Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Megabits column: Portal 2

Megabits of Gaming contributes a monthly column in Charged Middle East – a leading Dubai-based gadgets and games magazine that provides news, reviews and features on the latest home and consumer electronics.

Each month, Megabits takes a look at a new release in a gaming franchise and considers how its evolved over the years and what makes it great!

Here’s the latest of the articles from the June 2011 issue. For more about the magazine, check out its Facebook page after the jump.

Who’d have thought that a chance meeting at a career fair would see a major developer uncover a new IP and snap up the group of talented student programmers behind the concept? Who’d have thought that the game would eventually be showered with praise, receive countless awards and become one of the most fondly-remembered titles of recent years?

Valve – the guys behind Half Life - clearly had little doubt that they were onto something special when they took the student freeware game Narbacular Drop and turned it into what we all now know as the first-person puzzler, Portal.

Since Narbacular Drop saw the light of day in 2005 and Portal, in 2007, diehard fans have been demanding a sequel. Finally, with the imaginatively-titled Portal 2, their pleas have been answered. And what’s more, it’s been dubbed the most anticipated game of 2011 at the Spike TV Video Game Awards.

The original Portal was an unequivocal success and the recipient of a healthy total of 90/100 from score aggregating website Metacritic; the critics impressed by its highly original combination of physics and fun.

Its plethora of accolades have included Game Of The Year, Most Original Game and Best Video Game Villain. It also received an award for Best Game Of All Time. In fact, it proved so influential that it even spawned a popular new phrase - The Cake is a Lie – which has come to mean chasing an unattainable goal.

You took the role of female protagonist, Chell, a test subject in a research facility charged with trying out a revolutionary new gadget – the Aperture Science Handheld Portal Device (or Portal gun). Overseen by the faceless and slightly mental computer GLaDOS, you were tasked with working your way through a series of increasingly devious challenge rooms to test the new technology.

To solve these puzzles – often requiring you to get from one end of a room to another - portals could be opened with the aforementioned gun, allowing you, or certain objects, to pass through. The gun allows you to fire an entrance hole and an exit hole, which you’ve got to cunningly place in the floor or walls to help you overcome each challenge. Lasers, sentries, and chasms stand in your way.

Fortunately, Portal 2 does not fall into the trap of most sequels – managing to retain its unique charm, trademark wit and engrossing gameplay. Ellen McLain makes a comeback as the voice of GLaDOS although the great casting of the first game is superseded this time round thanks to the dulcet tones of lanky funnyman Stephen Merchant (Ricky Gervais cohort and star of TV hits, The Office and Extras), and J.K. Simmons’ (Spiderman, Juno) role as Aperture Science CEO Cave Johnson.

Portal 2’s test chambers are larger and altogether more devious than their predecessors - boasting some 10 hours plus of gameplay and loads more puzzles - but perhaps the key selling point for the new title is the introduction of a two-player option. This new mode will feature its own unique campaign and characters, and require players to both act and think together. Valve certainly knows how to make great co-op games – and, just like it did in its Left 4 Dead zombie series, the developers are keen to emphasise the importance of working as a team rather than going it alone.
It’s refreshing to see a new IP garner such success in the gaming world dominated by sports titles, first person shooters and annual updates. While Portal 2 may not surprise as much as the original, judging from the initial review scores it definitely doesn’t disappoint. At time of writing, it had racked up an impressive 95/100 on Metacritic, with Xbox 360, PS3, PC and Mac owners enthralled by the devlish puzzles and meatier plot. The only real criticism so far is that the experience is over all too quickly.


So many people seem to think P2 is easier the Portal, but I'm glad you reckon that Portal 2 is more devious.

In Portal I only bogged down once, and that was a dexterity issue rather than a brainfail. I've had two lengthy brainfails in Portal 2 so far, I'm convinced that it's harder than Portal was.

I had quite a few moments where I literally thought 'this is impossible' before suddenly it clicks. Ironically I think that these moments where not strictly the hardest in the game, and the actual harder puzzles I didn't become so stuck on. The bit where you first encounter the white gel for example took me so long to work out, but in actuality it was really simple and I was having an epic brainfail.