I guess I’ll begin with the most concise review I can manage: I love this game. The puzzles are great, little improvements like adding a zoom function really improve the overall experience, and the graphics are fine in spite of the now-positively-ancient Source engine. The single-player experience is significantly more fleshed out and substantial than that of the first Portal, and this time around truly holds its own as a game and not simply a Half-Life side story.
I’m not particularly surprised by any of this, really. I can’t recall the last time Valve released a bad game, and there is clearly passion within the studio about this franchise. I’m more relieved than anything else, really. I’m one of the few out there who considers Mass Effect to be considerably better than its sequel, and I’m always wary of a company trying to recapture the magic of a game by polishing up what’s good about it and not paying attention to what made it so good in the first place. That probably sounds dumb, but I’m going somewhere with this so shut up and hear me out. It would have been very easy to make a Portal 2 that would be very successful both critically and commercially that I would have hated. The first title was built on an innovative and solid puzzle mechanic, but what people remember about it was cake and GlaDOS and whether or not there is any truth in said cake (there is not) and a Jonathan Coulton song which was at once catchy and clever but now only exists to ruin parties when somebody who can’t read the atmosphere insists on adding it to the Rock Band playlist. Portal was a short but magical experience which was very quickly distilled into a teeshirt. Nothing scared me more than the prospect of going to a message board on Friday morning (allowing for a 3 day moratorium on spoilers) and seeing it awash in sycophants declaring their unending love for Test Room 16, AKA THE CAKE LAIR!!#@! while posting youtube videos of themselves doing the GlaDOS Shuffle, the hot new dance craze set to the tune of the latest tongue-in-cheek JoCo jam.
It’s easy to dip back into the well when trying to follow up something as surprisingly popular and beloved as Portal. The game was a phenomenon, hitting hard and fast and when something like that happens, it can be very difficult to discern what creates that kind of success, even for the creators. Often, the best people can do is try and recapture the phenomenon’s most successful parts because they can’t suss out any better way to follow up on it. Maybe the brightest minds at Valve got together in a board room and the best they could come up with was “People love cake and songs penned by Yale graduates,” with one post-it note stuck to the side of the whiteboard saying “Maybe mix it up and get a Harvard guy this time?”
It became clear to me very quickly over the course of the game that this was not to be the case. Valve had the sense to identify that the product was not what made the first game great, but rather it was the ingenuity and creativity of some truly talented, very funny people. Portal 2 is wonderful for all the same reasons that Portal was wonderful: it is incredibly well-crafted in every area and it is a truly original and unique experience, even against its predecessor.
Thought I just had: Did Valve choose not to recycle the old jokes so they could make new tee shirts with catch phrases on it? My meme predictions are: ::maybe spoilerzlol?:: “I’m Different” and “I’m the guy who’s gonna set your house on fire… with lemons!” ::end spoilerzwtf?!::
I’ve yet to experience cooperative play! I wanted to finish the single player first. I have, and you should too. Portal 2 is kind of a can’t miss thing, and if you don’t like it then you’re wrong and we can’t be friends.