By Marty Mulrooney
In 2007 Gabe Newell, co-founder and managing director of Valve Software, described the PlayStation 3 as “a total disaster on so many levels”. Four years later, he seems to have changed his mind. Not only is Portal 2 an absolutely incredible game, the definitive console version is most definitely only available on PlayStation 3, featuring Steam integration and a free copy of the PC version! Chell and GLaDOS are back for yet another brain-teasing portal-based adventure, battling deep within the depths of the decaying Aperture Science facility. Plus, players can now team up with a friend via split-screen or online to take on an entirely separate two-player co-operative campaign!
Portal 2 begins with series protagonist Chell waking up from stasis in the Aperture Science facility. An undisclosed amount of time has passed between the end of the first game and the start of the sequel, but it quickly becomes apparent that much has changed. The facility is in a heavy state of disrepair, with trees breaking through floor panels and walls crumbling. Personality core Wheatley (voiced hilariously by a show-stealing Stephen Merchant) has finally decided to wake up Chell after becoming more and more concerned about the facility. It is here that the game begins.
These opening moments serve mostly as a gentle tutorial for players to refamiliarise themselves with the game’s basic controls and central gameplay mechanics. Movement is simple, whether via the left analogue stick on PlayStation 3 or the WASD keys on PC. To look around, PlayStation 3 players must use the right analogue stick, whilst PC gamers can simply move the mouse. Finally, portals are created with the L1/R1 buttons on PlayStation 3 and with the left/right mouse buttons on PC.
Before long, Chell and Wheatley accidentally awaken GLaDOS (voiced once again with wicked relish by Ellen McLain) and quickly find themselves separated. It is here that fans of the first game especially will recognise their somewhat familiar goal: to escape the facility, one test chamber at a time, and defeat GLaDOS… again. With the use of the ‘portal gun’, the player must use orange and blue portals to solve puzzles and complete challenges so they can reach the exit of any given room.
Of course, a mere retread of the first game would scarcely have sufficed. Luckily, this is a game made by arguably the best game development company working within the industry today. Without offering too many spoilers, the puzzle rooms offer some of the most imaginative challenges I have ever faced in a video game – often infuriating but always fair, offering a warm sense of satisfaction to go along with every ‘ah ha!’ moment. Yet travelling off the beaten path, to places you are not supposed to, makes this a far more dynamic and exhilarating ride than the first game ever was. With Wheatley’s covert help, you are constantly escaping behind the scenes. The familiar test chambers are only the beginning.
Valve include some game-changing mechanics in the later stages that completely turn everything you thought you already knew about the Portal universe completely on its head. Propulsion Gel (red) boosts Chell’s speed as she crosses a surface, Repulsion Gel (blue) allows her to bounce off a surface and Conversion Gel (white) allows any surface coated with it to accept portals. Each gel is introduced individually, but by the end of the game players will have to use all three at once, alongside the regular portal-gun shenanigans. The result is a sequel that is far more intricate and challenging than the first game, but also infinitely more rewarding.
The graphics look superb considering Portal 2 is built with the Source Engine, which debuted in 2004 with Counter-Strike: Source and Half Life 2. Although an arguably ageing engine in 2011, Valve have continually supported and upgraded it and it certainly holds its own here. There are plenty of showcase moments that stand out and the sense of scale is impressive to say the least. Aperture Science has never looked better. There are still load times between each level, but these are kept to a minimum and are spaced far enough apart to never become a real problem.
The sound elements are also fantastic, with a score that knows when to lurk in the background or spring to the forefront, and some of the best voice acting to ever grace a video game. Steve Merchant as Wheatley provides great laughs throughout and manages to present a surprisingly deep personality by the time the game’s explosive conclusion has arrived. Ellen McLain as GLaDOS has never sounded better either, constantly berating the player with her scathing running commentary.
Finally, recordings of Aperture Science CEO Cave Johnson, voiced by J.K. Simmons, greatly enhance the comedic tone, as well as offering some delightful insight into the history of Aperture Science. Admittedly, end credits tune ‘Want You Gone’ may not be quite as memorable as ‘Still Alive’, but that cult song was always going to be a tough act to follow.
The newly introduced co-op campaign works far better than I had originally anticipated too. Featuring five unique test chambers, players take control of Atlas (a modified personality core) and P-body (a modified turret gun), tackling puzzles that require strict teamwork. The introduction of two sets of portals should have theoretically made things far too complicated, but Valve have somehow managed to make sure everything remains clear and logical. Although voice chat is supported for online multiplayer, there is also a strong set of tools available for players who wish to remain silent. The ‘ping tool’ allows players to point out something to their partner, set a countdown, or even offer a high five. Overall, the multiplayer component is a welcome one that adds to an already strong single player experience. PlayStation 3 gamers can also play online with PC gamers, which is great!
Overall, Portal 2 is a difficult game to fault. Although it may appear very similar to the original game upon first glance, it does plenty to diversify itself and feel different. I have not mentioned most of the new locations and plot developments within this review simply because they comprise the vast majority of what makes Portal 2 feel so enjoyable and surprising in the first place. It needs to be experienced fully rather than merely read about. In short, PlayStation 3 gamers shouldn’t pass this game up. Not only do they get the PC version for free, they can rest assured that regardless of which version they are playing, they are experiencing one of the greatest video game sequels ever made. A strong contender for game of the year, regardless of platform.
10 OUT OF 10