Portal 2 Review

Russ Pitts | 19 Apr 2011 00:01
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Portal was a child star. Precocious. Naïve. Too innocent to understand that gamers' love is often fatuous, that the attention would be dependent upon repeat performances and that the fame would be fleeting and could quickly turn to hate. Portal 2 is that child star grown up. It's bigger, more self-aware and a bit more polished. It is also still reaching for the innocent laughs although its innocence has long since fled. It is still tap-dancing in its pre-teen tutu, showing too much leg and reminding us simultaneously of how much we loved the innocent it used to be and the fact that it will never be that innocent again.

Portal, the pseudo-indie puzzle game that seemingly came out of nowhere, captured gamers' imaginations with its revolutionary puzzle action and unpolished indie charm. How to take that indie darling, then, and buff it out, bulk it up and repackage it as a stand-alone AAA retail game would seem to be the real magic trick, and developer Valve, god love them, has put their all into it, with mixed results.

Portal 2 comes with both a single-player campaign (that's a full three times as long as the original game) and a two-player co-op mode that will let you solve puzzles either online with friends or via splitscreen with good friends. Both modes feature new twists, additional puzzle elements and plenty of the tongue-in-cheek "Science will kill us all" humor that made the original such a gem.

In the single-player campaign, you will play once again as Chell, the mute, orange-jumpsuited lady with bionic feet from the first game. Never mind how that's possible, considering the end of the first game depicted her escape from the self-destructing Aperture Science lab. (Developer Valve "updated" the game last year, adding a new ending in which Chell is dragged back toward the underground science lab immediately after emerging victorious.) Things, it would appear, change. Portal 2 asks that you roll with it.

You awake, as Chell, after a very, very long time in hibernation and are immediately thrown back into the test chamber in order to find a means of escaping once again. This time, however, GLaDOS, the sinister A.I., is offline and you are guided by both an automated series of announcements explaining how to properly respond to the end of the world, and Wheatley, a helpful - if dumb - robot companion with a chipper English accent.

Although the story is full of the same psychotic charm that made the original so much fun, it suffers from having too much game upon which to spread so little. As you progress from test to test, you will go on a virtual tour of Aperture's past, traveling through the dark back-corridors of the facility as well as deep into the basement, on a tour of the company's long history of making people suffer in the name of science. But the interaction (or lack thereof) with a succession of disembodied voices wears out its welcome well before the end, leaving the puzzle platforming gameplay and ingenious new touches to carry the weight on their own.

The good news is that the gameplay does carry its weight. The levels may not seem as devious or as interesting (perhaps owing to familiarity with the underlying portal mechanic), but the puzzles and environments are sufficiently varied and interesting enough to make the trip back down into Aperture's version of hell seem fun. And with a host of new environmental hazards and helps, Portal 2 definitely delivers on "new and interesting."

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