You might argue additions like these dilute the purity of the experience, but everything’s still executed with Valve’s high level of charm and panache. Portal‘s signature trick was flinging, jumping from great height through one side of a portal and keeping the momentum through the other side to cover great distances. Here, you’re not just manipulating momentum but also light as well. You’ll need to redirect lasers and light bridges to get from point A to point B.
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The best thing about the first Portal games was the commentary it made on highly structured corporatism, like a stripped-down sci-fi cousin to Office Space. Portal 2′s a different kind of funny. It’s jokier, chattier and a bit more mean-spirited at times. Where the first game felt chilly and academic, this game evinces a certain weariness and wariness that makes the human vs. AI faceoff much more charged. A lot of the game plays out as a dysfunctional grudge match against GLaDOS, but there’s also a sliver of backstory provided by a key character voiced by J.K. Simmons. Instead of the first game’s mute Companion Cube, you get actual companionship, a bumbling hyper-verbal robot eyeball named Wheatley, voiced in winning fashion by Stephen Merchant (Ricky Gervais’ writing partner on the original UK version of The Office).
The game’s dirtier, clunkier world might be more inelegant but its onion-skin layers still tell a multi-layered story that’ll make you laugh out loud. Most importantly, the gameplay’s high points–those mind-expanding moments of wonder and accomplishment–are present and accounted for.
You start out as always, entering a test chamber and wondering how the pieces fit together. Then it’s on to opening portals, jumping off ledges, and redirecting light in bouts of trial-and-error until you come upon the solution. The puzzles in co-op are even harder, but the difficulty fuels a nice feedback loop. Not only do you feel smarter than you were when the level started but the crankier tone makes every beaten test chamber feel like a bigger victory.
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Portal 2‘s change of direction illustrates Valve’s growth as a developer. They’re able to poke fun at themselves in the game’s opening minutes, take our beloved GLaDOS to just the right side of unlikability and accommodate a market demand for multiplayer without making it feel tacked-on or forgettable. The sequel still manages to dazzle without having that rush of newness that buoyed its predecessor and, on top of that, it’s arguably the best comedy entertainment video games have yet produced. For anyone worried that Portal 2 couldn’t live up to the hype, the spark of awesome inside the first-person puzzle series is very much… still alive.
Techland Score: 10 out of 10