People come to expect a lot from sequels, and very rarely does the developer follow through as perfectly as Valve did with Portal 2. The original Portal took a very simple premise and put it into mind-bending practice: use a portal gun to navigate your way around a series of increasingly-difficult test chambers at the will of the malicious AI GLaDOS. The relatively short campaign definitely left room for expansion, but the dry hilarity that permeated the dialogue is what made the game truly great. I charge you to find a gamer who doesn’t at least still smirk at mention of the cake being a lie, even after four years.
Portal 2 gives everyone more of exactly what they wanted from it: more portal-based puzzles, more in-game puzzle solving mechanics, more scripted hilarity.
But this time around there’s actually character development.
Portal was a pretty straightforward game with a standard difficulty curve, which stood out for its clever puzzles and one-liners from GLaDOS. Portal 2 stands out for so much more. It’s absolutely stellar voice acting by Ellen McClain and big name J.K. Simmons drives you through the plot and makes you really want to find out what the next dialog reveals. None of it feels cliché, and you actually will notice yourself feeling pity for different characters throughout the game, none of whom I can reveal without ruining some of what makes this game great.
The formula for level design is very simple but surprisingly functional. You either get on an elevator or go through a hallway or some other transition, and when you get off you start a familiar cycle: dialog, puzzle, solve the puzzle, dialog, transition. It’s a great way to push you through the puzzles without making you feel skimped on the plot. This system really wouldn’t work if the script weren’t so hilarious, but that certainly wasn’t a problem. I laughed at almost every line, except the ones not meant to be funny.
When I finished this game, there was a sense of satisfaction and completion unlike anything I’ve experienced in gaming to this point. No game has ever felt so beautifully resolved. Even the last cut scene is a mini rollercoaster ride which will have you smiling and frowning, back to smiling, and for you original Portal players, applauding at the end.
There’s no excuse for not at least renting this game. As with Dead Space 2, if you haven’t played the first you should grab it to get the background. You need to witness the genius that went into it, and you’ll be seriously missing out if you pass it up.
And remember, always know your paradoxes.