|Games Info:||Developer: Valve Software; Publisher: Electronic Arts|
|Platform:||PC, Xbox 360, PS3|
Aperture Science estimates a review of Portal 2's single player campaign will be online by Tuesday the 26th of April at 10:00am. After 4.4 hours of play time I'm at 50% completion, and it's hard to overstate my satisfaction.
If you happen to be a Steam user then you may have picked up a copy of this much-hyped cult classic two days ago, but if you're a hard copy type of guy or gal then today is launch day at your local retailer. I don't make recommendations on whether you should spend your hard-earned cash in previews - because bad endings have the potential to ruin good games - but if the first half of Portal 2 is anything to go by, it's shaping up to be yet another smash hit for Valve.
The original Portal is widely regarded in the gaming community as one of the best games there is. Period. It won several Game of the Year awards, and even Zero Punctuation's Yahtzee couldn't find a single bad thing to say about it - if you've never seen a Zero Punctuation clip, such is rarity beyond belief. It was one of the best examples of gaming as art - the minimalist and yet interesting designs, the original concept of solving puzzles through portals, and the impeccable character development all provoked deeper thought about Portal in a medium that's still widely regarded as juvenile. What makes us sympathise with a character? Do they have to be human? Why are we so attached to an inanimate object like the companion cube? Do we feel bad for GLaDOS even though she's been trying to kill us? Is there really cake?
Portal 2 takes all of the best features of the original and develops them further. Aperture Science's test centre has been destroyed, and because of that the tone of the game is darker from the very beginning. I found that Portal eased gamers into the darker content with humour, but this time around the fear comes first as you wake up in a destroyed room and are carried by some machine as the whole room shakes and falls apart around you.
I was immediately uneasy, and I liked it.
The introduction of Wheatley, voiced by one of the creators of The Office, Stephen Merchant, is a breath of fresh air. I was wary of Valve adding new characters, as I didn't want anybody to overshadow GLaDOS, but I was immediately attached to Wheatley. Merchant's scaredy-nerd sense of humour made him a perfect choice for the role. Ellen McLain's GLaDOS is also as funny as ever - funnier, actually, as her malicious comments have gotten even more sarcastic and cruel.
Of course, Portal 2 is all about the puzzles. Rather than focus on building momentum to shoot through several portals in a row - which can be frustrating if you miss one and have to go back to the start - Valve has chosen to make you put all your energy into solving a new set of conundrums. At first they start off easy - really easy - which I've noticed a couple of reviewers complaining about. While I understand that people who've played Portal before might find these first test chambers too simple, the puzzles in the beginning are obviously designed so that anyone can pick up the game and play it. Frankly, I like being eased into the challenge anyway, but I guess that one's up to personal preference.
About three hours in, my brain started getting a real workout. There are new ways to solve puzzles - using lasers, light refracting cubes and light bridges - that wind up being extremely complicated and a lot to think about at one time. When I finally went to bed last night - a bit later than I probably should have, I'll admit - my head was so fuzzy from thinking that I'm surprised I had any remaining brain function to remember how to brush my teeth. But it was a good, satisfying kind of brain-workout.
Since I'm only halfway I'm expecting that these puzzles will continue to get harder, and right now I'm not exactly sure how I'm going to cope with that, especially considering how long it took me to solve the last couple of tests. Still, I'm looking forward to the challenge, and I can't wait to see if there's a little ditty at the end that I'll be singing as much as I sing 'Still Alive'. So far, so good - check back on Tuesday for my final verdict.