Publisher: Valve Software
Developer: Valve Software
System requirements: Windows XP/Vista/Win 7/MAC OS 10.6.7; 3.0 GHz Pentium IV/2.0 GHz dual-core/AMD64X2 or better CPU; 1 GB RAM (XP), 2 GB RAM (Vista, MAC); 128 MB DirectX 9.0c-compatible graphics card with Pixel Shader 2.0b support; DirectX 9.0c-compatible sound card; 7.6 GB hard-drive space
Genre: First Person Puzzle
ESRB rating: Everyone 10+
Release date: Available now
Those of you who follow the Avault forums probably remember that, when Portal 2 first came out, I said that I was sad and relieved because I wasn’t going to be the one to write about it. I was sad because this was one of the games I was really looking forward to playing, but I was relieved because, after playing it for half an hour, I realized that it would be incredibly difficult to review. But publication plans changed, and having beaten the game, I spent about a week trying to come up with the best way to write about it. The problem wasn’t that I had nothing to say, but that it’s nearly impossible to talk about this game without mentioning the story. Portal 2 is the story, or rather the story makes up the entirety of Portal 2. After days of trying different approaches, I decided that I can’t review it without spoiling it and making it uninteresting for you to play.
When the original Portal was released, it was an excellent game for a number of reasons. First and foremost, there was the novelty factor. Nobody had done anything like that before, and it wasn’t often that a new kind of game came out. Then there was the polish effect. Unlike many other games, Portal was created with remarkable attention to detail. Every little bit of it was so extensively thought out that even the more jaded gamers were quite blown away by it at the time. Finally there was the plot. While novelty and polish could make for a good game, the addition of gripping and clever narrative produced an excellent game that has inspired many since its release. Just the number of memes that it created speaks to the game’s lasting effect.
Enter Portal 2. The most obvious thing here is that everyone expected Portal 2 to be good. Yes, a thought of “what if it doesn’t live up to the original” did cross my mind at some point, but it didn’t linger. The consensus was that we’re going to be in for a treat once it’s released. And yes, at this point I can absolutely confirm that it’s every bit as good as I expected it to be. In fact, it’s so very well-matched to my expectations that I’m not particularly excited anymore. It’s hard to be blown away by something when it’s exactly as you pictured it. This is not at all the game’s fault; in fact, the game is great. But we knew that all along, so what’s the big deal, right? I for one would love to be excited about it, but in all honesty, most of the excitement happened before release and maybe in the first hour of the game.
Polish-wise, the same holds true. Portal 2 is a very well-polished and thought-out game. Everything you encounter while playing is there for a reason, and the reasons are 99.9 percent valid. Locations, characters, dialogues, even the little doodads like graffiti, are all done perfectly well. Just like in the original. There are more environments than before, more personalities to encounter, and more of the world is revealed in the narrative. There are additional types of puzzle elements, and you often have to combine various new mechanics with the trusty old portals to find solutions to the puzzles in the rooms. Still, there’s no escaping the fact that Portal 2 is, in its essence, just more levels of Portal. That’s not a bad thing by any means—more Portal can’t possibly be bad—but it doesn’t feel like a new game at all. Getting excited about it would be like playing a game and then suddenly getting excited all over again, right in the middle of it. Sadly, it just doesn’t happen that way.
The story…well, I can’t talk about the story. All I can say is that I liked it. A lot. In fact, so far as I’m concerned, it’s what stands out the most about this game. The first one left too many questions unanswered, but now you can begin to piece together the overall picture. It might not be a very pretty picture, but it’s consistent, engaging and very funny. If you enjoyed the humor of the first game, you’re in for one serious treat. Nearly every line of dialogue contains some sort of pun. Enhancing it is the thoroughly serious delivery and absolutely superb voice acting.
There are a couple of problems, but depending on your take on certain things, you might not see them as problems at all. First, the game is short. Those who claim to have beaten it in four hours are lying, but seven hours is all you can realistically count on for the single-player campaign. I’m not against short games at all, but for $50 I would expect to be given something a bit more substantial. Second is DRM. The PC version of Portal 2 can’t be played without Steam, and to many, that’s a serious issue. Third is the difficulty, or rather, the lack thereof. The puzzles aren’t tough to solve in the very least. Not once throughout the game was I even slightly challenged. For the record, I’m not a genius. I thought I was a genius, but then I talked to a number of people and none of them had any trouble with the game. Another minor gripe is the price. Those who pre-ordered paid $45 and got a free copy of Portal included in the deal. The full price is now $50. As I’m writing this, there are sales going on in which you can buy the PC version for as little as $30. I think it’s a bit unfair to those of us who pre-ordered it. Not that big of an issue, though.
All things considered, Portal 2 is one superb offering. I’m glad I bought it, and I really enjoyed playing it. From the tone of this review, you might’ve gotten a sense that I’m not really hyperventilating over its awesomeness, but that’s only because we all knew it was going to be great. It’s still quite awesome, though, and definitely a game that everyone should play. If, for some reason, you haven’t played the original, drop everything and go get both games; you’re missing out on some of the best experiences that gaming has to offer. Portal veterans who are tight on cash at the moment might want to grab the second installment on sale, or wait for a permanent price drop. But make no mistake—skipping Portal 2 should not be an option for you.