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Disappointment: Portal 2

by Tarvu   //   10:00 PM on 03.31.2012



It was the winner of multiple game of the year awards and was received with universal acclaim. It was announced following a secretive update to the original game that I loved, and released 10 hours early on PC following the lucrative efforts of Steam gamers lending their time to the GLaDOS@home project. There were no online passes, no shoddy ports and no day one DLCs to be seen on any platform and those buying it for PlayStation 3 even got a Steam copy for free. Portal 2 was an example of how a game should be developed and released. But some people are never entirely satisfied.

I played the first Portal game fairly soon after release, and like most people I was able to buzz through it in one sitting. It was exhilarating, a sucker punch of dark humour wrapped around a fist of perfect puzzle gameplay and clenching the source engine in its palm. I love replaying Portal, in no small part due to the almost sandbox nature of testchambers. Although there are solutions to every room, there is no definitive way to accomplish it and you can cheat within the confines of the game. The game rarely cheats to keep you in check and is in fact going to acknowledge most situations where you break a room.


The cube disappearing from the end corridor of Test Chamber 9 if you're not also in there is the worst case of Portal cheating that I can find right now.

Portal 2 knows what it is doing from the start. The light humorous opening rapidly progresses to a somewhat familiar setting, with the instruction that you're "looking for a gun that makes holes". This is the same facility, the same chambers and soon, the same gun. The environments may have been ravaged by time, but the new version of Source being used makes them all the prettier for it. The testing doesn't really start until GLaDOS is reactivated, and this is where the cracks in the game for me, personally, start to become noticeable. There is joy to be had in solving these rooms you're being presented with. They are mostly enjoyable puzzles. They are also mostly linear puzzles, with few solutions.

Control is taken away from the player in a few ways throughout Portal 2. Assistance is given in Portal placing throughout, often where assisted placement will aid progression to keep in time with the narrative (such as the part where he kills you) but also in some singleplayer and co-op test chambers. Players are restricted from 'breaking' rooms through use of invisible walls preventing game objects (and in co-op, players) from entering certain areas. For example, you cannot throw a cube out of reach near the end of Test Chamber 7. These limitations may not hamper solutions to challenges, but they are a form of control that falls outside of good game design.

A significant amount of time in the game is spent travelling between rooms. These are perhaps the worst parts, with frustrating pathfinding and little character action to offset it. And the characters will make you forget gameplay woes. The exchanges between Wheatley and GLaDOS and their further one-sided conversations with the player make them some of the most well written and enjoyable characters that many gamers will ever be fortunate enough to carry around with them. I cannot deny that Valve have succeeded in creating a true comedy game.



Further to the basic game, Portal was released with six "advanced" versions of the more substantial test chambers in the game and the option to do the vanilla versions with an aim of completing them in as little time or using as few portals or footsteps as possible. Less than a year after it was released with the Orange Box, Portal: Still Alive was released as a standalone game on the Xbox Live Arcade. This release boasted 14 new maps and achievements providing additional challenges to players. Portal 2 has a stunning array of co-op testing chambers but nothing to match them for the solo player. The Peer Review content pack only added time and portal counters to the single player levels, which do not complement the linear maps; With them they become an exercise not in innovation, but in perfecting a known solution.

Portal 2 has a significant focus on cooperative gameplay (quite possibly because there is a "two" in the title) and one might say that the element of gameplay I enjoyed so much in the first game has reappeared there, but it suffers from the same lacking of solution flexibility if not an even more acute onset of it. Once the test chambers for co-op are figured out, the main challenge will come from the coordination of the players in time and space. This can be really difficult if you're playing with a Brazilian.



I really enjoyed playing through both games again whilst writing this. Portal 2 was as worthy a sequel as there could be, rather than playing off the strengths of the first game it developed its very own and is very much better off for it. The technical changes since the first game favour a less technically able game for puzzle platforming but ultimately work in favour it. As much as I love Portal 2 I can't forget the disappointment that a part of me felt over it, and rationalising it as I have tried to doesn't make it any less irrational. If Portal 2 had not made me feel this way, it would not have been such a great game.









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