Review: Portal 2 [3/4]

I’ve delayed writing this for a while now. Portal 2 is one of the most anticipated games of the year, and will certainly have a lot written about it. So it’s hard to see my own review as anything but redundant by this point. I’ll try to keep it short and sweet.

Portal 2 is what Portal would have been like if Valve knew it would be the runaway success of 2007’s Orange Box collection. This is both a good and a bad thing. Portal 2 is polished to a sheen and fleshes out the world of Aperture Labs enormously. But you can also sense a sort of anxiety about transforming Portal into a triple-A game. Part of the original game’s success was facilitated by riding the wake of Half-Life 2: Episode 2 and Team Fortress 2. Getting those two games for $60 alone was worth the price of admission, and having Portal on top of that was icing on the cake (or a second cake, but the internet tells me that’s not true.) Would people pay $60 only for Portal on its own? This is the hurdle that Portal 2 had to overcome. It’s difficult to overstate how high expectations were for this sequel.

I try not to go into the the cost and value of games when writing reviews, but I want to provide some context so I don’t sound like a nitpicking jerk with my criticism of the game. Primarily, my problem was that the scope was too broad. The single-player campaign fills the triple-A shoes very well, but much of it feels superfluous. By the end of the campaign, I was experiencing Portal fatigue: it was becoming too much work for too little payoff.  It felt like I was retreading puzzles and concepts and waiting for something to happen. The game play was stretched too thin, and the story disposes of the subtlety of its predecessor. What is offered is still quite entertaining, and there were some fantastically memorable moments scattered throughout the game, but I could never shake off the feeling that it would have been better game overall if it had been more constrained. The original was able to work a lot of magic by keeping you on your toes and not giving you much of a chance to reflect on what was going on. In the sequel you will have plenty of time to rest of your laurels, and it has difficulty building the same dramatic momentum.

From the standpoint of game play it’s the cooperative campaign that really shines and is more akin to the original than the single player campaign. Being forced to think about how you would use four portals among two players genuinely adds new dimensions to the game play formula which challenges newcomers and veterans alike. The plot of the cooperative campaign doesn’t have as much of a punch as the single player campaign, but it worked well in keeping us engaged and wondering what was to come, which I would argue is the most important function of a game’s story anyway. Completing cooperative trials feel like great achievements, and having the option to high-five your partner both in and out of game is great. Valve’s creativity is a force to be reckoned with, the cooperative campaign exemplifies that.

Portal 2 is very entertaining game for which fans of the original will not be disappointed. It makes the transition to being a triple-A game quite well and I’m hopeful for more Portal games in the future. Never the less, it doesn’t re-capture the same magic of its predecessor and would have been better served as a smaller package. Perhaps that’s not a fair comparison to make, or an unreasonable expectation. Maybe I’ve already fallen into the line of thinking that “the older games are always better” but playing Portal 2 and constantly thinking back to my original experience Portal leads me to believe the sequel is supplement to the original. It’s good, though not great.

Rating: 3 /4

  1. July 24th, 2011

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