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Published on April 23rd, 2011 | by simeon

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PORTAL 2

In 2007 Valve Software released Portal and watched it garner rave reviews and tons of awards for game of the year and other achievements. Originally planned as companion material in their Orange Box set which featured Half Life 2 Episode Two, and Team Fortress 2, the Portal game soon spread like wildfire when gamers fell in love with the story and unique blend of action and puzzle-solving. Fans have eagerly awaited a new chapter in the series and thankfully Portal 2 has finally arrived amidst much hype and anticipation.

The game picks up some time after the first as players once again play Chell, a woman who has ended up in a testing chamber at Aperature Science with no explanation has to how and why she ended up there. The game implies that several years have passed since the first game because when Chell awakens from hybernation sleep it is clear that things have decayed over time. Her pristine room is now suffering from serious signs of neglect.

A computerized orb named Wheatley (voiced by Stephan Merchant), attempts to lead Chell to safety but unfortunately awakens the evil GLaDOS computer system. GLaDOS is very upset over what happened in your previous encounter and has decided to make things very personal. Having a homicidal computer mad at you is not good for one’s health and neither are the new test chambers that you must navigate in order to survive. As with the previous game, players have a portal gun which allows them to place two portals on the maps which players can use to traverse chasms, dangers, and remote objects and locations. Skilled players will also be able to use the device to defend themselves from robotic dangers that arise in the game as well.

As in the prior game, players must survive numerous testing chambers and use their brains as well as spacial processing, physics, and timing to resolve the puzzles in the game. Cleverly, the designers have upped the ante by introducing fluidic puzzles which allow player to jump high and move fast. A much needed ability as the game has plenty of surprise turns in it.

As the plot of the game unfolds, players are given clues as to their setting and circumstance by what Wheatley and GLaDOS, voiced by Ellen McClain, say to you, as well as pre-recorded messages and writing on the walls that are encountered off grid. J.K. Simmons plays Aperture Science CEO Cave Johnson and his recorded messages do a nice job of providing humor as well as backstory to the game.

The puzzles are harder this time out. Having to factor in viscocity as well as trajectory and physics makes for some real challanges. That being said, as in the prior game, it is very satisfying when you are able to resolve a puzzle and the off grid settings really require you to think outside of the box and pay attention to your surroundings. Some of the puzzles have different resolution options so it is up to the gamer to device a strategy that works best for them.

The controls in the game have not changed since the original and as before players can customize their keyboard controls to a configuration that best suits them. Graphically the game looks great and I was again reminded of the “Cube” film series which features individuals forced to survive by solving puzzles and avoiding deadly traps. The game remains as fresh and original as before. However, the source engine graphics are looking dated and, while still crisp and sharp, should be updated for future games in the series.

The sound and voice acting in the game are amazing. The characters are engaging and provide a great mix of humor and menace to the game. Portal 2 offers a co-op multiplay mode which allows gamers to play as one of two robots and work through challenges designed to be played by two players. It took a little work to resolve communication issues and get used to having to tag where you wanted a player to place portals, but in no time my fellow gamer and I were taking on every challenge the system could throw our way. I especially like the fact that Playstation 3 and Mac owners will be able to join with PC players in the same game. My only real issue with the game was that upon completion I was left with many unaswered questions. I know that this may be addressed in a future game but I had hoped to have some more of the mystery of the game and situations explained to me. Instead, like with Babylon 5, for every answer I was given, there were several more questions raised. The game does not so much as answer questions, but it hints at things and requires
players to make up your own mind.

In the end Portal 2 is the rare sequel that surpasses the original and once again Valve has set a new standard in gaming. It seems like every time they release a new title I am amazed at how they simply create nothing but the highest quality games and take the time to do them right rather than rush off quick sequels or release buggy games. While there is still plenty of time left in 2011, I expect Portal 2 will be a strong contender for our Game of the Year award as well as several other industry awards.

4.5 stars out of 5


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