It’s really hard for me to write a fair review about this game, given my slightly biased feelings towards the Portal series. I will try to point out a few differences between Portal 1 and Portal 2 instead of rabidly raving about how much I loved this game. By the way, this post is more of a discussion about mechanics than anything else. I will try not to discuss the plot or include any spoilers, but I do slip on occasion. So, you have been warned.
Portal 2 is the first full-fledged, full-length single player campaign that we have received Valve since Half-Life 2 if you exclude episodic content (and the first Portal, since it wasn’t technically full-length). It is roughly twice as long as the first game, at about 8 or 9 hours for the single player campaign and about 5 hours for the co-op campaign. It is just long enough to deliver a complete story and a fantastic ending without getting too old or repetitive. Portal 2 is still at heart a puzzle game, but has much more of a narrative experience this time around. Each character is masterfully characterized and played out by a very talented cast of actors, from GLaDOS’ palpable passive aggressive annoyance to Wheatley’s humorous quips. I would be hard pressed to find a game with funnier or better dialogue. Being a direct sequel, the game loses a little bit of it’s charm, to some extent at least. It does not have as much of a wow factor because it’s not a new face; Players are familiar with the Portal mechanic and the overall feel of the series. Though fantastically paced as it may be, Portal 2 also settles into a rhythm: Enter a chamber, listen to a sarcastic AI quip, solve the puzzle, exit the chamber, listen to another quip. I think that it is a game designed to be savored: Don’t just rush through it in one sitting.
The Source engine isn’t going to win any beauty contests nowadays, but it has held up remarkably well over the years, and is a fitting match to the Portal universe’s austere test chambers and degenerating building infrastructures. The texturing and shadowing are both well done and amazingly detailed. Also as always, Portal 2’s art direction and level design are top notch.
Portal 2’s difficulty doesn’t escalate as much. There were less twitch-based puzzle solutions this time around (mid-air rapid portal placement, and stuff like that). It feels more like a collection of different types of puzzles. I like the new mechanics and feel that just the right balance of newness was added, to keep the game fresh without creating giant clusterfuck puzzle rooms. The speed gel/bouncy gel courses were particularly fun. Also, this item was mentioned on a couple of other blogs but: There aren’t as many white panels in Portal 2, making proper placement fairly obvious in many cases. The first thing that I would do in a new room was to search for white panels. It seems to be very much a game of observation, both plot and puzzle wise. So the big question: Do any of the changes really detract from the game as a whole? No, they do not. It’s a bit different than what we are used to, but necessarily in a negative way. Portal 2 is easily the best game that I have played in quite a while.
PS: Co-op is amazing.