Portal 2 Review
Well, it's been 6 months since I last posted a video. Sorry about that, but life being the indecisive bitch she is often intervenes and makes me thusly unable to cater to my tens of adoring fans. On a similarly unrelated note, I'm going to attempt to make it through this entire review without making one reference to the fact that we're now going on four years since the last released Half-Life 2 game, as every insufferable bastard who has reviewed any Valve game since 2008 has been sure made some mention of it. Sure, Valve continues to dangle keys in front of our face to try and distract us from the fact that they haven't even pretended to set a release date for Episode 3, but I for one am grateful for the existence of at least one software company that continues to release shining monuments of game design in the veritable soul-crushing cesspool of unoriginality and depression that makes up the video game market, and I'll be damned if I'll anger the gods of games that don't suck, lest they be swallowed by the swamp of sadness.
So, Portal 2, the follow-up to Portal, the 2007 smash hit featuring a jumpsuit adorned hero named Chell who suffers from selective mutism and gyroscopically stable, titanium femurs, and a passive-aggressive artificial intelligence so sadistic that she makes HAL 9000 look like a spokesperson for Amnesty International, named GLaDOS. After dispatching GLaDOS in the previous installment, Portal 2 picks up some unspecified amount of time later with the Aperture Science facility in disrepair and the player must once again navigate their way through a labyrinth of test chambers at the behest of various omniscient overlords.
The gameplay is fundamentally unchanged from the original Portal. There are a few new elements to play with such as gels and light based implements, but at the end of the day, you still tamper with the fabric of space so you can gaily fling your character through the air to press a button. Two thoughts that struck me immediately after finishing the single player campaign. Firstly, if Valve's expositional technique was a rapist, you would be 5 months pregnant before you realized something had happened. Whereas most games like to tell backstories by bludgeoning you senseless with cutscenes, the story of GLaDOS and Aperture Science is so subtle that you barely realize it's being told to you. It interweaves gameplay with storytelling more seamlessly than a choose your own adventure book.
The second thought was that Stephen Merchant should narrate every game. And I don't mean that in a sarcastic way, I'm serious, no other person should be allowed to do voice work in any video game ever again. At first, I was concerned because though amusing in the trailer, when has an endlessly yammering British accent ever made video gaming better? Oh, right. But regardless, he manages to strike the perfect balance of being hilarious without being annoying. I actually found myself wandering around doing things just to try and extract more lines from Merchant's character.
The game also includes a co-op campaign which is, if anything, even better. Though I'm firmly of the belief that the quality of a game should never be hung on its multiplayer appeal, Portal 2 really alters the way players work together, much in the way the Left 4 Dead series made teammates seem like necessary additions and not infuriating health kit vacuums. I was skeptical at the announcement of a co-op campaign not only because I thought they might skimp on the single-player campaign, but also because I have so few friends, and the even fewer who did buy Portal 2 bought it for console because they're bewilderingly stupid.
Luckily, for socially inept misanthropes like me, Valve provided the ability to join with any other friendless bastard unable to maintain continuous social interaction with another human beyond a few hours, though not without a depression-inducing reminder of how unlikeable you are and how much more fun you'd be having if you were playing with a friend. To communicate with teammates who don't have a headset, Valve incorporated a rather intuitive pinging system to help direct wayward players and helps to reduce you screaming impotently at your monitor by nearly ten percent. There's also a customization section of the co-op where you can decorate your player-character, because no game these days is complete without the ability to tart up model skins like a 9 year-old girl's Trapper Keeper, even though you only see your character about as often as I see a naked woman that isn't made up of ones and zeros.
What with this being a critique, I would feel remiss if I didn't at least point out a few flaws. The first is that though the voice work is top notch from all the actors, the "committing atrocities in the name of science" jokes can get a bit repetitive. Missing from Portal 2 are the reflex puzzles from Portal 1, where you have to quickly place portals while hurtling through the air, which was disappointing particularly after how prominently they were featured in trailers. I can only assume that these were removed for the console ports because high speed, precision shooting with a control stick is like trying to unhook a bra with the back of your knees. There's been a certain amount of grumbling coming from the console community about the load times, and though there are certainly more load screens than in the original, the PC load times are never more than a few seconds at the most.
While explaining why Portal 1 was better than every other game was like explaining why a McDonald's double cheeseburger was better than gang rape, trying to decide if Portal 2 is better than Portal 1 is like deciding between a double cheeseburger and chicken nuggets. It's not really better, just different. What you need to know is that Portal 2 is everything a sequel should be. While most sequels are either completely unrelated with only minimal ties to its predecessor or else complete rip-offs that latch on to the original and bleed it dry of all the goodwill granted from the original, Portal 2 manages to find an excellent balance between being its own game while remembering its roots, like a movie star that still calls his parents on holidays. They fixed most of the issues with the old game, notably by making only a single cake reference and hopefully depriving the internet of any new, obnoxious memes. Portal 2 reminds us why Valve the zenith of video game publishing and we should all be damn grateful for their existence.
Can I play Episode 3 now?