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Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Potato Time! Portal 2 Review.

    Puzzle games and sprawling plots rarely marry. Though it has been known to happen (the “Professor Layton” series comes to mind), its not in the minds of their game creators. That being said, the first Portal game did not have the highest in plot development. Nor was it meant to, actually it was developed as a concept game, like a Tetris. But GLaDOS as an icon of ironic evil in an age of undefined human emotion forced Valve to develop the game as a standalone (originally part of the “Orange Box”). Yes, these are things most of us know, but maybe someone doesn’t? Maybe... Well, does Portal 2 inject a healthy dose of plot and more humor? Does it match the gameplay fun, while creating new twists on a now classic? Why else would I write the review if I weren’t to tell you?

Portal 2’s game mechanics are nearly identical to the previous game, though according to the creators it was almost an entirely different experience. This is good, Portal was too fun but we demanded more! That’s why we have a sequel. The game begins with the player character, Chell, waking up in the a broken down hotel-type room. There was some retconning here, involving getting dragged back in by computers while she was passed out. Chell, now is woken up by an intentionally annoying robot (personality core for those that have played the first game) named Wheatley. Wheatley is an interesting character, voiced by Stephen Merchant. Interesting is intentionally vague, while I loved him and found his dialogue and gag setups quite hilarious, there will be a very vocal unit standing against the character, as I have now seen already. Fret not, this is all part of the plan. If you hate him, good. If you love him, good. Both factions will find a very satisfying outcome to his story. After making a joke about the main character not being able to speak, we jump into tutorials. They are enjoyable because the environment is so vastly different from the first game, and there is a major sense of urgency to complete these missions. No Portal gun at first, so be ready for that. And then GLaDOS comes back into our happy little lives.
She is still as inventive and starkly fresh character as she was previously, even changing shape into a most hilarious...well, I won’t spoil that. Nothing here seems incredibly contrived, or unconvincing. All motivation from every character is completely clear, and intentions are shining. Let me just finish plot discussion by saying that Portal 2 has such a major character arc for all three main characters, even one that doesn’t speak. The writers worked very hard to avoid the usual pitfalls known to plague stories of multiple games, so that we as players have to continually forgive it. This is one of the very few instances that we can let it roam free. Yes, we will see a detractor claim is has plot holes, or some silly thing like that. It doesn’t, you can see the care taken to make this story really resonate. Wear this badge proudly Valve, you made me finish a puzzle game quickly just to get to the next plot development.
This game is also a game, who would’ve known. And it’s fun! The inclusion of the gels to enhance our experience, was bold and really pays off. Let’s begin from the first game. The object of each smaller “Test”, as GLaDOS calls them, is to use a portal gun with an entrance and an exit (Orange and Blue). You use physics and gravity to your advantage as well. For instance, if you place a Blue Exit on a side wall, and an Orange Entrance on the floor 20 feet in the air, the force of your fall with factor into how far you are propelled through the Blue portal. There are various tutorials, and the design team never leave you with a clue of some sort to solve. There can be multiple solutions, the fun is choosing how you solve. So the gels. Well there are 3 colors, Blue, Orange, and White. Blue makes the surface it touches bouncy, Orange makes it’s surface slick so you can run extraordinarily fast, and White makes a non-Portable surface accessible for one of your fine physics-defying creations. The routine of the previous levels is broken, and a player now has some new possibilities for completing a stage. As a player, you do go outside and again, the aura of freshness still hangs heavily. This is creates exciting new challenges not yet offered in the Portal experience. Game play is top notch through out, and is never tiring. Valve created an all inclusive single-player experience. Wait, wait...multiplayer? In Portal? Yes, and it is fantastic.
There is no local multiplayer, which is an absolute bummer, but makes perfect sense. Splitting the screen would make players extremely confused with the amount physics defying already occurring. I played a 5 hour run with a complete stranger, even though the game recommends a friend as a better experience. Unfortunately, thanks to the Playstation Network fiasco of 2011, this was not possible. Nonetheless, I had no problem jumping right in (I played this on an iMac) and a partner was matched. The story of the Co-Op is that GLaDOS cannot rely on full human testing and has created two types of robots to solve her insidious tests. These machines are called p-Body and Atlas. If Norm MacDonald and Artie Lange from “Dirty Work” were Portal testing robots, this would be them. You earn different taunts to perform solo or in a team like a high-five as rewards throughout the experience. And they are worth it, the animation team makes sure of that. With your partner, you solve some 40 levels of sure-destructive madness guided by the goading and sarcastic GLaDOS. These were challenging and engaging with an extra person involved. Again, the design team went to pain-staking effort to make the player experience fresh and exciting. I do not enjoy multiplayer experience because I am typically so bad at playing games, but this is definitely an exception. Even if you do not do most of the solving (this time I didn’t do bad at all though! Aww Yeah Me!) you have an enormous sense of accomplishment.
I’ll give numbers for those that skipped all the words. 
Seriously, imagine this as white gel...
Scores are 5 out of 5, no halves. Story-5, Visuals-4, Gameplay-5, Co-Op-4, Value-5. Overall, I give it a 5. I know that there are two 4’s, but this is my aggregate. I don’t think visuals matter for a game like this. Co-Op gets knocked a bit for not having innovation in local multiplayer. Not a big deal, that’s why it still gets an overall 5. I love this game, it’s a definite contender for Game of the Year, and there isn’t much I can point to as a poor point. GLaDOS’ wit as the disaffected HAL diagnosed with bi-polar disorder makes this game so very unique. We don’t get the cake gag played to death, and this only makes the game that much better. My vote as new meme, the White Gel known as “Peter North Gel.” I really couldn’t help but giggle the entire time I saw it.

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