She has a Medical Degree. In fashion. From France.
HIGH My co-op partner's reaction to me falling onto a springboard and being flung to my death.
LOW If I think of one I'll you'll be the first to know.
WTF Has anyone ever seen Chell and Zoey from Left 4 Dead in the same room at the same time?
Innovation. That's a word that gets thrown around a lot in game reviews, and rarely is it ever really deserved. Portal was an exception. From its humble origins as a student project at DigiPen, Portal's innovative (See? See what I did there?) yet stunningly simple mechanics did things that truly had not been done before. On top of that, the game managed to do those things with a very distinct style and fantastic writing. Having aced all areas of the test, Portal is a legitimate all-time classic.
So it's worth asking the question—does Portal 2 need to exist?
Just because it's a classic doesn't mean there aren't things to criticize in Portal. For example, the game was only about three hours long, the environments were sterile, and some of the puzzle mechanics became repetitive by the later levels. Don't get me wrong—it's a fantastic game, but it felt…small. Even considering how good it was, it still didn't seem to have reached its full potential. Fortunately for us, Portal 2 fills that potential with luscious, gooey gel.
The Portals are, at their cold and dismissive hearts, puzzle games. There is a succession of levels with steadily increasing difficulty and a specific solution (usually) that the player has to find. It's a very traditional setup that gaming has used since ancient times—here's your goal, now figure out how to get it. Of course, the key to making all of this unique is the portal gun itself. "Thinking with portals" is a very apt phrase, since the portal gun makes the player think in a very different way than most other puzzlers. The challenge is not simply "how do I get past these obstacles?", but "how do I make the obstacles work for me?"
The single-player campaign of Portal 2 clocks in at about twelve hours (give or take depending on your puzzle-solving prowess), assuaging anyone who thought the first game needed to be beefier. The obstacles are much more varied this time around, and new toys are introduced at such a rate that any sense of staleness is kept safely at bay. The "ohhhhh" moments of finally realizing the solution to a given puzzle are as enthralling as ever, and if you'll permit me to get a little less serious for a moment, the portal gun is still just plain cool.
Fun toys and good puzzle design would be enough to make a good game on their own, but Portal wrapped all of the goodies in a funny and memorable package; GLaDOS. The cake is a lie. Weighted companion cube. Still Alive. Anyone who hasn't been living under a cube probably knows what those things are even if they've never played Portal. Its notoriety far outpaced anything the game itself could have possibly achieved with mechanics alone, and Portal 2keeps the flame going in this regard.
The humor on display is still crisp and biting as GLaDOS picks up right where she left off with her gleefully condescending monologues. However, Portal 2 takes quite a few steps beyond simple gallows humor and inserts a bit of real character. The story that is steadily revealed about the Aperture facility and the origins of GLaDOS, while still amusing, actually made me feel for her. (Just a little bit.) Add in Stephen Merchant's Wheatley and a delightful appearance by JK Simmons (who arguably outshines GLaDOS herself) and we've got an experience that matches the original in terms atmosphere. Writing and voice acting can make the difference between a good game and a great one, and it's a concept that Erik Wolpaw and company seem to understand perfectly.
Now if what I just described was all Portal 2 had to offer, then it would be more or less a meatier version of the first game. That's still a damn good game, but it's not quite in the upper echelon with some of my other favorites. However, Portal 2 also comes with one of the most ingenious and enjoyable co-op modes that I've ever played. It's this aspect that pushes it beyond the original and makes it a great game in its own right.
The addition of a second player with a portal gun makes for some wonderful possibilities. The process of solving puzzles collectively with the other player is an absolute blast, and GLaDOS's amusing little chats carry over seamlessly. It's also a riot when one of the players (usually me) thinks to himself "oh yeah I know how to do this" and then proceeds to throw himself to an incredibly amusing death. Besides, the co-op robots are just so… cute. Both my partner and I developed a childlike fascination with messing around with the extra portals and the robots' various gestures. Again, adding that extra sense of feeling is what pushes it past a merely mechanically impressive experience.
However, because the enjoyment of co-op is so strongly tied to solving puzzles together with a partner, I very strongly recommend that the co-op mode be played with someone who doesn't know the solutions to all the puzzles. Playing with someone who had already been through them all made me feel like I was just tagging along, and GLaDOS was all too quick to reinforce that notion. Besides, the little race to see who can solve the puzzle first is quite thrilling.
So do we need Portal 2? Do I need it? Maybe not, but I'm sure as hell glad it exists. The portal aspect has probably reached its zenith in Portal 2, and given the way the game ends I don't think there's much room for a Portal 3. Indeed, I would say it's time for portals to branch their physics-defying awesomeness into other genres. Think of it—someday we critics might snarkily dismiss "run of the mill portals" as a mundane, outdated mechanic like key fetch quests or unskippable cut-scenes. However, in the meantime we can give Portal 2 the jubilant praise it so rightly deserves.
Disclosures: This game was obtained via Steam purchase and reviewed on the PC. Approximately 12 hours of play was devoted to completing the single-player mode once and 3 hours of play in multiplayer modes.
Parents: According to the ESRB, this game contains fantasy violence and mild language. Only the harshest moms and dads will have anything to worry about here. However, be worried if your kids start building testing facilities for the dog.
Deaf & Hard of Hearing: The game is totally accessible. Not only can spoken lines be subtitled, but even incidental sounds like explosions and the opening/closing of portals can be shown as text.
