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What’s the Story?

Chell, the protagonist from the first game, wakes up after a long while in cryo storage and attempts to leave the Aperture Science labs. Along the way, she shoots portals at things, messes with physics in fun and interesting ways, and accidentally wakes up the A.I. she spent the first game killing…

And in the co-op campaign, you play two robots running through the portal testing chambers.

 

What’s the Problem?

Less Surprising

The first Portal came out of nowhere with a lot of fresh ideas.It was a game that effectively featured one voice actor, two characters, and mind-bending puzzles. It created a sense that it was you against the world; a world that was trying very hard to kill you.

In this one, there are a whole six voice actors. Chell has friends. The feel of unending isolation isn’t there so strongly, nor is the surprise at the bleak humour of the characters, or the shock when GLaDOS turns out to be lying to you (all in the name of Science, of course), or the creeping danger of when the test chambers turn out to be deadly. We’ve seen all those things before, so Portal 2 goes in a different direction.

Sorry, GLaDOS, but you have to share the villainship this time.

This time, it’s more like a “regular” game: there are other characters. Some with you, some against you. The game is longer, more detailed, but loses some of its simplistic charm.

That said, this isn’t a criticism. If the game tried to just deliver us Portal 1 again, we’d have…

The Co-Op

Is pretty much Portal 1 with a friend. Whereas the single player campaign has Chell going outside the bounds of the testing grounds and discovering Aperture’s past through the environments and pre-recorded voiceovers, the co-op campaign has you and a friend both being robots inside GLaDOS’s portal courses. And since we’ve seen all these tricks before, it’s not as engaging as the single player. There’s no fresh injection of weird; it’s pretty much all as we’ve seen before: test chambers with GLaDOS mocking and berating us in equal measure.

P-Body and Atlas. They are friends, and only occasionally drop each other into chasms.

Talking

Another problem (in both single player and co-op, but moreso single) is that since your character doesn’t talk, the only dialogue is when other characters talk to you. And they don’t do this while you’re solving the puzzles. This leads to dialogue happening right before and right after every test chamber, and silence in between. After a while, you notice it and it begins to grate. Especially when the game refuses to start loading the next level until the sound clip has stopped playing, leaving you standing at the end of the level waiting for the game to stop playing the sound clip.

And when you have to stop everything else you’re doing to hear a prerecorded message that’s supposed to be a joke, you notice that it’s supposed to be a joke and it feels less like spontaneous humour and more like a scripted section you can’t skip past.

Commentary

As with Portal 1, Portal 2 features a Developers’ Commentary. It’s an excellent idea, akin to the special features on a DVD, giving you a glimpse into the making of the game. What decisions they made and why, how the game evolved, how playtesting altered the experience, and so on.

But it’s pretty skint. There’s usually only one commentary node in each test chamber, which is a step down from Portal 1, which had lots of interesting facts (well, for boring people like me who listen to commentaries…). This one doesn’t have nearly as much to say even though it has far more material to work with. It’s more like playing the game with an occasional tidbit rather than playing with a full commentary.

Pictured: a commentary node that will tell you something not-quite-as-interesting as you'd hoped.

Not Enough Shooting

I remember there being a lot more in the first game, and having to figure out how to stop them pesky turrets. They were as close to a defeatable enemy as the game had. They’re in Portal 2 a lot less, which eliminates one of the only physical threats in the game and lessens the danger.

Surfaces

You can place your portals on light surfaces but not dark ones. In the first game, most of the surfaces were light so you had to work out where your portal needed to go. In Portal 2, most of the surfaces are dark, so you can bluff through many chambers just by placing portals anywhere you see a light patch. This eliminates the puzzle-solving aspect and feels like they’re babying us a bit, and Portal really isn’t a game where you can baby the gamer; they need to be able to solve puzzles. That’s the whole point.

The Cubes

Someone has redesigned the cubes between the last game and this one, and I don’t know why. Also, they’re ugly now.

Pictured: my Weighted Companion Cube. ❤

 

 

Pictured: Not my Weighted Companion Cube. 😥

 

The Fat Turret

that features during the single-player campaign. Why doesn’t that come into the co-op campaign? If not, what’s it for? Why’s it there? There seems to be a whole subculture you hinted at in the final seconds for no reason and with no explanation.

 

What’s the Solution?

Valve has done well to avoid making the exact same game as last time (except for the co-op, which pretty much is), and the only issues here are niggling ones which you wouldn’t even notice if you haven’t played the first Portal.

Oh, and do something more interesting with the co-op. Tell us what’s going on with the big turret, or show us Aperture from a robot’s perspective, rather than just showing us the courses designed for humans again.

 

Worth Playing?

Absolutely. It’s innovative, impressive, puzzling, and funny. And it messes with your mind!

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