One of the serious disadvantages to being the editor of How To Play is that occasionally you have to be nice and let other people review games. In this case, I gave up reviewing Portal 2 for someone else. Then I realised that I can post here! Hurrah!
If you haven’t played the original Portal, then stop what you’re doing and go play it. You’ve missed out on one of the most interesting puzzlers that came out in the past few years, and you’ve missed out on the brilliant writing and character creation that Valve have ever done. It will also explain why people keep telling you they love cubes with hearts on them and why the cake is a lie.
Essentially, the game works with two interlinked portals. Go through one and you come out of the other at the same speed. You need to see it to believe it. YouTube away!:
You get the gist. Surprisingly, GLaDOS (Ms Creepy AI lady) is defeated at the end, the facility is destroyed, Jonathan Coulton becomes more of an internet phenomena and we’re done. Right?
Except that in March last year, Valve decided to put an update in. The radios started playing morse code when placed in certain positions, and the ending changed to a robot taking you while saying “Thank you for assuming the party escort submission position”. Portal 2 is then announced soon after.
Aside from the usual awesome trailers, April Fools; included updates to 13 indie games on Steam, all with the note “Happy #potatofoolsday!”. It turned out to be more Portal 2 advertising and culminated in GLaDOS rebooting using potatoes. I think it made sense to Valve at the time, but it didn’t make sense to anyone else.
So, how does it play? As good as the original, if not better. The addition of aerial faith plates, various gels and the light bridges make for some interesting puzzles, along with a fair bit of variety. Original Portal puzzle solving involved dropping a long way to build up momentum and sailing through the air. Portal 2 puzzle solving now includes using a funnel to bring a cube over to you, placing speed gel on to a ramp and firing yourself into another funnel to get to the exit.
As crazy as that solution sounds, it makes perfect sense when you do it. In the 8-ish hours it took me to play the single player I got stuck twice, and I just left the PC for a few minutes and went back to it once my brain had chewed it over a few times. Yes, the game gets harder (and the end puzzles are much more difficult than the original was), but the learning curve is so brilliantly placed I doubt you’ll get stuck much more than I did.
You might also discover that it’s 2 am when you were sure it was only 11 a few minutes ago. While I was planning this out, I ran into a the same problem over and over again: The most brilliant bits of this are spoilers. Valve were always brilliant writers, but they did amazing here.
GLaDOS is as hilarious as last time, and Stephen Merchant does Wheatley with such aplomb that it’s hard to do anything he tells you in case there’s another line waiting, and there usually is — I think I counted 2 minutes worth of extra lines for one task. The defective AIs are so much fun that at [REDACTED] I spent far too long just listening to one trying to hit on me.
There’s also co-op, which is worth playing through for more of GLaDOS’ crazyness. Also, you get the fun ability to destroy your partner (I’m sorry, Raz, the third time wasn’t intentional. Honest), or hit them over the head. Doing these in front of a camera gets GLaDOS scolding you, or assigning arbitrary points. I can’t speak for the length of this seeing as I haven’t finished it yet, but I hear there’s at least 3 hours in there.
I really don’t think there is anyone who wouldn’t enjoy this game. The writing is the funniest I’ve heard for a long time but I’m having to work really hard to not quote it because of how spoilerific it is. The actual puzzles are perfect and the game is just the right length. You need to play this game.
Patrick Rose is General Editor of How To Play while trying to get a Computer Science degree at Sheffield University. His twitter is@drugcrazed and you can usually find him on Steam under the name Drug Crazed Dropkick