Portal 2 is a sequel that we have all long anticipated (though not as long as we've been anticipating Half-Life 2: Episode 3) since Portal blew everyone's mind. Portal was successful, arguably perfectly for what it was intended to accomplish, and it was simply out of the question to not make a full-length sequel. And, I would argue that Portal 2 is nearly perfect for what it was intened to accomplish. Like others, I was concerned that Portal 2 would be unable to live up to the hype, as is oft the case with a sequel to such a fan favorite.
Needless to say, Portal 2 took all that was good about Portal, and fixed pretty much all that was not good. It retains, even builds on that dark humor that we all loved in Portal, but, while the gameplay itself is still well paced, the story is immediately interesting. My chief concern is that Portal 2 was, in some areas, much more complex than Portal, and that while a gamer like myself might appreciate being stumped every now and then, it might lose some face with the casual followers.
As promised, the campaign length for the single player is probably about twice, maybe thrice as long as Portal. While I can complete Portal in about an hour, despite having already played through the single player campaign three times and thus knowing all of the solutions to all of the puzzles, I believe it would still take at least a few hours to complete either Portal 2 campaign.
I would also like to applaud the level design of Portal 2. They mixed just enough of the original maps in to warm up nostalgia without blatantly recycling, and given the much higher density of puzzles, the addition of a few of the original maps, now overgrown and rusted, really added to the game. Aside from the reuse of older maps, there are a lot of varied environments, and they are all really well done, especially the underground section, which does well of making rooms feel vast while simultaneously reminding you that there are thousands of tons of concrete and dirt above you.
I think it also appropriate to mention my praise for the sound design. It was a bit wierd, at first, when I pointed a thermal discouragement beam into a receiver and a new string of music began to play, but I really came to appreciate the mechanic, which is somewhat reminiscent of games like Bit.Trip Beat, where the music responds to your actions. Whether I was flying through the air, walking across a light bridge, or playing with lasers, the music would change to fit my actions.
Obviously, the story was arguably a lot deeper than Portal's was. Without going into detail, let me say that while Portal was interesting, the plot itself is pretty much held up by the dark humor and attention to detail. Not Portal 2. Without sacrificing that dark humor and attention to detail, Valve still manages to deliver a plot filled with suspense, tension, and depth. I was blown away by the various twists, and the ending was simply spectacular.
As I mentioned, gameplay-wise, Portal 2 is more complex than Portal. Aside from the puzzles being a little more challenging, Portal 2 introduces a lot more gameplay elements, such as the mobility gels, excursion funnel, and thermal discouragement beam. While I admittadly was disappointed that the pneumatic diversity vent was not used in any gameplay capacity, it does make a constant cameo as being integrated with the elevator system. Co-op brings an even more interesting aspect to the table: four portals.
As far as the user-interface goes, I have little to complain about. The friend finding system for co-op is surprisingly simple. The game is broken up into chapters, so loading into a new game is pretty easy as well. While the HUD no longer displays which portal you last opened with a circle next to the color, it still shows up on the light atop the Portal gun itself.
Now, I did have a few gripes with the game, albeit minor, for the most part. The very first thing I noticed was that they had actually hired on a proper voice actor for Wheatley, rather than using Valve animator Richard Lord (who voiced Wheatley at the e3 2010 demonstration). Now, normally, that would be a good thing, but there were two lines from the e3 trailer last year that I just felt that Richard Lord delivered those lines much better than Stephen Merchant did. However, I did grow accustomed to Stephen Merchant's voice as the game progressed. It was just those two lines from the e3 trailer early in the game that I just didn't like.
Now, a more important gripe was the load screens. Like Stephen Merchant's voice, I did warm up to the loading screens themselves, but more importantly, there were about two or three places in the game where I felt that the loading screen seriously ruined the tension or mood of the moment. There is a particular moment in which you are in the middle of running frantically from a threat that I won't elaborate on with an ally encouraging you to run on, and mid-encouragement, LOAD SCREEN! I didn't like breaking up the action in this way. I understand that the maps are significantly larger than before, but I felt like those particular load screens could have been better placed to not so dramatically break up the mood.
I also noticed, after my first playthrough, when I went about systematically getting all the achievements, that there is either no way to view your achievements in game, other than through the Steam interface, or that the one that does exist is too convoluted to be easily figured out, as I never found it. The menu screen is rather simple, and so I'm going to assume the former. That being said, I would like to praise the achievements. There was a nice mix of progress achievements, accomplishment achievements, with a handful of brutal achievements thrown in. Shrodinger's Catch was particularly vexing, being that the box you have to catch has a 75% chance to go in a direction nowhere near you, and unless you're really lucky, you're not going to catch it. Other achievements, like Door Prize and Ship Overboard were really out of the way, and reward exploration, not just with achievements but, especially in the case of Door Prize, with hilarious audio clips.
My final gripe was the lack of challenge courses and advanced chambers, as with Portal. While Portal 2 was much more complicated than Portal, making it more challenging, aside from one or two challenges, there was basically nothing as brutally difficult to strive for as those challenges and advanced chambers. Hopefully, we'll see some DLC for Portal 2 introducing something new to challenge players that aleady have all the achievements and have played through both of the campaigns several times.
Those four things aside , which I consider rather petty in the grand scheme of things, the game is pretty much as close to perfect for its genre as I think could have been accomplished. I think I could literally count on my finger the number of times a character said something and I didn't laugh or at least find it rather funny. From start to finish, I was laughing, which is saying something, given the length of the game. The humor seems much more frequent than it was in Portal, but simultaneously the campaign is longer. Overall, the game is simply amazing, and I'd suggest it for anyone.
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