Portal 2 Review

Portal was one of the most innovative games of this decade, effectively creating its own genre by mixing a first person shooter with a puzzle game, adding physics and the usual Valve touch. Portal 2 expands on that premise, adding more to the storyline and providing cooperative gameplay, as well as doubling the length of the single-player mode.

Portal 2 is one of the few games that actually pushes you to play through the whole thing and to not stop until you do so.

Story / Gameplay: 10/10
Portal 2 starts off with your unknown character in a room, waking up after 50 days in suspension. You are directed to do some cognitive tasks, required by local and federal regulations of course, which also serves a purpose to familiarize you with the most basic controls. You are directed to go back to bed, which starts the first chapter.

Chapter 1 begins with you being woken up after “99999…” days by Wheatley, the Personality Core. Wheatley, voiced by Stephen Merchant (Co-Writer of the original show, The Office), tries to calm you down while explaining to you that you that you might have a “very minor case of…serious brain damage.” After a bit of voice acting fun, he starts divulging information to you and explains that that the machines didn’t wake everyone up and apparently 10,000 other test subjects were likely vegetables by now. All of this is happening while the room is shaking like crazy and is being broken free of its foundation. Wheatley tries to break you into a building using a crane and smashing you into it several times so you can go find the Portal Gun.

The first few sections are there to get new users used to some of the dynamics and how the basic functions in the game work. After you complete the first section of tests, you get to an elevator which eventually leads you to getting the first Portal Gun. The computer places the first portal in a location for you. You see Wheatley one more time before dropping through glass trying to get the portal gun.

The writing of Wheatley, in combination with the excellent voice-acting, attach you to the character, while providing comic relief throughout the game. It’s rare for a character in a video game to be so personable, and his character is not only funny, but I thoroughly enjoyed having him there while playing. You actually feel detached when you are separated from Wheatley and even miss having the character around when you are doing some of the levels alone.

The storyline is unique and carries well with the previous game, improving on many things and even conveys emotion that really makes Portal 2 standout from the rest. On top of that, the gameplay itself entrenches you so much into the game that you actually want to complete the level by yourself. Admittedly, I did resort to looking an area or two up, because they honestly throw you into tasks with no explanation on where you need to go and what you need to do. The first 4 Chapters were reasonable and I was beginning to think I’d have the game finished the first day. Everything gets progressively harder after that and you you still haven’t gotten into the new gel physics levels yet. Not to further the spoiling, but when you do get to the gel physics levels, it’s probably some of the most fun I’ve had with a game.

I can’t really say enough about the gameplay and storyline without spoiling everything. This is a game that needs to be tried out and played through. The level design and easter eggs can provide extra hours in the game for those who like to explore, which is something that I like to do on occasion.

Replay Value: 8/10
The replay value is one weak spot for this game at the moment. With the introduction of cooperative gameplay, the replay value of this game is increased significantly from its predecessor, but there is definitely room for growth here.

There are several hours worth of gameplay in co-op, and it’s actually the first game from Valve that supports cross-platform gameplay with users on a console system – the Playstation 3 in this case. This expands out the user-base, which will allow for easy match-making with more users when you get into cooperative play. Plus, with the fairly recent addition of adding Mac compatibility, there are even more players to game with.

Replaying the single-player mode on this game is not very likely for me. It’s one of the few games that I honestly felt good about after completing everything, but I don’t think I’ll be hopping back to play through it again. The game boasts around 12 hours of gameplay in the single-player mode (at least that’s about how long I took), and you honestly feel fulfilled after playing through it all – especially for the solid and very cool ending.

I would like to see more development with the cooperative mode – perhaps a release of a multiplayer mode like they discussed during the development process? Originally they were going to allow 4 people to play against each other or on teams, with the goal to either complete a puzzle or to kill other players. Valve claimed this mode was too buggy and gave way too many opportunities for players to just shoot a portal underneath the other person causing grief. Valve is usually good at providing updates to their games, so we’ll see what is added over the next few months.

Graphics: 9/10
The graphics in Portal 2 are stunning to say the least. Despite the age of the Source Engine, Valve has once-again created a game that looks visually pleasing, while capable of being played on a video card that won’t run you over $100. They’ve tweaked the engine more and added post-processing effects, as well as some new physics for the gel stages.

The environments in the game are what really bring everything alive, enveloping you into the game – making you feel like you are in a building that has sat vacant for several decades. Everything is overrun with plant overgrowth and most of the structure is in poor condition, which allows for flickering lights, sparks, as well as smoke and particle effects.

With these new effects, there were some minor issues when I finally made my way to the gel levels. When the gel floats in the fields that suspend matter, it would collect in globules and travel across the map. I noticed it would stop ejecting the gel after a bit – and I could see why. My framerate cut down from over 300 down to the mid-100s – I know.. I was running this on my 6950 at 1080P, but this wasn’t the issue. The gel actually started to glitch out and didn’t really run smoothly. As far as I know, it wasn’t an issue with the graphics drivers, but it still annoys me to not have those rough spots smoothed out. There were a few other minor graphical glitches in the game – not anything serious, just minor cosmetics. Other than that, the graphics in the game were well crafted and supported the story well.

Audio: 10/10
Valve has always put out some of the most detailed audio in games. There are several variations of every sound effect and noise you hear in their games, which allows the game to feel more realistic and personable. In the first Portal, some of the sound effects were simply audio reused from previous Valve games. The voice acting and music was the primary focus in their audio department. In Portal 2, every sound effect suits the location and item. The voice acting by everyone, especially Steven Merchant’s role as Wheatley, is superb and really brings you into the game itself. Listening to this in surround sound was almost cinematic and really brought me into the game.

Controls: 9/10
One thing Valve put out for Left 4 Dead was a service called “Steam Cloud.” This service allows the synchronization of settings in games that support Steam Cloud. When I first launched Portal 2, Steam Cloud didn’t transfer my controls and settings from Left 4 Dead 2, which caused a few issues – like my microphone being activated automatically. It seemed that everyone had this issue to start with on co-op mode. I was quickly able to change that back to my usual ALT key.

One thing I didn’t particularly care for was the creating of a console-friendly menu that limited some of the normal Valve menu functionality by default. I always enable the console access when I get my games setup, but one thing I noticed when I first started playing was the game didn’t look 100%. I went into my graphics settings to max everything out and began to make the usual adjustments. The problem was, when you click on each setting to modify them, it brings up a prompt explaining what that change would be doing. Honestly, if I’m in that menu modifying those settings, I know what they are going to do. I could understand doing that once, but every time you go in there to make changes, you get the prompt for each category. Unless you are very specific on how you hit the keys, you have to cancel out of that prompt each time. I had to dock the controls a point for that annoying oversight.

Final Thoughts: 9.5/10

4.5 / 5 stars      

Valve has successfully created a sequel that captures the ingenuity and creativity from the first game, while making the gameplay more enjoyable and longer-lasting. This will definitely win several awards for 2011 and goes down as a near-perfect game in my book.

Congratulations Valve on another superb game.

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Shane Paris

​Shane is the founder and Technical Editor-in-Chief here at That's It Guys. He enjoys Star Trek, 80s and 90s action movies, and everything tech related. Shane is highly skilled with computer hardware, software, and electronics.