Friday, January 20, 2012

Review: Portal 2 (PS3)

Review: Portal 2 (PS3)
A breath of fresh air.
Written by: Philip

I love originality. I would rather see a new B grade film that was different, than watch a 9 out of 10 movie over and over again. I truly enjoy first-person-shooters, but how many realistic quasi-modern war games do we need? I love new ideas. I appreciate the courage to think (and act) outside the box. The good thing about Portal 2, is it's not only fresh and new, but it is an experience you can’t afford to miss out on.

If you haven’t played the first one, don’t worry, Valve takes care of you while catering to the cult following of Portal 1. GlaDos is back, and wants revenge, but you’ve got your portal gun and Wheatley goes rogue to help you escape from Aperture Laboratories. I was caught up right away and found myself engaged in the story. Yes, there’s a story, and a good one too. Not a single mouth moves in the game (although lights blink to indicate speech) and yet it has a better story than 90% of the games out there. The writing and voice acting was done so well I was laughing (out loud, and by myself, mind you) at a blue orb with an almost-British accent. This game doesn’t relive the cake inside jokes, but rather creates new ones (like potato batteries and GlaDos’ slow clapper). The wit and humor throughout is a wonderful and a much needed compliment to the gameplay. Not that the gameplay is bad in any fashion, but it would feel isolated and lifeless.

10 times funnier than anything you've seen on Comedy Central in the past decade.

Gameplay is actually the star here. It’s such a unique idea to arm you with only a portal gun and give the task of “progress” or “escape” or “survive.” Which may not sound like much if you only consider the first two, but how are you supposed to survive against turrets shooting bullets and lasers at you and there’s no direct way to fight back? That’s up to you to figure out. And that’s what I love about Portal 2. It’s fair, but it challenges your mind. It presents you with puzzles and scenarios that you can think about and plan even when the game is off. I would find myself at my desk, pen and paper in hand, sketching out a room trying to figure out a way out using only my two portals. (Now would be a good time to point out that I have a very strict “No Walkthrough” rule as it sucks the fun out of me accomplishing something on my own and has potential for spoiling the surprise. The only exception to this is collectibles and trophy hunting.) Then when I would solve a puzzle I felt like Edison. Valve created the world in such a way where they don’t baby you and show you how to move on, they let you learn and use your own cunning to figure it out. It was empowering. I actually thought I was brilliant for a moment. And then I bit my tongue while eating Starburst and remembered I wasn’t.

Easy. Right?

Portal 2 looks fantastic. While the actual graphics might not blow you away like Crysis or the Uncharted series, the lighting and the shading are so incredible that it would make areas look like they were real. Set pieces are large in scope and very creative. They are so big that you actually think twice before jumping into a portal 75 feet below you in hopes it will propel you out of the other one four stories high across a bottomless pit. It’s pretty exhilarating.   

New to the series is the multiplayer element and man is it fun. You and a buddy (online or offline) team up as two lab testing robots to accomplish even tougher puzzles now with not only two, but four portals! It adds a whole new depth to the gameplay where you have to approach it in a completely different mindset. Also refreshing is that Valve didn’t sell out. One thing growing more and more common that I loathe with all my heart almost as much as DLC is when a developer gets an extra bonus check for involving the newest peripheral or motion controller into their game (See: Mass Effect 3, Killzone 3, etc.). Valve did the total opposite of this. Instead of requiring you to buy a PS Move, or a Kinect, or a special Turtle Beach Headset in order to play the game, they created everything within the game for you to have the full experience with just your controller. What a novel idea! You mean I paid for a full game and you’re actually going to give me the FULL GAME? Shocking, I know. But they developed a way for you to communicate online without a headset or motion system. Want to tell your partner to stand on that switch? There’s a button for that. Want to start a 3 second countdown so that you both jump at the same time? There’s a button for that. Want to play rock, paper, scissors? Yeah, there’s an app button for that too. Not to mention on the PS3 version they include a Steam code so you can play the game (that you already bought) on your computer as well for no extra fee. Is it too early to send Valve a request to be my Valentine?

This is what game developer love looks like.

As I played Portal 2 I struggled to find things wrong with it. But (and there’s always a but) I did. I found two actually, and while not criminal they’re the only things holding it back from perfection. Pacing, and replay value. The game is plenty long, and I am a very big fan of long games. But in a post apocalyptic world where all humans are dead and only a couple of robots have the A.I. to interact with you it gets terribly lonely. Often times there is no music playing and nobody talking while you are working your way through a test. I know pacing is tough to control in a game where the story can only progress as fast as you do, but if one section takes you a bit longer to get through it makes you feel like you’re being punished for being dumb. “You don’t know the answer? Fine, then we’re not going to let anything interesting happen until you put on your big boy pants and figure it out!” Which I guess isn’t always a bad thing, but there were some sections of the game that would drag on a little.

The other issue was replay value. The puzzles in Portal 2 are kind of like playing a game of Sudoku. Yeah it’s fun, but once you finish it you now know the answers. So you can’t really go back and do it again because now the thrill of solving a complex equation is lost. It’s kind of like watching Usual Suspects more than once. Sure you can watch it as many times as you like, but the only reason you’d ever enjoy it again is because you’ll remember how you felt when Kevin Spacey’s limp magically vanished the first time you saw it. But you would never get that mind blown feeling again. I suppose after a few months if you were to go back to Portal 2 you might have to relearn some of the tricks, but the magic would be gone. Instead of saying, “Oh, wow!” at the end of each puzzle, you’d quietly mutter, “oh, yeah.” This is especially true with the multiplayer mode. You have to play through it with someone who hasn’t done it before, because either one of you will get mad at the other for not figuring it out, or the other will get mad because you didn’t let them discover it on their own.

Wait! Stop science-ing, I'm trying to figure this out.

Now, as for cost and availability. Video Game Price Charts (the link can be found on the right) says the game is currently worth $17.50 but I’m having a hard time finding it anywhere for that price. The current low on Amazon is $25.00 which is still worth it for such an incredible game, but I’d hold out until or has a sale (they were selling a used copy for $17.99 plus shipping not too long ago) or keep an eye out on eBay, as the average final bid price is around $18.00. I would say just rent it, but you don't want to rush this experience.

Portal 2 is unique and enjoyable. It is a must play and there is no doubt it should be a fierce contender for any game of the year award. It was fresh, it was funny, and most importantly it was memorable. I had a lot of fun with the game, and I’ll be quoting Wheatley and singing GlaDos’ song for a long time. I’ll always remember Portal 2.

Graphics:  8/10 Fantastic lighting makes up for some bland textures.
Gameplay: 10/10 Satisfying and addicting. You'll never forget it.
Sound: 9/10 Voice acting gives life to the empty world. Wish there was some more music.
Longevity: 7/10 It's a good, long game, but you will probably be satisfied going through it once or twice.
Overall: 9.5/10 Play this game!

Enjoy this video. Valve had a music video contest for fans to submit. This video actually got second, but I thought it was the best by far.

Like it? Hate it? Let me know at
Wanna game? PSN: ShadyWoodland

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