Portal 2 arrives and exceeds high expectations

Rogue AI, space-time holes, and black humour abound in Valve’s Portal 2, released 10 hours ahead of schedule late Monday night. Valve’s latest title, set some 300 or more years after the events of the first Portal, builds on the successes of the first game without relying strongly on them.The game still follows Chell, unwilling participant in Aperture Science’s testing. Using only her wits and the Aperture Science Handheld Portal Device, Chell once again attempts to escape the mad AI GLaDOS and all the death traps that litter the facility.

In terms of writing, the story is excellent. You begin the game proper by being woken up in your “relaxation vault” where you are informed you have been asleep for “nine nine nine nine nine -” days before the recording is interrupted by a personality sphere named Wheatley. He claims of all 10,000 test subjects, you are the only one still alive, and, after attempting a “manual override” on a wall, sends you on your way to get a gun that “shoots holes.” Shortly thereafter, you attempt to go through GLaDOS’ chamber, whom you killed in the first game, and inadvertently wake her up.

Thus begins the game proper, with GLaDOS rebuilding the facility around you as you desperately look for a way to escape.

Most of the basic gameplay is the same as the last game. You use portals to adjust momentum and get to places that you would not normally be able to get to all while trying to avoid deadly floors, soft-speaking turrets, and bottomless pits. There is not much new here in terms of the basic gameplay, but that ends up being fine, since many of the puzzles are new, unique, and a lot of new things have been added.

For instance, about halfway through the game, you are introduced to three different kinds of gel. One of them bounces you, one of them speeds you up, and one of them allows you to place portals where you normally cannot. The idea is very simple, and, like the original concept for Portal, came from a student project, but the way it is implemented in game is almost perfect. It is not overused nor is it underutilized.

Other new items include light bridges that propagate through portals, “thermal discouragement beams” that you aim through prisms and towards “collectors,” and swirling vortexes of asbestos that carry you across an entire chamber. For more about those items, and for some good laughs, check out the Portal 2 pre-release videos describing each of these.

I cannot write much here without giving major spoilers, but needless to say those that were worried as to whether Valve could follow up Portal with something even better should not worry. Ellen McLain returns as GLaDOS, who is still simultaneously trying to test you and kill you, which leads to some very black humor during the game.

As such, if you are not fond of black humor, this is not the game for you. Almost all of the story falls into that vein and many of the best one-liners in the game can take on a decidedly unpleasant tinge when thought about too hard. The best example of this is the first time you try escaping. GLaDOS opens a test chamber in the wall that has an exit leading to vegetation, with claims that “I think I saw a deer.” If you try to go back into the chamber, she fills it with neurotoxin and kills you.

Also, there are more characters than just Chell and GLaDOS, which makes for a refreshing change, since in Portal, the only one that talked was GLaDOS. This time around, you get to meet the aforementioned

Wheatley and the founder of Aperture Science, Cave Johnson. This makes for a much more dynamic game and allows the writers to really let loose this time.

The game is short. There is no getting around a game that is a first-person puzzle-based game being short, no matter how much witty writing you put into it. If you make the game too hard, then you lose a good chunk of the player base and any other method of lengthening it will feel arbitrary and forced.

As such, if you are a fast gamer, you can make it through in four to six hours. Personally, I did it in five while trying to stay on the lookout for easter eggs. Note that this does not include the cooperative mode. I have not had the chance to play that, but I hear that it is not particularly long.

The length is not a detriment to the game. I could definitely see a lot of people getting tired by the ending of the game, and while it is an expertly crafted game, there are only so many different ways that you can have a puzzle while keeping the illusion of requiring haste. I suspect that Valve will do something similar as with the first Portal and release map packs at some point in the near future.

This is the first game that I’ve played in a long time that gets 10/10. Valve is very good at what they do, and given that they make money off of Steam, they do not have to have a fast release cycle to make money. The game itself is an excellent sample of what a game developer can do when they put their mind to it, and I sincerely hope that other developers will take note of Portal 2 and follow suit.

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