'Portal 2' videogame review: Physics is phunny

Portal-2-game

Much will be written about how smartly designed Portal 2 is, and that’s not to be disputed. But what particularly stands out about the game is its nonstop humor. Portal 2 is the most hilarious form of entertainment I’ve encountered so far this year. There’s a delectably British sensibility to the jokes, even though developer Valve Corporation is based in the decidedly non-British city of Bellevue, Wash. For instance, one of my favorite gags is a sign that points to two nearby destinations: the Employee Daycare Center and Neurotoxin Production Center. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. After all, Portal 2 is, first and foremost, a physics-based puzzle game.

Set an indefinite number of years after the 2007 original, you once again control Chell, a woman who’d make Harpo Marx seem talkative. And you’re still trapped in the (now extremely rundown) research facilities of Aperture Laboratories, the shower-curtain manufacturer responsible for inventing a portal gun that can create spatial wormholes between various surfaces. At the game’s outset, Chell is awoken from an extended cryo-chamber slumber by Wheatley, a small spherical robot whose giant blue eyeball resembles a HAL 9000 computer with an Apple makeover. Wheatley, who’s splendidly voiced by the British comedian and The Office exec producer Stephen Merchant, is the most delightful artificial-intelligence program one could hope to meet, and his witty quips and general clumsiness are a frequent source of amusement.

Before you know it, Chell and Wheatley accidentally reactivate GLaDOS, the supercomputer antagonist who monitored your progress in the first game until you, ahem, “murdered” her. Suffice it to say, GLaDOS is rather upset with you about that, and she quickly starts designing a plethora of “test chambers” for you to navigate. Armed with just a portal gun, it’s once again up to you to think your way out of each room and, in the process, learn a bit more about the enigmatic history of Aperture Laboratories.

Portal 2 is essentially a series of puzzles tied together by a captivating narrative, and what puzzles they are! Most of the test chambers involve unlocking an exit door, and the solutions are initially pretty straightforward. But as you proceed through the game, the challenges escalate in difficulty until you find yourself having to utilize a whole toolbox of items, including rotatable cubes that can redirect the path of laser beams, paint-like gels that can enhance your running speed and jumping ability, and Tron-esque “light bridges” that can deflect enemy fire and help you cross obstacles. When you solve an especially demanding puzzle, you’ll consider yourself the smartest human being on the planet. And when you’re stumped for a prolonged period, you’ll swear your IQ has plummeted to that of a baked potato that’s been in the oven 37 minutes too long.

There’s no getting around the fact that Portal 2 is challenging, and some may abandon it out of pure frustration. The second act, in particular, cranks up the difficulty level at a speed that may dishearten casual gamers. But it’s not a malicious game, either, and all of the puzzles make logical sense once you wrap your noggin around them. Some players will wish that Valve had included a hint system. Had such a feature been available, however, I know I would have used it a few times for problems that I eventually solved — to my elation — all on my own. In fact, the only place Valve stumbles a little is when you’re traveling from one test chamber to the next. On more than one occasion, I had absolutely no idea where I was suppose to head next. I’d spend 20 minutes devising an overly elaborate plan involving death-defying leaps, only to realize that there was a tiny wall far, far, far away that I could have simply teleported to.

But part of the beauty of Portal 2 is solving its riddles on your own terms. While a majority of the test chambers seem to have one “correct” answer, each person will arrive at that solution in a slightly different manner. The last game that made torturing one’s own brain such an enjoyable enterprise was the indie hit World of Goo. That game was also a quirky delight, but what Valve has done with Portal 2 is altogether breathtaking. And funny as hell. GRADE: A

Note: This review applies only to the game’s single-player campaign. Portal 2 also includes a two-player co-op mode with its own storyline, characters, and puzzles.

Available on: PS3, Xbox 360, PC/Mac
Developer / publisher: Valve Corporation
Rating: E10+
Price: $59.99 (for PS3 and Xbox 360); $49.99 (for PC/Mac)

Comments (20 total) Add your comment
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  • Julia

    I haven’t gotten a chance to play this one yet, but I really can’t wait. Glad to hear it’s as awesome as the first.

    • Samantha

      Ridiculous copy and paste job on this article. Reads just like their Press Release published on Machinima and several other gaming sites.
      The A grade was CLEARLY bought and paid for – included with the ad space for the game in this month’s print mag.
      Typical lazy shill job by another fraudulant EW “writer”.

      • Samantha Who?

        Wow, such hostility that could be focused on other positive uses! I loved the original and am digging this one. I went to game stop about lunch time to find they were sold out. Luckily, no one things about Target, which had plenty!

      • Rita

        Wow — that’s super-hostile for someone who doesn’t say anything about having played the game. Yeah, it’s a glowing review — it’s also an amazing game.

        Why don’t you go get mad about something worthwhile?

      • Tim

        Obvious troll is obvious. Abandon trollings, as you has failed.

  • Samantha

    Nice copy and paste job on this article. Reads just like their Press Release published on Machinima and several other gaming sites.
    The A grade was CLEARLY bought and paid for – included with the ad space for the game in this month’s mag.
    Typical lazy shill job by another fraudulant EW “writer”.

    • Felix

      Nice copy and paste job on this comment. Reads like every single nasty-for-the-sake-of-nastiness comment on every single other site, ever.
      The complaint was CLEARLY made with no independent thought whatsoever, just a need to find an excuse to bash a website that no one is making you visit.
      Typical lazy trolling job by another fraudulent “highbrow” fool.

      • Olivya

        This.

      • SteveStrifeX

        As GLaDOS would say: Samantha, we have now just receives your test results. Here it is. “You are a horrible person.” That’s what it says. We weren’t even testing for that. Do not feel bad about that data point. Science now has a answer for why your mother abandoned you on a doorstep.

      • SteveStrifeX

        *received

      • Steve, LOL

        I got to that part of the game (I know it was in the easy level), but that’s pretty funny! Good memory!

  • Mac

    I played for a few hours last night and i had a blast! Probably the funniest game i have ever played, Wheatley is an incredible character.

    Just a heads up when wheatley ask you to do something (like plug in in the wall, ECT) DONT do it, some of the best lines in the game are just his little comments repeatingly asking you to do something.

  • LOL

    Americans love crap.

    • LMAO

      LOL loves EW

    • And idiots like you

      Are merely jealous. Who reads a long narrative about a game and then comments like that?

      • LOL

        I don’t know how focking retarded are you?

    • B.Rich

      Just because nearly every top developer is American now doesn’t mean only other Americans love their games.

  • Rush

    Odd that they didn’t make a Wii version. Surely the graphics are not that complex on a game like this.

  • Lifecell

    Awsome Post.

  • viviennewestwood

    Thanks for the research. This was helpful in deciding which direction to go next. It also validates what I have been doing. Good Thing! I will be looking closer at that. You could relate in each detail very well. Thank you again for spending a time on sharing such informative writings to us. I will bookmark your page and looking forward to read some more of your writings soon.

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