Regarding Portal 2 (no spoilers)

19 Apr

Holy shit.

I think everyone was expecting something great. I can’t speak for my good friend Everyone, but I certainly didn’t expect my expected expectations to be so unexpectedly surpassed – shattered, in fact – by the soaring brilliance of Valve’s first proper single-player game in seven years. For now I won’t ooze too much admiration, as I want to finally crank out the 2,000 odd words I’ve drafted on Crysis 2 (don’t ask why I want to cut short my thoughts on Portal 2 in favour of a good but vastly inferior game, because I’m not even sure), but know this: it is incredible.

They didn’t really need to make a new seven-ish hour campaign to a game whose brevity was widely praised, but Portal 2 manages to feel comparably tight and toned. It achieves this through a masterfully orchestrated drip-drip of new tools and mechanics, each giving you a short but sufficient training challenge, then gradually blending them together to create vast, multi-layered puzzles that make the first game look about as complex as Lego. The best part is that it never feels like a dull logic puzzle, as the new test chambers – enormous and intricate, gorgeous and imposing – tend to require a great deal of highly entertaining physicality. Only one other game comes close in nailing this perfect combination of the kinetic and the cerebral, and it sounds like this without the ‘2’.

Mainly, though, I’ve fallen in love with the writing. Almost every line is written superbly and performed hilariously, with Stephen Merchant’s Wheatley – the unwaveringly cheerful, wonderfully West Country accented Personality Sphere, being the main highlight. GLaDOS, still passive-agressive with a slightly more overt snark, will unavoidably remain in fan’s hearts for much longer, and Aperture Science founder Cave Johnson (voiced perfectly by J.K. Simmons) has a number of meme-worthy monologues. But Wheatley is a rarity in games – a character that can convincingly turn from lovable to suspect, from refreshingly modest to disasterously ambitious, nervously blurting out genuinely funny jokes all the while.

Still, this little white ball is just one of a nigh-uncountable number of moving parts in the great Portal machine, an entity that – from a two-hour sideshow in a budget game bundle – is on its way to taking over the world. On the strength of this second installment, it deserves every inch it can take.


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