Reviewed on Xbox 360; also available on PC and PS3.
Portal 2 and I got off to the best possible start, I think. After removing the wrapper from the game box, I suddenly remembered I had some leftover cake in the cupboard. I’d not even started playing, and I had already totally won the game.
Which was probably not the case at all for Valve Corp., going into the project. I mean, how do you possibly top or even equal what is widely considered by cool people who know what they’re talking about to be one of – if not the – best games released in the last five or ten years? Everybody’s already thinking with portals now – so where to next? I guess official Enrichment Centre protocol requires that we just keep on testing to find out.
There’s a story, and it’s a pretty good one. I won’t say anything more about it, lest I inadvertently blow the punchline or something, but suffice it to say that – as promised – GLaDOS is still very much alive, and doing science, or whatever passes for science over at Aperture Laboratories. She’s also got just a bit of a grudge against you now, what with that whole murdering incident and everything. You monster, etc.
Fundamentally, the gameplay is more or less the same as the first time around – so you’ll be mostly busy hurling yourself through time-space via a series of orange and blue portals – although the sequel adds a bunch of new stuff to keep your Voluntary Mandatory Personal Aptitude Evaluation interesting, and presumably more scientifically relevant (or whatever). Again, describing any of this in further detail would spoil it somewhat, and instead I’ll say only that it’s hard now to imagine how the first game managed without.
There’s also an entirely separate co-operative campaign, supporting local split-screen (on console only) and online multiplayer. And rather than a sort of cynical supplementary extra to make up for the “short” 6-8 hour single player campaign, it’s possibly the most ingenious co-op mode I’ve ever played. The puzzles are significantly harder here, and you’ll quickly learn to hate Emancipation Grills with the fires of a thousand Emergency Intelligence Incinerators. Just choose your co-op accomplice very carefully, because you’ll really have to rely on one another’s competence at times.
While the interface hasn’t changed much at all, the designers have added a zoom function for easier placement of portals at range, as well as portal outlines that show up through environmental obstacles so you can keep track of which colour is where.
Some mention really should be made of the extraordinary voice acting – reprising her instantly iconic role as GLaDOS, Ellen McLain is, of course, superlative as expected, but Stephen Merchant arguably steals the show as Wheatley the ad-libbing Personality Core.
Simply enough then, Portal 2 is a great success. It’s immensely clever, it’s funny, it’s occasionally very devious, it’s still quite unlike anything else, and it might even be better than the first one.