"It’ll Hurt Your Brain and You’ll Love It"
Jigsaw puzzles, Rubik’s cubes, riddles, and all sorts of other mind-flexing challenges have all but gone the way of the dodo bird. With an over-saturation of shooters out there, the video games industry has hardly done its part to keep head-scratchers from disappearing altogether. It’s sad but true: in the video game world it’s far easier to pick up a machine gun and spray bullets than to think. Then there’s Portal 2, a puzzle game that dangles a juicy carrot in front of you and dares you to go deeper and deeper into the rabbit hole that is Aperture Laboratories. Sure, Portal 2 isn’t for the weak-hearted or feeble-minded, but for those who dare to be the mouse in Valve’s endless maze, there is a truly giant, stinky mountain of cheese (or cake) waiting for you.
Because they require a certain level of intellect and even worse, patience, puzzles are inherently intimidating. However, whether you’ve never solved a puzzle in your life, or you wake up early on Sundays for “The New York Times” Sunday sudoku, Portal 2 should be played by all. The main reason behind this is not the taxing puzzles, but the genius writing. Every single moment of Portal 2 is punctuated by hilarious, passive-aggressive quips or nervous babble from Aperture‘s artificial intelligence. Even with a player character that never says a single word, this is one of the most entertaining games to listen to.
- Challenges abound in single- and multiplayer modes -
Portal 2 can be split into thirds. The first part is an ode to old Portal gameplay. Here you catch up with what’s happened since the first game and lay the foundation for even more disasters in Aperture. The second leg changes things up by introducing a set of gels that bounce, slide, and portal players in ways never seen before. You also explore Aperture’s history in its original test stations. You even get a glimpse at Cave Johson, Aperture’s founder. The third part is a home stretch that brings everything together and provides some of the hardest puzzles and delivers an epic ending worthy of the franchise.
Returning Portal players will revel in the sequel’s character, which perfectly echoes the persona from the first game. Aperture has gone under some significant changes in Portal 2, and portaling through the old stomping grounds has a distinct feeling of nostalgia mixed with new adventure. Sadly, the Companion Cube returns only for a brief cameo, but there’s plenty of other cubes, gels, and bots to make you forget about your affair with the handy box from the first Portal.
Pithy remarks and fumbling musings from Aperture’s artificial intelligence softens the blow from unforgiving puzzles and lightens the mood just enough to keep you marching forward when the going gets tough. Portal 2 certainly has its share of challenges, and newcomers may struggle out of the gate learning the various functions of the portal gun. Veterans will feel right at home, and Valve even replicated some of the old tests to jog the memories of returning players and teach the essentials to newbies.
- The fusion of new and old mechanics keep puzzles fresh -
As the biggest addition to Portal 2, the co-op campaign doubles the fun by providing a side plot chocked with puzzles designed specifically for co-op play. The bots are remarkably filled with life, and the gameplay makes it easy for players to work in tandem thanks to tools that allow you to mark locations, set timers, and perform other functions, keeping you in step with your buddy. Even if your compatriot has never played Portal before, the tools keep you focused on solving puzzles instead of hand-holding. Also, you can celebrate a la Army of Two with buddies after a job well done--though GLaDOS won’t approve.
Portal 2 dances a fine line of fan service, accessibility, humor, and brain-tingling challenges and does it with style. By no means is it easy, but every second you spend in Aperture Labs is well spent, and you won’t find a game with a bigger payoff. The new features blend perfectly with Portal’s style, taking the franchise to a whole new level. The only bad part of Portal 2 is that things are wrapped up pretty neatly when the credits roll. We can only hope Valve finds a way to pull us back into Aperture for more glorious testing.
GameDynamo's Score for Portal 2 (PC)
John loves gaming and loves writing about games. He wants to become a known voice in the gaming community and a game designer one day.
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