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Saturday, April 30, 2011

Portal 2

My introduction to the wacky world of Aperture Science came last school year when I saw my roommate playing some random game on his computer. I helped him figure out a few test chambers, thought the game looked interesting, and went on with my day. Fast forward to last summer. My XBox360 had been collecting dust for a long while and I was looking for a new game to play. I remembered my roommate's game and downloaded the demo off of XBox Live. I played the demo, finished it, and immediately played it again. The idea of creating portals is simple, but to see such unique ways to use them was excellent...and that was just the demo. I bought the full version and played through it in two sittings: one for the test chambers and one for the escape. The plot, while simple, was great and GLaDOS made a witty, hilarious, and twisted homicidal villain. The song at the end, "Still Alive", sums up the whole game perfectly: witty, funny, and dark all at the same time.

Portal 2 tops it.

Really, I was looking forward to some of Nintendo's releases later this year but I doubt they'll compare (although, Super Mario 3DS has the potential). Although the gameplay isn't as improved from the original as I would have liked, everything else is improved greatly.

Let's get that gameplay issue out of the way. I was hoping the added features such as gels, funnels, and the like would make things delightfully more complicated yet not too frustrating. While the last few test chambers did this, there seemed to be a lot of puzzles that boiled down to "look around for a place to shoot a portal, shoot that portal, go on to the next room" especially during the middle section. This actually tripped me up a few times because I was trying to make the game more complicated than it needed to be. However, saying it isn't an improvement over the original isn't exactly an insult. The gameplay in the original was superb and this game's is too. It's just not knock my socks off amazing. Hopefully, DLC will fix that.

What it doesn't improve in gameplay, Portal 2 improves in storytelling. Within the first 5 minutes, you're introduced to a new character and experience a hilarious, chaotic, and somewhat dark view of a post-apocalyptic Aperture. It shows that Aperture is no longer the series of clean test chambers and a few backstage areas as seen in the first Portal. It is massive and full of rooms with distinct character. I'll go into more story detail in my spoiler post later but it is easily the best narrative I've ever seen a video game. It is full of humor, great characters, truly surprising plot twists, and surprisingly touching moments. Speaking of characters, all of them meet and possibly exceed the bar set by GLaDOS in the original. This is the best voice acting I've heard in a video game by miles. I encourage you to stop and just listen to what the characters have to say as some of the best lines actually come when you loiter.

Music is mainly just meant for atmosphere, but works effectively. It often pipes up when you're using one of the new toys to play around with such as floating through excursion funnels or flying through the air between faith plates. The end credits song has a rather different feel than "Still Alive" and I think I prefer it. While Still Alive has more clever lines, the new end theme is just a great stand alone song that wraps up the story nicely (NOTE: DO NOT LISTEN TO IT IF YOU HAVE NOT BEATEN THE GAME, IT CONTAINS SPOILERS)

Graphics-wise, the game looks impressive most of the time. The wide open areas of Aperture look amazing and the lighting effects while Wheatley lights your path look almost real. However, there are a few weird things that just don't look up to snuff. The plants in the early part of the game look really flat and splashes in water looks terrible. Overall, though, I'd say it's still the best game I've seen graphics-wise.

I have yet to play co-op, but I can say just by playing single player, if you have the means, buy and play this game. Portal may have been a great game, but Portal 2 expands it by giving it a bigger heart. Even though it's fairly short (7 hours or so), it's an experience I wouldn't pass up for the world. It might factor into my top 5 favorite games of all time. I'll likely do some spoiler discussions sometime but I don't feel like it now.

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