Voice Module








In Memory
Sean Pettibone


Portal 2 (Playstation 3)

This return trip to Aperture Laboratories is filled with the diabolical puzzles, clever physics and off-beat humor that made the first Portal such a success. Set many years after the original game, the new installment sees the labs ravaged by time and decay, but some things haven't changed much. You're once again trapped in a series of tests in rooms designed to keep you challenged and trapped, much to the delight of GlaDOS, your tormentor from the last game. Valve has added some new elements such as co-op play that keep things fresh and exciting, and its larger scale, co-op mode and additional abilities makes Portal 2 a deeper title that delivers on its predecessor's promise.

Portal was one of the most surprising success stories of the current generation, it's inclusion on the Orange Box was one of the coolest ideas ever. Now, Valve has smartly given Portal 2 its own release and the sequel delivers a much larger, deeper experience than the first title. It's just as funny, clever and engrossing as ever, but the new installment adds some new elements to give it a refreshing feel. Set many years after the original game, you once again play as the unwilling subject of a series of experiments conducted by Aperture Laboratories. However, much time has passed since your original confinement and the labs have fallen into a great disrepair after the world has undergone several major catastrophes. This means the clean look of the original has been replaced by a darker, more decayed look. It might seem a little dark and depressing at first, but the series' off-beat sense of humor helps to keep the desolation from becoming completely overwhelming. Once you're revived from your long slumber, you'll see that some things have changed, while many elements have not. This is both reassuring and unsettling, if you're familiar with the first game. You'll find some new friends and adversaries awaiting you in Aperture's dungeon-like confines, including a reunion with a certain angry machine. GlaDos is back and she's not happy to see you back wreaking havoc in her testing laboratories, a fact she never fails to remind you of. The game's plot lines are a bit silly and humorous and while there's no cake this time, there are actually some hilarious jokes at your character's expense, while another character changes and transforms from tormentor to comic relief along the way. It's definitely a strange game in that it doesn't seem to take itself that seriously, though its rather sober surroundings would suggest otherwise.

In the initial stages, you reacquaint yourself with the basics, which should be very familiar. You still use your portal gun to create holes, manipulate objects and use items in clever ways to escape each room. Most of the rooms in P2 require you to complete multiple steps and tasks before the door to the next level opens up. You have to figure out what you need to do, locate spots where you can shoot your portal gun and figure out how to connect these tasks, creating a chain of events that usually seem simple in retrospect. Of course, the game is never as simple as it seems and many players will find themselves going around in frustration until the figure things out. As in the previous games one of the main problems usually occurs in figuring out where to place your portal holes and how they'll get you to the next platform. In the early stages, this can be simple, but later areas become increasingly complex, with multiple platforms and events that you need to trigger. Portal 2's puzzles are ingenious in the way they seemingly make simple tasks seem difficult. Finding the right section to place your portal holes is a bit simple since the walls come in two basic colors. Darker sections won't take your portal holes, but the lighter ones will. Jumping through them allows you to go to another section, and learning to time your jumps, so you fly out the next section onto another platform can be tricky. Using the weapons and abilities is fairly simple, with running and jumping controlled with the analog sticks while the portal guns are controlled using the shift buttons. More advanced techniques, such as grabbing crates and other maneuvers are likewise simple to understand and operate. You're pretty much locked into the same viewpoint throughout, but you can zoom in certain sections which can be helpful.

Most of these elements should be familiar to Portal players, but the developers have added some new elements such as Jump pads, Light Bridges, Repulsion and Propulsion gels. Jump pads build on the strategy of jumping through portals to gain momentum, but here you leap automatically when you step on them. There are also new light bridges, which can be used to create paths over gaps and other dangerous sections. Once you get into the game a little deeper, you'll also be given a new ability that allows you to shoot gels onto walls and other surfaces. When you touch these, you'll either jump forward immediately or repel against a wall in the opposite direction. These new abilities open up the possibilities of Portal 2 in new and interesting ways and make the solo campaign mode much more fun to play. Going through each room is probably going to be a touch and go process, and your progress will likely depend on what happens if you get stuck in a certain section. This can be frustrating, but you sometimes can find the answer if you look hard enough and try and think a little differently. The solutions are usually simpler than you think, so trying for the more elaborate moves can sometimes lead to going around aimlessly. It also helps to divide each room into smaller tasks. One of the cooler ideas that is introduced is the Developer commentary mode. When this is enabled, you can hear a little bit of the inspiration behind each level along with a few important clues. The single levels themselves show a lot of polish in the way they gradually introduce new elements to the gameplay while not making things too difficult, this learning curve makes Portal 2 enjoyable for those who played the first game while giving those new to the series a good introduction. There's little doubt that most players will start with the solo tests, but the best new idea in the game is its co-op mode.

Using two players is a brilliant addition to the series that brings an entirely different strategy to the game. Instead of worrying only about your own survival, you now have to consider the welfare of your partner. You can choose to play with them and use their abilities to solve puzzles, locate and use objects and other interesting ideas. This feels almost like an entirely separate game that offers nearly as much depth as the main game. While many of the same rooms appear, they're configured in a slightly different manner, which makes them more challenging. Both of the robot characters bring a unique personality to the puzzles, though they have similar abilities. You can earn additional credits and achievements by playing through this mode and it also reveals more of the back story behind Aperture's rise, which makes it worth playing through. Portal 2's ingenious and clever multiplayer mode is quite sophisticated. Co-op is unique enough that it makes Portal 2 feel like a different game with different strategies and puzzles coming into play. Another innovation in this mode is the ability to play with others not only on the PS3, but with a PC or Mac as well. Using Steam, you can play on either computer using the free download code, which is a very cool idea. Co-op mode lets players match with others on their console or computer, which helps to give you more opponents to choose from. This is definitely a forward-looking idea and one more online games should implement.

With all of these new elements in place, Portal 2 brings together and enhances the best ideas from the first game and adds new ones to create on of the best games we've played all year. The game's storyline is funny and engaging while delivering some unexpected twists and surprises along the way. As in the first game, the physics play a key role, allowing you to experiment and play around with them in fun ways while giving the puzzles some new strategic elements. Some players will probably be frustrated by some of the rooms, but you can usually get through if you use your head and think several steps ahead. The solo game is highly-tuned and polished, making it an engaging and entertaining experience. However, Portal 2 adds a really cool co-op multiplayer mode that allows some innovative cross-platform play via Steam that truly makes for a refreshing experience. In the end, it's the total package that sets Portal 2 ahead of the other games. It's unique sense of humor and strange setting gives it a distinct feel that brings you into its world, while its mix of puzzles, strategy and action elements keeps you motivated to keep playing. Portal 2 is a great title overall and those who enjoyed the first game will find more of what they loved this time around.

- Michael Palisano

Grade: A

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