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Review: Portal 2 (Singleplayer)

So, apparently MetaCritic is full of people hating on Portal 2.  What in the name of buggerfuckery?  How can anyone dislike this game?

Are they just pissed they haven’t been playing it since Friday?  Did they feel suckered into buying the Potato Sack?

CRY SOME MORE. The fact of the matter is, this game is awesome.  And I’m going to tell you why it’s awesome.

1.  The graphics are—no shit—really top-notch.  Absolutely incredible.

They’re still squeezing crazy-beautiful stuff out of the latest version of the Source engine.  I really didn’t expect it, to be honest.  I mean, I knew it was going to look great, but I wasn’t expecting a Source game to have that “Next hot-shit game” look to it.

Everything from the sterile-but-not-featureless look of a brand-spanking-new test chamber, to the lush vegetation and distressed dystopian look of the ruined parts of the facility, and then the forgotten bowels of the labs, dating back to the beginning of Aperture…it all just looks amazing.

Performs like a champ, too.  I had everything jacked up all the way, and never dropped a single frame, which is remarkable given how good it looks.  That 6870 really paid off.  (I’m sure the hexacore didn’t hurt either.)

2.  It sounds at least as good as it looks.

Every sound effect, perfect.  I could really feel everything that was happening to the facility through the LFE channel, and seldom did I wonder “What’s that sound?”, I always had some idea, because the sound design is so well done that it really maps almost directly to real life; things sound just like you’d expect them to sound.

And as usual, the voice acting is really great.  Who can get enough of GLaDOS, the batshit-crazy malevolent artificial intelligence?  Wheatley was also fantastic, gotta love a quirky AI with a commonwealth accent!

3.  Not just pleasing to the eyes and ears.

It also stimulates that squishy thought-meat in the middle of all that.  I see people complaining that the puzzles aren’t challenging.  Some of them were pretty fuckin’ tricky.  I think it would be most accurate to say that it doesn’t FEEL as hard as the first game did solely because you had some idea what to expect.

4.  New gameplay mechanics are new!

There’s not much you can say about the gameplay mechanics, it’s Portal!  If you know Portal, you know what to expect.  So let’s move on to the new stuff!

The ‘gels’ are interesting… The Repulsion Gel and Propulsion Gel are enough to spice things up, but then they add the Conversion Gel that turns any surface into a portal-able surface… AND sometimes you have to combine these, or use water to wash off a surface or object…

Then there are the physical mechanisms…  The ‘Aerial Faith Plates’ are also interesting, and I love the ‘Thermal Discouragement Beams’ (Lasers!).  The Excursion Funnel, and the energy walkway thing, and their ability to project through portals, make for many interesting possibilities.   All in all, solid additions to the Portal gameplay mechanics.

5.  The Facility, It’s Alive!

The different environments you encounter as you move through the facility serve to give you some idea where you are, it’s all very solid and consistent.  The deeper you go, the older the facilities get, the closer to the surface, the more ruined.  And all around you, there are sections of the facility that are alive… Factories just behind the walls, churning out panels and turrets and everything else.  The walls themselves moving, rearranging, renewing themselves…  Some of the old test chambers actually rebuild themselves right before your eyes.  Everything is very ‘active’, compared to the first game.

6.  Simply fantastic storytelling.

By my reckoning, it’s above-average for a Valve title.  Everything is given a much bigger sense of urgency than the original game, and the plot has plenty of twists and turns.  By the time you find yourself in original Aperture test facilities deep underground, you’ll start to feel the pull of curiosity and exploration as well.  They crammed a lot of story into five hours, the pacing is rather hectic and non-stop.  (Not in a bad way, it fits with the story.)  The only time things slow down is if you get stuck on a puzzle.  I only managed to get really stuck twice; the first time was on ‘White-Out’…simply because when given the ability to put a portal anywhere, you suddenly have no idea what to do.  And the second time, the solution ended up being something I thought I’d already tried.

They did such a good job weaving a solid game-world that there are a lot of things that ‘just feel right’ and are internally-consistent and whatnot.  Such as the section early on with the turret assembly line.  I had already taken it upon myself to rescue a defective turret…and as soon as I saw the quality control ‘template’ scanner, I got the idea before the game told me what I had to do.

There were moments when I laughed out loud, and there were moments I was laughing so hard I could barely keep playing, and there plenty of “Ohhhhhh FUUUUUUUUCK!”, “SHIIIIIIIIIIT!”, and “This is going to SUUUUCK!” moments, and quite a few “Oh wow!” moments for good measure.

All told, the single player campaign weighs in at about 5 hours, if I remember correctly, that’s almost double the first game.  And I loved the ending.

Bottom Line:

I only have one real complaint.  I could say that I wish it were longer, but that’s a given.  The question is, was it enough play for what I paid?  And the answer is yes, I am satisfied with it.  That said, my complaint is that the ending sequences are pre-rendered video, when my machine could have easily rendered them in real-time, I would think.  I would have liked to have been able to look around.  Yes.  That’s my only complaint.  I don’t know what’s wrong with the people hating on this game.  It’s one of the most thoroughly-enjoyable gaming experiences I’ve had in a while.


THAT’S RIGHT! Portal 2 has multiplayer!  I haven’t had a chance to play it yet, so I’ll get back to you on this.  But I’m real excited to dig into it in a later post!

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