is a game all adventure game fans should play. Seriously.
Yes it works
like a first person shooter, yes you have a gun, and yes you have a boss
battle at the end. There are turrets that will kill you, falls that will
break you, and death around quite a few corners. You jump, and run, and
shoot, as you make your way through a giant testing laboratory where a
number of psychotic Artificial Intelligences (A.I.s) are out to get you.
All that is true, but it tells you
almost nothing about what is in store. It’s just the chassis, and we need
to look beneath the hood. If you played the first Portal, you know
a bit about what to expect. For the rest, let me explain.
First off, let me clarify the gun
thing. Yes, you fire it, but what you fire are portals. One orange, one
blue, and what goes in one, comes out the other. Which is usually you.
Find yourself stuck in a pit? No
problem – fire a portal at the floor, and one in a wall outside the pit,
and enter the floor to come out the wall. Need to get to that door at the
end of the elevated catwalk? Let’s make a portal in the wall, and one in
the roof above the catwalk, and then we simply walk through the wall and
drop onto the catwalk.
“The square root of rope is
But that’s just the basics. You
can’t shoot portals into every available surface, and you will soon be
familiar with the white cement surface that will take a portal. Then, what
goes in fast can come out just as fast, and you will eventually find
yourself jumping into a portal from a great height in order to shoot out
the other portal at speed in order to cross a pit or chasm. A bit like
spitting an orange pip.
Other things go in portals too.
Laser beams for instance, energy fields you can walk on or use to create
barriers, and antigravity tubes which can carry you and other things
about. Various fluids which have special properties can also enter a
portal in order to be directed to where you might need them.
Fundamentally, what you do with
all this stuff going in and out of portals is find your way through the
Aperture Science testing facility, one room or piece of environment at a
time. You do that by manipulating the things you have in the room or space
in order to overcome the environmental puzzle that is the room.
There is a gentle learning curve
in the game that enables you to settle into the basics, before more and
more elements are added. Switches might drop a crate or a prism, which
might then be used to trigger pressure plates to open doors, or deflect a
laser beam onto a necessary switch. Early on, the crate might just drop
nearby. Later, it might drop straight onto a pressure plate which flings
it into a void. So you will need to find a way to “catch” said crate
before it enters said void.
The fluids I mentioned add another
dimension. Think of them as paint, which enable the surfaces you coat to
behave in different ways. One creates a bouncy surface, one enables you to
move at great speed across it, and a third turns the surface into one
which will take a portal. These qualities further enable you to manipulate
the environment, or create the circumstances needed to move on.
“Do definitely focus on
landing with your legs”
It's brilliantly done, and at
times fiendishly clever. Most of the time you can simply stand there and
nut out what it is you might need to do to move on, and try things to see
what works. If you die, the game simply returns you to the start of the
puzzle, so nothing is lost by attempting great leaps or creative plummets.
It can, in fact, be quite exhilarating. The first time I leapt from a
great height to be spat out an angled surface and arc across a chasm made
me want to do it again just for fun. The challenges become progressively
more difficult, but build on the principles you have learned to date.
Compared to the original Portal,
Portal 2 is far less action like. There were quite a few areas in
that game where I saved progressively as I went, so as not to have risk
dying and having to repeat certain parts. I never did that here. There
were also a significant number of challenges in the first game where you
had to press buttons, and then in a certain amount of time complete a
complicated manoeuvre. Again that didn’t happen here. Brains and planning,
not brawn or reflexes, are the essence of Portal 2.
You will rarely be in a position
where a metaphorical itchy trigger finger is needed. There are some
challenges that involve a quick portal deployment and an element of
timing, and you do have to do some bouncing here and there, but by and
large it’s a think piece. As well, once you have set up the “solution”
correctly the game allows it to happen successfully. So to return to the
box catching I mentioned earlier, if you put the barrier in the right
place, the box falls safely somewhere you can pick it up. So too being
spat out of surfaces – if the angled surface is the right one, and you
enter with the right velocity, you will land where you are supposed to
without further player input.
There are rooms where turrets
might shoot at you, but you don’t shoot back. The environment offers the
solution, be it creating a barrier, disabling the turrets in some way, or
simply finding a way to pass them by.
The final battle will require some
dexterity, but I reckon if you stopped there and never bothered to
complete it, you would be well pleased with the experience to that point.
It would be a shame though to miss the end, so find an actiony friend if
it gets a little tricky.
“When life gives you lemons,
don’t make lemonade, make life take the lemons back!”
Even though many of the challenges
take place in single test rooms, this is a big game world. Parts of the
game are played traversing an external environment, or passing through the
labyrinthine innards of the science facility. It is also quite “alive”,
and is constantly being rearranged by at least one of the A.I.s. Rooms are
wrenched and torn apart and reconstituted to create a new challenge, and
there is a busyness throughout the facility, with conveyer belts, and
assembly lines, and chittering bots aplenty.
At the same time, the outside
world appears to have fallen apart. You can see signs of decay everywhere,
from plants invading cracked walls to crumbling and fallen structures.
Graffiti and occasionally disturbing messages are scrawled here and there,
but there is only you. It’s a solitary place, a little disturbing, and I
The sound is as you would expect
from such a polished product, providing the appropriate support for what
is occurring. In certain parts a loud and racing techno beat kicked in to
give the mood a jolt, but for the most part I didn’t notice the
If that had been it, this game
would have rated highly, for the sheer inventiveness of the puzzles and
the addictive nature of their completion. But it wasn’t.
“Here are the test results.
You are a horrible person. They weren’t even testing for that”
is superbly written and brilliantly voiced. GLaDOS is back, a malevolent
A.I. you destroyed in the first game, manically psychotic and hellbent on
revenge. She talks to you in a narrative that is dark and darkly humorous,
deriding your efforts, taunting your success, and ever convinced of your
demise. All in a lilting, almost hypnotic voice.
Then there is Wheatley. Looking
like a chrome eyeball with handles, you first encounter “him” when you
awake in the very first scene from what seems to be a lengthy cryosleep.
As the room is torn apart around you, Wheatley convinces you he can help
you escape if you take him with you. Hyperactive and highly strung,
British and geeky, you can tell he wants to be so much more. He keeps up a
rapid-fire banter that helps fill the void, and also fills some of the
backstory. Needless to say, he and GLaDOS are not friends.
Finally there is Cave Johnson, not
an A.I. but the founder of the facility whose prerecorded messages bombard
you in certain parts of the facility. The benefits of testing are
pronounced with great gusto, as he urges and cajoles the test subjects.
Like GLaDOS but without the lilt, Cave’s messages have a dark humour that
hits just the right tones.
Between the three of them, they
overlay your puzzling with an immensely satisfying narrative, lifting what
would have been a clever game to a great game.
To the extent that there might be
downsides, there are a lot of screen loads which, though not terribly
long, are certainly prevalent. The game uses Steam, which you may have
views about, and some might think the settling in period is overly
drawn-out before the real challenges start. Once played, the replayability
quotient is probably a little limited also, although there is a
multiplayer option, which for me still remains untouched.
is the best thing I have played in ages. It would be a shame for any
adventure player who likes all those things adventure players like not to
give it a go. And in all those things, it leaves many mainstream
adventures for dead.
I played on:
Processor: AMD Phenom 9500 Quad Core CPU 2.2 GHz
Ram: 4.00GB DDR2 400MHz
Gx card: ATI Radeon HD
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