redirection cubes to reflect lasers into a certain path. Once you reach the end of these chambers things take a big twist, which is why I am not mentioning Glados or Wheatley too much.
Eventually you’ll find yourself wandering around the grounds of Aperture Science labs trying to break yourself back inside, this is where the main part of adventuring comes in, here you will find yourself in all manner of situations as you try to figure out a way across huge gaps, trying to make jumps that are impossible in any other game. Thankfully if you have a bit of patience and a grasp of physics then you can move on, sure there may be times were you are stuck in one area for longer than you would wish, however you will eventually figure it out; that’s a promise.
When you eventually find yourself back inside Aperture’s Labs, it’s like you have travelled through time; the test chambers are falling to bits and you will spend most of your time trying to negotiate large falls, however it’s here that you meet one of the game’s biggest new features, which comes in the form of special paint-like gels. The first of these, Propulsion Gel, is a blue substance which allows you to bounce; obviously when combined with portals this can make getting great distances a whole lot easier. Other gels you will discover along the way includes an orange speed gel and also a white coloured gel, which when placed on a surface allows you to create portals wherever you like.
With the three gels and your portal gun, you will eventually find yourself climbing deeper and deeper into Aperture Science Labs as you try to reach your goal of escaping and handing out justice to the one who is keeping you there/trying to kill you. As you climb further and further into the labs things will start to take a modern twist again, it’s here that you will being testing once more in a similar fashion to when the game began, however at this point you really start to see what Portal 2 is made of.
You already have your Portal gun and the use of the three gel substances which grace most of the test chambers; however the game starts to introduce other elements such as tractor beams, hard light bridges and aerial faith plates, (the latter two do make a brief appearance at the beginning) which throw you from one end of the room to another. When you combine all these elements with the layout of the rooms and on occasion, a whole load of turrets, you will find yourself in all manner of tricky situations.
The most frustrating thing about Portal 2 is that usually you will know the answer, it’s just that pulling it off is a whole different challenge, although all the newly introduced elements certainly help. For example, in one of the later chambers you are faced with an aerial faith plate, tractor beam and turrets, while there is also a button on the floor which when pressed reverses the flow of the beam. Your task here is somehow to take out the turrets and get across the great distance to the exit. When you first look at this level it seems impossible, however just sitting down for a minute and looking at it logically will see you get through it.
Portal 2 is packed with chambers such as the one described above, some of which are fairly simple to figure out, and others which will have you in tears of frustration. The deeper you get into the game, the more difficult it becomes, however the experience and the ending makes it all worthwhile.
The element which impressed me most in Portal 2 is the presentation. This is one seriously good looking game, everything from the chambers to the physics of the various gels just look fantastic, while the sound really takes this game from very good to simply outstanding. The voice of Wheatley, provided by Stephen Merchant is just genius, I seriously don’t think Valve could have chosen anyone else to play this role, he is fantastic and a little bit mad. As an example of his performance, *minor spoiler* not long after meeting Wheatley he is crushed by Glados, (let’s just say he survives), however even though I’d only spent some time within the game in his presence, I had a genuine tear in my eye at this moment. This to me sums up the power of Stephen Merchants performance (who deserves an Oscar for his work here) and the excellent inclusion of Wheatley within the game.
Obviously I rate Portal 2 very highly, but the beauty is that I’ve not even mentioned the multiplayer aspect yet. Although I have not spend as much time as I would have liked here (believe me I will in the future), this is a wonderful addition to the game. Multiplayer can be played either online, or in split-screen mode. In multiplayer both players control separate portal guns, meaning they can create their own portals and also use the other players, and yes there is temptation to open a portal beneath your co-op partners feet, just in case you were wondering.
Obviously the test chambers in multiplayer take on a whole new level of difficulty because you now have access to four portals instead of the normal two. As a result of this you will have to solve complicated puzzles which see you redirecting lasers through four portals or figuring out how to get cubes from one end of the room to another using all four portals, however there are two of you now, so that shouldn’t be a problem, should it?
Within the multiplayer modes you do have a few extra functions to make communication easier, which is especially important when playing online. These functions include voice chat and the ability (online) to briefly enter a split-screen view to help coordinate actions. As well as these functions you are also able to place icons to inform the other player of what they should do, and, if you wish, use emotes to hug your online partner, or perform other gestures such as high five (awww how sweet).
The main beauty of the multiplayer is that it’s completely separate from the single player campaign, there’s a whole new set of test chambers for you to negotiate, albeit this time with a friend. It’s a fantastic idea from Valve to do this as it adds so much more longevity to the game. As mentioned, the single player campaign lasts around 8-12 hours, which is reasonable, however it would probably have been grumbled at if it wasn’t for the multiplayer.
Portal 2 is a well presented, thought provoking title that will keep you hooked for the duration, its seriously an experience you should not miss out on, and the hiring of Stephen Merchant to voice Wheatley? Well, that’s the master-stroke that turns this game from must have to Game of the Year contender.
Portal 2 is available on PS3, Xbox 360, PC and Mac from Friday, April 22. We recommend you pre-order it now.