Published on May 1st, 2011 | by Swaine Dillinger1
Summary: The PS3 version is easily the better option when it comes to choosing the consoles
Trying to convince the Call of Duty generation that a puzzle game that tests their patience to the point of insanity will be one of the best games they’ll play all year is an unenviable task, particularly when, heaven-forbid, the game in question doesn’t even pack in an arbitrary competitive multiplayer mode. But while Portal 2 might sound like a hard-sell on paper – despite being given a ‘gun’, the only thing the player will ever get to shoot is a brick wall – spending just a few minutes with Valve’s sequel is enough to realize that it deserves to go down in the history books as one of gaming’s greatest creations.
It’s incredibly difficult to actually criticize Portal 2. At its heart it’s a very simple game, its premise a basic exercise in navigating from A-B, yet everything it attempts, it does so perfectly. Its puzzles are always ingenious, and their difficulty always excellently balanced. What starts out as relatively basic, though still brain-bafflingly solid tests built around portal placement and spatial awareness, gradually evolves into multifaceted, momentum-based, time-sensitive tasks, something utterly intimidating in concept, yet surprisingly feasible when you reach that point in the game. Considering all the different layers often involved, some of the puzzle design here is unbelievably good, and quite how Valve conceived some of the more challenging levels on show here is completely beyond us. If you thought some of Portal 1’s tests were complex, you really ain’t seen nothing yet.
Yet despite the puzzles growing increasingly intricate throughout – particularly in the game’s co-op mode where two portal guns allow for some especially incomprehensible scenarios (and later on, when gels that modify your speed and jump height become introduced) they always avoid becoming overly frustrating; that breakthrough eureka moment somehow always hitting at just the right time.
It’s all thanks to Valve’s pitch-perfect pacing, natural difficulty progression, and the method in which the developer introduces new mechanics. Rather than throwing you in at the deep end, Valve does a brilliantly subtle job at teaching the player by doing, eventually to the point where using gels, manipulating lasers or directing tractor beams feels instinctive – as ridiculous as that may sound. Subtle tweaks, too, like switching Portal 1’s energy balls for lasers, makes the game feel more instantaneous, so that when you do finally figure out the answer to the puzzle, there’s no waiting around for the elements to fall into place.
Besides the puzzles themselves, it’s Portal 2’s frankly brilliant dialogue that will leave players hooked. Portal 2 is the funniest game of the year, with an award-worthy script that manages to put every other game to shame.
It’s arguable that TV funny man Stephen Merchant – who voices the game’s lovable bot Wheatley – is actually too good, regularly leaving us in fits of laughter with his hilarious quips and brilliant one-liners. Just like GLaDOS in the original, he’s what makes the game, astonishingly threatening to outshine J.K. Simmons’ show-stopping work as Aperture Science founder Cave Johnson, and even the cold-hearted, acutely funny robo-bitch herself, a character whose input in Portal 2 we want to avoid discussing completely for fear of revealing any spoilers.
The single-player campaign is stronger than the co-op though, with the total lack of story in the co-op game making it feel more like something tacked on later in development than a well-considered addition. It’s still utterly brilliant, mind, and though it’s restricted to a series of Portal 1-esque challenge rooms, some fantastic design decisions (like the ping tool, for example, which helps partners communicate where to place puzzles is genius), make it one of the better co-op experiences we’ve had to date.
After Valve’s ‘tainted’ history with Sony’s console, we had been expecting to see the PS3 version of Portal 2 suffer in comparison to its counterparts. But thankfully it doesn’t, running at a smooth 30fps and without barely a hiccup. The load times are perhaps too frequent and occasionally a little too lengthy (the 10-15 second load after some of the smaller test chambers can begin to grate), but other than that, there’s really nothing you can point the finger at. And with some excellent Steam features, the PS3 version is easily the better option when it comes to choosing between the console version on offer.
Portal 2 is one of those sequels that outdoes the original by such a margin that it makes its predecessor seem almost irrelevant. The tweaks, dialogue and structure put it on a level with Valve’s, heck, the medium’s very best, easily being the best game we’ve played so far this year, and deserving of being remembered alongside the Half-Lifes, GTAs and Icos of the world. This was a triumph.