There's a very good reason Portal 2 was my second most anticipated game this year. Actually, there are many good reasons. Foremost is the quality of the original game. It's not very often a game comes along that makes the kind of tidal waves in the gaming world that Portal did.
It was innovative. It was fun. It was hysterical. And the cake was a lie.
I was a bit surprised when they announcement for Portal 2 came along. I must admit I was skeptical whether the concept would work beyond a brief standalone game. I thought honestly that Valve had shot their wad with portal-based puzzles and passive-aggressive artificial intelligence. But, hey, it's Valve. They sure take a long time developing games, but it generally pays off.
|Just one example of the immense set pieces in Portal 2.|
Portal 2 is considerably longer than the first game. Most people report 8-10 hours of gameplay for the single player. That's about right. I'd say it's more like 7-9 for seasoned Portal veterans. In either case, it's at least twice as long as the original game which ran about 3 hours tops.
The increased length means there's a lot more time for developing an involved plot and more intricate puzzles. Without giving anything away, we meet a few new characters and, of course, experience the return of GLaDOS, who is indeed still alive.
In true Valve fashion, as much of the story is told through dialog and actions as through the setting itself. Aperture Laboratories look quite a bit different this time around. Let's just say the complex is more vast than the original game ever suggested. The diverse scenery helps relieve the fatigue of testing in those grayscale antiseptic chambers that make up the entirety of the first game.
The tests themselves are kept fresh and new by the addition of several new elements given hilariously silly titles such as "Thermal Discouragement Beams" (lasers), "Arial Faith Plates" (basically spring-loaded panels), and several liquid gels with various helpful properties such as portal conductivity or speed enhancement.
|The new test elements are fantastic additions to the game.|
Most of the times I got stuck were during the transitional portions of the game when you're going from one series of tests from another. These portions are the weakest part of the game. I was sometimes unsure where I was supposed to go next. When I finally figured out that I could portal over to that tiny little panel and then to fling myself up to that ledge, I felt kinda dumb for missing it. But in the chambers themselves I never felt this kind of frustration.
Writing was a huge part of the original game. No one expected it to be as funny as it was. Portal 2 is still very much a comedic experience. Again, the comedy is just as much derived from the environment as the characters' dialog. Both are well-crafted and generally work well. Only very occasionally did I feel the writers were trying too hard or that a joke fell flat. I wish I could put some of my favourite lines from the game here, but I don't want to ruin them.
Portal 2's a solid gaming experience that lives up to its unique predecessor in almost every way. Of course it isn't as fresh. By nature, a sequel can't be. My only real disappointment is that the game doesn't give any insights into what's going on in the Half-Life storyline. But it would be wrong to fault a game for lack of information about another game even one so anticipated as Episode 3.
In the end, the game plays great, it looks as good as any Source engine game has so far (which is to say dated, but with good art direction all the same.) The ending is fun, funny, and satisfying. That's about all any reasonable gamer could ask for. The replay value might be somewhat limited, but co-op mode is decently fun if you have a buddy ready and willing to play. Worth $50? Depends on how big a fan you are. If you haven't gotten it already you might consider waiting for a Steam sale.
Now let's hear something about Episode 3, Valve!
I don't think it's giving anything away to say that, like the original game, Portal 2 has a Jonathan Coulton penned ending song and, in my opinion, it's just as good as the famed "Still Alive."