Portal 2 was a tough sell for me. Everything I saw and read about it made me nervous and I didn’t want to put down the $50 or $60 to buy the game. I thought the game would be too easy and short with no reason to go back and play it again. Missing my window to rent it with GameFly, I did something I am not proud of: I downloaded the game for my PC. Being a fan of the original Portal game and owning both Half-Life and the Orange Box for PC, I thought that this would be the best way to play the game and then decide if I wanted to buy it later.
Here is one thing about Portal 2 that made me the most nervous about buying it: All the reviews I read about the game were too good. In fact, many of them read like they were fanboys who fell in love with Portal, thus Portal 2 was awesome. I had heard a lot of things, like they made Portal 2 easier than Portal, but I found Portal not that hard either. I also heard that the campaign had no reason to replay it because there were no challenge modes or time trials. I even heard that the game was short. Most of the reviewers failed to mention that or if they did, they did it causally, but to me those are very important factors in me wanting to buy a game, which put me back on the fanboy assumption.
So were the puzzles easy? Why yes, I found the puzzles very easy. In fact, only 2 puzzles made me stop and really think and both of them were in chapter 8, the penultimate chapter of the game. One puzzle in particular had me stumped, but after trial and error I figured out a way to beat it. Other than that, the puzzles weren’t hard. I only failed to do those specific puzzles because I didn’t execute them properly, but I still was doing it right. In fact, I found it harder to travel between the puzzles than actually doing the puzzles. If you haven’t played the game yet, there are several times where you aren’t doing an official puzzle, but you have to travel around huge areas. I often found them a bit confusing about where I needed to go, but it shocked me that I would take more time figuring out how to get from point A to point B, yet when having to figure out a puzzle, I solved it rather quickly. With that said, it only took me about 5 hours to beat the campaign.
Another thing I want to mention about the game are the graphics. Portal 2 is built off of an old engine and while the graphics don’t look bad, they don’t stand out at all either. Valve does do a good job in creating a destroyed Aperture Science facility, but the dated graphics are there and I could easily run the game’s graphics on high on my laptop, which isn’t built for gaming at all.
The highlight of the game would be the characters and the voices behind them. If it wasn’t for that, then the game would hold no water. Ellen McLain revives her role as GLaDOS and does a great job in adding more sarcasm and passive aggressive revenge to her character, which made completing the chambers more interesting because I was curious to see what she would say next. Joining the cast was J.K. Simmons, who you might know as Jameson from the Spider-Man movies or more recently as the instructor from the Farmers commercials, and also Stephen Merchant, who is a fairly famous English comedian. Both of those actors did a great job in bringing life and comedy into Portal 2. Personally, I like Simmons more because he had some great random lines.
The final part of my review will be about the co-op portion of the game. Co-op offers a more unique experience to the game because not only do the puzzles get more complex, but having to work with someone else adds a new dynamic to the puzzles. When working with a partner the hardest thing to do is communicate with them. It might seem easy because we can talk to each other using mics, but having to direct people to certain walls and obstacles can be very difficult. Valve did a good job in allowing users to direct other plays with the built in commands making co-op possible and far less frustrating. Plus they added gestures to the game making working with a partner far more rewarding when you can give them a high-five or taunt them as they die. Playing with a friend also eliminated the problem of having a douche bag of a partner who does things just to watch you die, although, both Jrow and I had our moments where we screwed with each other, which made the game more fun in the end.
The best part of co-op was the difficulty of the puzzles. Having 4 portal options made each puzzle that much harder to complete. I found myself more often having trouble deciding what to do and even with the combined brain power of two people, we found ourselves confused at times. I will admit that when I couldn’t think of something having a partner that could was reassuring, but at the same time it felt like some of the sense of accomplishment when completing a puzzle was taken away. It did take about 4-5 hours to beat the puzzles as well, which effectively doubled the amount of time it took me to beat the game.
Even with the more difficult puzzles, I will say that the co-op experience paled in comparison to the single player campaign. The new characters, while fun, just don’t have the same chemistry with GlaDOS as Chell did. Although it did give us the options to finally taunt GlaDOS with the new characters, the wisecracks and insults just didn’t live up to what we have experienced before. The other reason is that there really is no story behind these characters. I won’t spoil it, but there is an independent story to the co-op and it feels more like filler than actual content. I didn’t mention it before, but the campaign ending is priceless. One of the best endings you will ever find and the final credit song is just a perfect way to end the Portal 2 campaign. The same can not be said about the co-op. In fact, the co-op ending feels more like a “to be continued” ending.
While the game is split into two parts, the two modes are very different. The campaign is easy, but the experience is great and the co-op is complex, but it lacks replayability. The main reason the campaign has replayability is the experience that it offers. The voice acting is strong, the story is great, and the characters are some of the best you will ever find, but the co-op lacks that. The complex puzzles where very appealing, but once you know how to solve the puzzles there is little reason to go back. It leaves a somewhat unsatisfying experience when you put the two together.
In conclusion, is Portal 2 a must own title? Yes. Portal 2 is one of those rare breeds of games that doesn’t come around too often. There are plenty of flaws in the game however and I want to stress that the game isn’t perfect, but it is ultimately a great experience. The campaign is unforgettable and the co-op is satisfyingly complex. Plus Valve has free DLC on the way giving us more content for our money. If you don’t already own Portal 2, now is a good time to go get it because pirating was a poor decision on my part. I do now own a full retail copy of the game for my PS3 and I am enjoying it even more than ever.