Puzzle games have always been popular, since they give the player a tough mental challenge and usually require that you think further than just how to shoot the next enemy. Portal 2 is not an advanced puzzle game, although it can be very tricky at times. Another great thing is the co-op mode which is a separate game from the “normal”, single player game.
Simple but tricky
Most of the features and different “pieces” of the puzzles that are used in Portal 2 are quite easy to understand but very hard to master. I think that this is one reason for the greatness of this game. Make it easy to play but hard to beat (in one way, that is how Dark Souls and Demon’s Souls also work). In the beginning you are presented with easy puzzles that just require one or two things to work together, but the further you progress the more features and objects have to be synchronized to work together in order to solve the puzzles and challenges.
There are of course some objects that are harder to use than others, for example the “bouncing liquid” together with the “run-fast liquid” is a tough combination at times; some of these challenges turns the game into a platform game for a short time, since you have to time your jumps and sprints to finish the level.
The ironic and sarcastic comments and bickering of the two robots/programs that follow you throughout the single player campaign give the game a lighter feeling, which is needed. The environment is often quite dull and bleak; many levels are laid out in deserted industrial buildings. Some are set in more a sterile, gray way which feels a bit lighter. I guess one of the reason that the puzzles were confined to these more or less boring areas are that it is easier to constrain the player and also that these environments are easy to build and project.
I would have liked that some part of the game were set outside or in a livelier environment though. It can still be a quiet, peaceful area even if it s filled with flowers, grass, trees or some water.
That said, after a while you will most likely forget the textures and dull environments, because you will need all the power of your eyes (and brain) to solve the challenges you meet!
Sound and control
The use of music is quite minimal in the game; mostly it is just an ambient background wall. Some sound effects are beautifully synchronized with their features or objects; one example is the “levitating ray” which encapsulates you (or some object) and “carries” it straight forward until it reaches a wall. When you step into this ray you are not only encapsulated in the ray itself but the sound coming from the speakers are also perfect; it sounds a bit like you when are under water or are wearing a fully-covered helmet, most sounds does not reach your ears and those that does are “toned” down or are very “low”.
One (of many things) that Valve always manages to do with their games, and are one of the reason they always fare so well, is the implementation of the control. It is a very crucial part in most games, but especially in games where you have to be precise with jumps, movements (not all the time in Portal 2 though, but read above for an example) and where and when you create your portals. Sometimes I can have problems with FPS on the Xbox 360, I prefer to play them on PC, but Portal 2 was very easy to control. I am very concerned about controls, and bad controls can almost ruin games for me even if everything else is perfect (e.g. what almost happened with Skyward Sword). Portal 2 has perfect controls; you have full power and control over the movements and actions of the character.
I haven’t played too much of the single player campaign of the game; I just played parts of some levels. From what I did play and also observed while my girlfriend played the rest was that it had great challenges, an ironic and a bit satirical “story” (although you can finish the full game without caring for the story, if you don’t care for the silly jokes) although, as mentioned above, the game world and the “layout” and textures used could have been a bit more varied.
The multiplayer campaign is where the greatness of the game kicks in. It is absolutely perfect for co-op! In this campaign the characters are two robots and the story, at least as far as I have reached in co-op, is all about how GLaDOS (the computer “voice”/AI following and “narrating” you) compares us to humans and what kinds of mistakes we do and so on. We are mostly deemed stupid and as a waste of time.
Of course, this is not a game where you play to hear lovely lines of monologue; it is all about the puzzles and challenges! Similar to the single player levels you are presented with a few features/objects at some point and then you meet the same over and over again until you have mastered them. Then you are presented with something new that you have to learn how to beat; of course, the further you progress the challenges also contain some parts from earlier puzzles, which adds up for complex but very cool puzzles after a while!
There is also the part of co-operation. All levels in co-op require you to co-operate to be able to reach the exit of the levels. At some parts it just about combining your portals in the right order, but there are also some more “emotional” parts where you or your playing partner have the full power of life (or death) over the other player; for example by lowering and heightening huge blocks, you can either let your playing partner reach some goal or, if you make some mistake or he/she takes the wrong turn, can be crushed or perhaps plunge to death. This gives the co-op an extra dimension! Even if it is just a game and you have unlimited retries, it is not too nice to crush your playing partner…
If you are up for some serious mind bending, either on your own or with a friend, then Portal 2 is a perfect game. It really requires “serious” thinking; when I played it very late a few times I couldn’t solve the puzzles, because they really need your (more or less) full power of your brain and mind to be solved. It isn’t a game that will stick because of how it looks, but that is quite quickly forgotten because of everything else that is so great about it. The sounds are mostly ambient, but nicely combined with the actions or features. The controls are also perfect which let you just focus on the challenges ahead, not how to do this action and so on.
Even if you are not a “puzzle freak” I can almost promise you will like the challenges you will face in Portal 2. After you have projected a few portals you will be hooked!
- Platform(s): Xbox 360 [version tested], Playstation 3, Windows, Mac
- Developer: Valve
- Version: Release
- Release date: 21 April 2011
- Mindbending challenges
- Very good control
- Co-op mode that actually requires co-operation