There is no real way to start this review other than saying, Portal 2 isn’t your average video game, it’s something much more. Looking back, the original Portal was actually more of a “filler” to the bigger bundled title, “The Orange Box”, that included Half-Life 2, Half-Life 2: Episode One, Half-Life 2: Episode Two, and Team Fortress 2. Anyone who is honest will tell you that they really bought “The Orange Box” for the Half-Life games and Team Fortress 2. Portal turned out to be a surprise hit and set the events in motion that have led up to the development and release of Portal 2.
You are going to read reviews that tell you Portal 2 is the best thing since sliced bread and a must own. The thing that I want to be honest about however, is that this is NOT a game for everyone. The core of Portal 2 is made up of a series of puzzles that you have to solve. The puzzles are solved by using the “portal gun” to teleport you and certain basic objects from one point to another. This is all done in a way that eventually gets you to the other side of the area you are in. The “portal gun” is an interesting piece of hardware that allows you to create portals between flat planes. This allows you to shoot a portal in one place, then shoot another portal somewhere else and walkthrough the first, and come out through the second one. Confused yet? In the end, there are several different components of how portals work, which you will have to master. This is due in part to the fact that when traveling between portals, objects will maintain their speed and momentum. Why does this matter? Well there are several puzzles that require you to propel yourself at a high velocity to get from one point to another. So let’s say there is a platform across the room that you need to get to, and the only feature of the room is a pit that is several feet below you. In order for you to get to the platform, you would need to shoot a portal down into the pit, shoot another portal on the wall opposite the platform, and then jump down into the portal of the pit. The velocity you picked up while falling through the portal at the bottom of the pit will be maintained coming out of the portal on the wall, and thus propel you to the platform across the room. What I have just described to you is a very basic puzzle in Portal 2. Most of the puzzles are much more complex, and require multiple steps to complete. If your head hurts right now, then I’m not going to lie to you, Portal 2 is probably not the game for you. If however, your head doesn’t hurt and this makes you very excited, read on because it’s going to get good.
In Portal 2 you return as the protagonist, Chell, who has been in stasis for what we come to find out has been several hundred years. You are awakened by Wheatley, a personality core who is quite funny. The Aperture Science facility is falling apart and Wheatley needs you to escape. He promises that if you help him, he will lead you to an escape route. After some bumbling around you make it to the surface and are confronted with the lifeless shell of GLaDOS, a rogue A.I. that you have history with. One of the advantages to having Wheatley around is that he can plug in to ports around the facility, and do different things for you. At that point, all you need to do is have Wheatley hack the system and let you out. As you can imagine though, it’s not that simple. Wheatley does something seriously wrong and instead of letting you out, he reactivates GLaDOS. GLaDOS as you’ll find out is not too happy to see you. She quickly scoops up and “crushes” Wheatley and sends you back into the dilapidated Aperture Sciences facility to apparently run test until … well … you die.
Portal 2 is just a delightful change of pace from the action packed, ultra chaotic games that seem to be the popular norm these days. To beat this game you won’t have to get into any kind of actual fight, and you won’t fire one single bullet (though maybe a laser beam every now and then). The beautiful thing about this game is that your biggest weapon is your mind, and the only obstacle most times is your ability to imagine and visualize a possible solution.
If there is one thing I am kind of lukewarm about when it comes to Portal 2, it would be the difficulty of some of the puzzles. Some puzzles are very simple and others are insanely difficult – like throw a joystick hard. In most games the challenges get progressively harder, but in Portal 2 that isn’t always the case. From one perspective I could look at this as a game design feature that is meant to keep you on your feet and give your brain a rest now and then, but I don’t think that was the intention.
In the end though, Portal 2 is one of those unique games that you just can’t forget. The team at Valve have managed to buck most of the standard norms while still delivering one of the best games you will play this year. The game by itself would be awesome enough, but Cross Game Play/Chat with Steam just takes it to a whole other level (if PSN ever comes back up) bringing the world of consoles and PC together in a way that hasn’t been done until now. For all my folks out there that appreciate a real challenge, this is the game for you. To my chess players who thrive on the types of games that demand that you be able to see several moves ahead, this is for you as well. Portal 2 isn’t the kind of game that everyone will like. Everyone won’t have the patience and that is ok. I respect the fact that Valve refused to dumb their game down for fear it wouldn’t be accepted by the masses. I still don’t know if the masses will take to it and give it the credit that the gameplay commands. All I can say is if you want a truly challenging game to take up some time, pick up Portal 2. Valve did a hell of a job in delivering a sequel that captures the spirit of the original while creating a bit of magic that is all its own. We give Portal 2 by Valve 8.5 out of 10.