- The Bridge Crew 17: Wail of the Nightdreamer - May 18, 2022
- The Bridge Crew 16: The Leap Home - February 26, 2022
- The Bridge Crew 15: Two Less Lonely People in the World - January 10, 2022
Not to denigrate Portal’s timeworthiness, because I did find it a compellingly entertaining use of about ten hours of my life, but I must say the “innovative” label is applied to Portal more liberally than is warranted. What was most innovative about Portal was not, as most people celebrate, the game-changing concept of incorporating physics-warping portals and variable gravity into a first-person puzzler, though they were fundamental to the experience; the first time I encountered them was in the game Prey, which was released at least a year earlier than Portal after languishing in development hell as vaporware for more… Read more »
I just had to chime in and share with everyone: there’s tons of games I’d give a ten, and few would agree with many of my choices. That’s because, all that it really takes for me to give a game a ten is to LOVE the game. No one should ever seek actual perfection in a video game…it doesn’t exist. But something close exists, and it manifests itself when someone is just undeniably happy. Like when you see a girl/guy and think they are perfection…they aren’t, but through the eyes of the beholder, they might as well be. They are.… Read more »
Eric Wolpaw gave a talk about making Portal 2 (and OldManMurray, and other stuff) at the NYU GameCenter last week, thought I’d share some highlights: * The original plan for Portal 2 was to replace portals with a completely different gameplay mechanic Wolpaw called F-Stop (he wouldn’t talk more about it as they may still use it in a future game), and development went with this new mechanic for a good half year. But it was scrapped when Valve noticed that everyone they brought in to playtest was asking for portals/glaDOS/more-of-the-same-but-better. * Someone asked for advice about becoming a writer… Read more »
Just to clear it up, BOTH Portal and Portal 2 mechanics were originally from DigiPen student projects. See this story: http://www.npr.org/2011/04/19/135511250/portal-2-a-student-video-game-project-all-grown-up.
I couldn’t agree with you more. This game has all of the makings of one of the best games of all time. Great puzzles, a cool new take on a brand new approach to puzzle games and fps games alike, a superb story with witty humor, cool new technology, impressive graphics and a challenging single and co-op experience. I’m not entirely sure what there is to harp on about this game other than it’s length. If you play both modes though you have well over 30 hours of gameplay unless one of you already knows how to solve all of… Read more »
Love the review, Richard! Portal 2 had everything that I wanted: a longer campaign, more complex puzzles and a deeper story. I am playing the co-op game now, and it is truly brilliant. I don’t know why you are getting so much criticism for this review. The only thing I can gather is that this game was overhyped in some peoples’ minds to such a great degree that Valve could never have made them happy. Sure, the game is linear, but so was Portal. And so are plenty of other games that I just adore. I loved the humor, the… Read more »
Portal 2 was a fine game, but not a 10. Considering it’s ancient level design (room, hallway, room, hallway), how heavily it leans on it’s predecessor, and the absolute lack of replay value, this game is not a 10. It’s that last one that bothers me the most. Games are going online to artificially pad the amount of time you spend playing it. Multiplayers are a great way to turn a 6 hour game into a 60 hour game. Bioware goes for broke with it’s singleplayer, and I have 100 hours into 4 playthroughs of ME2. And ME2 has enough… Read more »
I was always under the impression that Portal was created because there wasn’t enough time and it was too hard to merge with HL: Episode 2, so that’s why it was left out and made into its own separate game (in The Orange Box). Sorta like how Valve made changes to their gravity gun in 2004’S Half Life 2 because they encountered development issues in the “pick up and throw objects” process. I can’t find an exact article on the subject via Google but I do distinctly remember reading that in a couple magazines back when Portal came out –… Read more »
[quote=”Scott C.”]which was just a tech demo of an unused Half life 2 concept[/quote] Unless you know something I don’t, this is wrong. Portal began as a student project at DigiPen, and in a nutshell Valve caught wind of it and decided to bring the guys that were making in-house. The portal mechanic (as we know it now) wasn’t even being tinkered with when HL2 was being made. [quote=”Crofto”]Oh, Richard. I never thought in a million years you were gonna give it a 10 after hearing you on the podcast. I know you sounded very positive and enthusiastic about the… Read more »
[quote=Scott C.](which was just a tech demo of an unused Half life 2 concept)[/quote]
That isn’t true at all. The first was a tech demo, but it was never an unused concept of HL2. Otherwise, I don’t agree with anything you said.
Anyway, it is rare on this site I ever get the feeling the reviewer was trying to have fun playing a game. This review, however, is from someone who truly had fun playing a game and awarded it so.
Isn’t that always what games should be about?
Oh, Richard. =[
I never thought in a million years you were gonna give it a 10 after hearing you on the podcast. I know you sounded very positive and enthusiastic about the game, but when Brad fairly criticised it you didn’t seem to disagree much, which tells me right there that you know this isn’t a genuine 10/10 game.
I guess it comes down to, once again, how someone perceives a 10/10 score.
10 out of 10? Seriously? First we have hipster/”witty” humor that didn’t make me smirk even once (ohhh, I get it…because the robot has a British accent, he’s funny…I feel like the people who “just crack up” at Portal 2’s humor are either very young and/or have never been exposed to British comedy and indie comedy…Portal’s Wheatley and GlaDOS aren’t that terribly unique). Second, yet another game with a good guy/bad guy flip-flop halfway through…great. Third, what’s up with the retro Aperture bit halfway through? Again, reminded me of Bioshock, Fallout, etc. Fourth, I hated the gel. Did it add… Read more »