Sunday, April 24, 2011

Portal 2 (PC) (single-player)

So, Portal 2 came out a little while ago, preceded by Valve's promotional ARG, in which 13 indie games were on sale on Steam and received extra content and crypted messages and all that mumbo jumbo and whoop-de-doo and promises that the game could be released earlier (well, it did, if I remember about 7 hours earlier than destined release time). But all this aside, what was this anticipated game like?

Please do note, that all following is written solely on the basis of single-player campaign


Gameplay
Portal 2 is a sequel (GASP!) to a little 2-4 hour puzzle game, that was released alongside Team Fortress 2, Half-Life 2 and its two episodes in a nice gamepack known as The Orange Box. The gameplay mainly consisted on playing with portals, through which player could go. Say, you place one portal on your living room's wall and the other to your bedroom's wall, you could walk through the living room's portal and you'd be in your bedroom. And you can take stuff with you through the portal, which makes things a bit more curious. And, even further to make things more interesting, your inertia would be conserved when you go through portal. What does it mean? What goes in fast, comes out of the other one fast. So, the original game was played pretty much through these concepts, plus lasers, of course. And robots, that try to shoot you, but since they can't move, they could be easily knocked down and so on.

The sequel, of course extends on these principals, so everything that was in the original game is still in and a lot is added. These include such things as springboards (they send stuff flying), different gels/paints (blue paints make stuff go bouncing, orange lets you move really fast, and if you paint wall white, you can place portals there) and pull/push streams and solid light bridges(!). These offer a very large repertoire to create mind-bending puzzles.

Well, as in puzzle games things usually go, you start with a few basic things and start to build up to them to create harder and harder puzzles, and so is in Portal 2 also. The thing is, usually you should go with this ever-increasing difficulty/tricks to keep things fresh, but Portal 2 stumbles in this from time to time, not too often though. Sometmies I just went mad when I couldn't find a way to progress, and it was something as simple as "jump pretty high from here", as if difficulty was suddenly reversed.

Visuals
The game has a really, really good visual style and runs great on older machines even though it looks rather good. Animations remind me often of Pixar-movies, and that is a compliment. The game is nice to look at and most of the time, visuals give you a good clue what is your target.

Level design
The game (still) takes place in Aperture Science's research facilities. A lot of time has passed since original Portal, and vines and other plants have grown all around the facility. The first third or half takes place in these areas, and is pretty much the best areas of the game, so when you play the game, do take your time and look around to find all kinds of neat hidden stuff.

Then comes the chapters 6-8. Oh boy. Somebody dropped the ball here, and hard. What was a leisurely puzzle game, becomes a frustrating pixel hunt with repetive puzzles. I could've tolerated this, but it was absolutely horrendous and I spent about half of my playing time stuck on those chapters. To make things worse, the environment is really, really bland and boring ruins with pretty much nothing to see.

Writing
Portal 2 isn't really heavy on the story, but it has more of it than original Portal, which introduced us GlaDOS, the murderous and testing-obsessed AI with sarcastic comments. In Portal 2, GlaDOS has somehow lost most of her/its charm and turned just really hateful with very little (good) sarcasm. Luckily, around midpoint of the game her/its writing gets better and it's actually nice to listen to her/it.

Of course, Portal 2 introduces two other characters - Wheatley, the well meaning joke-cracker AI and Cave Johnson, the long since passed away founder of Aperture Science. Though Wheatley tolds jokes constantly, it is unfortunate that they rarely really hit the spot. On the plus side, the worst jokes aren't all that bad, but aren't really great either.

Cave Johnson is introduced around the midpoint of game (chapter 5 or 6 if I remember correctly) and he simply has the best writing in the game, cracking really good jokes and being just a manly man. He is never seen beyond some paintings and portraits, and his voice comes from old recordings that play as the player makes his way through old rooms of Aperture Science facility.

Main gripes
Portal 2 is a good game, without doubt, but I'd like to address some of my main annoyances.
1. Loading screens
There are loading screens between every room, and they aren't those barely noticable loading screens from Half-Life 2. No, these take the whole screen, and really break your immersion. And it is really bad at the first third of the game, when rooms are small and simple, and you spend about 1/3 of your time watching the loading screen and 2/3 of the time playing. Luckily, later on, the loading screens get rarer and rarer. But still, I can't wrap around my mind, who thought that it was a good idea to put a loading screen in the middle of an intense chase. Really.

2. The middle part of the game
It has the best writing (thanks to Cave Johnson), but on the other hand, the level design is the worst found in the game. If it were merely ok, I'd just shrug my shoulders and move on, but no. It is absolutely horrendous. Old gray walls everywhere and very, very little indication where to go. A game that has held you from hand to that point and then just throws you out with no point to go is rather bad thing, in my opinion. Your mileage may vary, but I didn't find pixel hunting and repetive puzzles good.

3. The length
It took me about 6 or 7 hours to complete the single player campaign. Not really long, when you think about it, and I spent about 2,5-3,5 hours on chapters 6-8. If you don't get stuck there, 5-6 hours will probably be rather close to how long the game is. And by saying game, I mean single-player campaign, there is also co-op campaign. When I get the time, I'll give it a shot.

4. The menus
The menus are for some reason really unintuitive to navigate with mouse, and I found myself cursing when I clicked the third time off and got an explanation what anti-aliasing does instead of setting it. Luckily I didn't need to spend a lot of time there, so the menus are a very small offender.

Overall
It's a good game that has some noticable flaws - okayish writing, loading screens bloody everywhere, the absolutely horrendous middle part and short length of single-player campaign. If I'd have to give it a 'score', it would be probably a solid 8 out of 10.

No screenshots because I can't find where they were saved. But I believe Google can help you to find videos and pictures of the game if you're interested to see more.

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