Portal 2 is an interesting beast. Having never played a Portal game before I went into this one not knowing exactly what to expect. Would I be lost in the story? Would the puzzles be too hard? One might be tempted to look at it like any other first-person game, but that would be a mistake. Portal 2 is a game like no other. It is a puzzler, true, but it is also a piece of interactive fiction. It is a thinking man’s game and a game for the non-gamer. Portal 2, quite simply, is an experience that should not be missed.
Graphics and 3D
If I told you that Portal runs on the same engine as Half-Life 2, you probably would not believe me, but it is true. Valve has been iterating on it is engine, over and over again through the years, updating the look and shine, all while keeping the most necessary elements familiar and enticing.
The effort the Steam Team has put into revolutionizing Source is evident. The game simply looks amazing. High quality textures realize expansive and varied environments. The smallest test chamber looks as good as the biggest, and somehow lake-holding, open-air chamber. Valve has taken special care to give plenty of treats to the more observant gamer, so you are rewarded for looking for even the smallest of details. Character models and animations are top-notch for the platform, yet maintain the stylized charm that characterizes Valve games.
If you have nVidia 3D Vision, you are in for a treat. The game was designed from the ground up with 3D in mind and it shows. The Ultra-HD effect we often mention here is in full swing. I caught myself several times sitting over just how detailed the portal gun is. The use of depth is great and really draws you into the experience. When you are climbing from platform to platform, ever higher above a deep and muddy lake, you feel the sense of height when you look down. You do not want to fall because you are worried about losing your progress; no, you don’t want to fall because damn it is a long way down.
This is, simply put, one of the best examples of 3D you will find. Bravo Valve and nVidia. Job well done.
This is one of the most outside-the-box puzzle games you will ever play. Portal 2 moves from chamber to chamber (some small, some huge, all sectioned off) where you will be challenged with getting to the exit. Everything is driven by story, however, and some great voice work leads on a suspenseful journey from the labyrinthine underground testing facility towards the surface; friends become enemies, enemies become friends, and you will feel totally and completely immersed in the experience by the time you are done.
The game’s main tool is the portal gun. With it, you can shoot an orange and a blue portal, which allows you to step into one and out the other. High up platform? Put a portal through the wall it is attached to, another in the floor beneath your feet, and instantly you are falling… out onto that high platform. The game structures these challenges to get progressively more difficult, but I never felt frustrated. Any time I failed, it was because I was over-thinking it. That is not to say the design is simplistic or without challenge. On the contrary, there is some truly excellent game design here, and I always walked away from each puzzle with the satisfaction that I had “gotten it.” Portal 2 hits that special sweet spot so many games aim for.
As you progress, more tools are added into the equation. You will get leaky pipes spouting blue bounce gel or orange slime that gives you super-speed. You’ll even find pipes spouting white gel that allows you put portals where you might not otherwise be able. The challenge comes in strategically coating the environment with just the right combination of gels, which often involved using portals to spread the love.
The combination of story and unique game play makes Portal 2 a great addition to the franchise.
Oh, and I tried it with both an Xbox 360 controller and a mouse and keyboard. Stick with mouse and keyboard. There is a subtle dead zone in the controller that removes some of the precision you will cherish in the more complex puzzles.
Room For Improvement?
However, no game is perfect and Portal 2 has it is own set of flaws. Sometimes the perspective changes when hopping through portals can be extremely disorienting. I can appreciate the skill it takes to perfectly place a blue portal as you are flipping and falling through the air but at times it went so far as to induce motion sickness – a common complaint against the series. In these situations, I had to turn 3D completely off. Yes, even 3D can be too good at times.
The game also seemed to drag a bit in the later half. By the time I was scrambling through the game’s most massive environments, I was ready to move on – enjoying the depth and enormity of the puzzles, but ready to move on nonetheless. There is a big twist in the middle, which is great, but the suspense seems to taper off as you’re lead from close off location to closed off location. The ending is great, by the way, but I won’t spoil it for you here.
As someone who never played a portal game before, I had my reservations going into this one. I expected to be lost in the story and, even worse, I feared that so much of the wonder people exuded when talking about the original would be lost on me. I will admit it; I doubted the concept, the simplicity of it is the great deceiver. I was wrong.
Getting in there banished my fears and replaced them with dreams of orange and blue portals. I started to think in portals, strategize with blue and orange and white goo, plot of precise laser trajectories. Before the end, I was on the edge of my seat waiting to see what would happen next. All this in no small part brought to fruition by the power of 3D technology. Portal 2 has its shortcomings, but in a game of this scope, and with so much making this game a “must buy,” they don’t detract from the greater experience; we’ll save making mountains from molehills and give this game our full recommendation.
Portal 2 – 5 Stars
Summary: A wonderful experience that is ready to expand the franchise into the full-game experience. Newcomers need not be afraid. Though the game is simple in concept, it weaves an entertaining narrative brought to life with great graphics and intricate level design. The game tends to drag in the middle and may cause motion sickness in those susceptible to it. Even with those issues, this is an easy recommendation to any PC gamer.