Friday, June 3, 2011

Killer Reviews: Portal 2 by Jerry

Introduction/Initial Thoughts

Valve released the sequel to its innovative and popular game Portal on April 19th, 2011 but can they keep momentum in the sequel or is it doomed to go cakeless? In this installment I take on GLaDOS, again, to see if this game is worth the hype this time on, Killer Reviews.


Portal 2, as you would assume, takes place after the first installment and some time after the events of Half-Life 2. Aperture Labs has fallen into great disarray through the years but even after GLaDOS’ apparent destruction following the events of the first Portal the malicious AI is still functional but laying dormant.
In the single player campaign you play once again as Chell, the ever reticent protagonist from the first game, who awakens to find herself in a storage unit dressed up as a welcoming hotel room. Chell is almost immediately greeted by a blue-eye personality core named Wheatley who is dead set on escaping the facility with your help. During your escape Chell discovers that GLaDOS is still functional and is still holding a grudge against Chell for “murdering” her all those years ago.
GLaDOS begins to rebuild the ruined facility, now that her rival test subject has been revived, and forces Chell to participate in more tests. With help from Wheatley you escape the test chambers and confront GLaDOS a second time forcing her to relinquish command to Wheatley. Wheatley then becomes drunk with power and forces you to team up with your arch-enemy in order to take down yet another psychotic albeit idiotic and dull-witted AI.
The cooperative campaign not only introduces two new characters but, has its own unique plot and setting making the co-op experience an anomalous and enjoyable one. You are thrust into the control one of two modified robots equipped with portal guns and are sent, by GLaDOS, through a complicated series of test chambers known as the “Cooperative Testing Initiative” and takes place chronologically after the single player campaign.
Unlike Chell these robots, dubbed Atlas and P-body make “expressive noises” in order to communicate and were developed to work in concert with each other. Atlas and P-body are taken through 5 test chambers, four of which prepare the bots to “venture outside” in order to retrieve a data disk leading to a location known as the “Vault” where GLaDOS claims more humans can be found.

Score: 8.0


Portal 2 uses the same engine as the first installment but the developers have made improvements to the engine itself to make way for any new games they release. The Source engine has made some great leaps in the years Valve has been using it by taking several aspects and models from their other games including the dynamic lighting model used in the first “Left 4 Dead” and the innovative dynamic music generation program used in the “Left 4 Dead” sequel. In addition to these, due to the new fluids introduced to the game, Valve had to develop a new physics/texture model called “blob-tech” allowing the accelerant and repellant fluids interact with the environment correctly. All of these factors are used to create an inviting environment which would otherwise be cold and bland.
The developers at Valve make Portal 2 an experience that is not only as satisfying as the first, but gives the environment much needed personality, and even emotion. I think the most interesting thing about Portal 2 and its environment is that you get to tread and explore more varied areas than the first such as the bowels of the Aperture Science Facility, but also some spaces where nature itself has began to retake after the facility has fallen into disrepair. Several rooms must be reassembled due to this as well which gives the environment, as said earlier, far more personality than in the first and can be considered a character in its own right.

Score: 7.0


Portal 2 makes no real changes to the controls or even the gameplay, except for the usage of 3 new gels making the game familiar without being just another stale remake. In the long run you need to think of the first Portal as a brave experiment in which we see gameplay aspects from the games forefather, Narbacular Drop, introduced into a regularly combat heavy genre in order to create a new and exciting sub-genre in games. The sequel on the other hand takes these elements and adds more from the innovative minds at Digipen to create a new yet comfortably familiar feel to an already ground-breaking model.
Gameplay in Portal 2 involves entering a chamber, solving the containing puzzle, and leaving just to start the process over again. Portal 2, like in its predecessor, breaks up an otherwise mind-numbing task into a fun and entertaining laundry list of tasks by use of the Portal Gun. This time around the developers introduce several new objects and mechanics into the game including: blue Repellant Gel which causes your character to be propelled away from surfaces, orange Accelerant Gel which drastically increases you running speed along a surface, and white Conduction Gel allowing you to spawn portals on surfaces which you otherwise are unable to, and more.
These gels as well as the rest of the new Portal 2 items and mechanics spice up a game which would otherwise be a longer copy of Valve’s first innovative and surprisingly popular gaming experiment.

Score: 9.0

Writing and Casting

Portal’s original writer Erik Wolpaw returns to write the games script in additional to Chet Faliszek, main writer behind the Left 4 Dead series, and National Lampoons Jay Pinkerton. The three split forces to work on the single and co-op campaign which was developed in tight coordination with the gameplay to produce a more “intimate feel” for the game and to prevent from revealing spoilers when describing achievements in-game. The story and script mirrors many of the ideas and elements in the pervious game to contrast the destruction of the Aperature Science Facility during Portal, which gives the building a “living breathing place”.
Ellen McLain returns in the sequel to reprise her role as the murderous AI GLaDOS but isn’t the only great voice actor casted. The ever eccentric Wheatley is brought to life by British writer, comedian, and actor Steven Merchant who makes an otherwise dull blue-eyed orb burst with satirical hilarity. Aperture founder and CEO, Cave Johnson, is voiced by J.K. Simmons who is the perfect fit for the character who spits out side-splitting information about Aperture’s earlier experiments and plays a pivotal role in the introduction of the new gels.

Score: 9.0

Final Thoughts

Portal 2 subtly adds elements to an otherwise flawless gameplay model and strictly emphasizes the “If it isn’t broken don’t fix it” philosophy that so many sequels ignore. When you combine the single player and multiplayer campaign’s plots you can look forward to upwards of 10 hours of gameplay which is nearly 5 times the content included in the first installment. Sadly this boost of content leaves no real reason for repeat playthroughs and they’ve added no additional test chambers as they did with the first game.
The additional features, on the other hand, can give you many reasons to return to Aperture’s halls including promotional videos, in-game developer commentary, and several hidden Easter Eggs. The plot is nothing to write home about but the script makes up for it as it is filled with witty humor and laugh-out-loud moments. All in all Portal 2 is an experience well worth the 4 year wait and is worth picking up and even buying if you enjoyed the first or even if you enjoy puzzle games in general.

Score: 8.0

Total Score: 8.2


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