A curious journalistic artifact from my high school years, written in 2011.
NOTE: This review was written during my senior year of high school, in 2011, and printed in my high school newspaper, The Pulse. I don't want to fill my portfolio with too much of the content I wrote for The Pulse, but as important as my experience with them was, I still want to showcase something of what I created for them. With that, here is my magnum opus; the longest, last, and, in my opinion, best-written of the many game reviews I wrote over my two years on The Pulse. Now, while I will allow rating and reviewing on this item to anyone who feels so inclined, keep in mind that your criticisms won't prompt any edits; I want to leave this piece exactly as it was printed back in May of 2011.
Developer: Valve Software
Genre(s): First person puzzle-platformer
ESRB rating: E 10+
Platform(s): PC, Mac, Playstation 3, Xbox 360
I have to say, before I get going on this review, that I loved the first Portal. Everything about it, from its unique and innovative gameplay, to GLaDOS’s hilariously passive-aggressive banter, down to the tiniest mad scratchings on the Enrichment Center’s walls just came together to form something that struck a chord with me and many other gamers. To this day, the only real criticism I or most anyone else who has played the game can level against it is “it’s too short,” clocking in at approximately two to three hours long depending on how fast you work. In other words, the only bad thing people can say about the game is that there isn’t enough of it. Yet, as great as the game is, Portal was really just an exceptionally well-executed proof of concept; a short experiment made by a group of students fresh out of college, cobbled together out of recycled Half-Life 2 assets, and tacked onto The Orange Box alongside ostensibly higher-profile titles to see how gamers would react. Given how immediate and explosively positive that reaction was, it was inevitable that Valve would knuckle down to make something bigger and more involved out of the core concept they dabbled with in Portal. Now we have that game, and it’s more amazing than we could have hoped.
Taking place many years after the events of the first game, Portal 2 continues the adventures of silent protagonist Chell as she is awakened from cryogenic stasis by a new character named Wheatley; a bumbling, British-accented robot sphere to whom you will almost certainly become immediately endeared if you happen to be any kind of semi-sentient organic life form (in layman’s terms; Wheatley is pretty awesome). In the course of attempting to escape the now-dilapidated Enrichment Center, you and Wheatley (mostly Wheatley) wind up accidentally reawakening GLaDOS, the maniacal A.I. antagonist from the first game, who is quite understandably unimpressed with the fact that you murdered her. I don’t want to get into any more specifics than that to avoid spoilers, so this is the point where I’ll just start talking about the overall quality of the story; it’s good.
The quality of the dialog, in particular, is more than a little spectacular. Some guy I follow on Twitter once said that “if cleverness were energy, Portal 2 could power a small country,” which I think is grossly inaccurate; I’m pretty sure Portal 2 would be able to power a rather massive country in that scenario. This is probably one of the most genuinely hilarious games I’ve ever played, taking the characteristic dry, black humor of the original and turning it up to 11. Best of all, it actually manages to accomplish this feat intelligently, without relying on cheap vulgarity (or any kind of vulgarity, really), which is remarkable in any modern media, much less in a video game. But this is Portal we’re talking about; I expected a humorous, clever, meme generator. What I wasn’t expecting was for Portal 2 to also officially become the fourth game to ever make me cry, which it did. Again, I don’t want to get into any specifics to avoid spoilers, so I’ll just say that the whole business of dealing with Wheatley is a bit of an emotional rollercoaster and leave it at that. Also, the story is exceptionally well-told, with Valve’s signature way of seamlessly weaving the narrative into gameplay without resorting to obtrusive cutscenes.
Speaking of gameplay, that’s pretty good as well. It’s a simple concept (you place two portals on different flat surfaces, go through one, and come out the other), compounded by a variety of sciencey gizmos and anomalous substances, such as the Thermal Discouragement Beam and Repulsion Gel, to make things more interesting. These features, combined with clean, structured level design and careful pacing make for a slew of interesting and challenging portal-based puzzles. It’s just fun all the way through, and it all leads up to a fairly awesome boss fight, followed by a crazy-spectacular ending that has to be seen to be believed.
Now, you may be wondering by this point if this game has any flaws. Well, there are, but those flaws are so few and minor that they don’t really matter in the grand scheme of things. For example, the loading screens in this game are a bit on the side of long and frequent. Not too bad, but I see no reason they couldn’t have hidden the loading screens behind airlocks and elevators since that’s where they tend to pop up anyway, keeping it interactive the entire way through (it works fine in the Dead Space games, after all). Then there’s the occasional appearance of the Companion Cubes, which, while great for people who played the first game, goes largely unexplained and will likely leave non-fans a bit confused. Also, you can’t throw objects anymore, which is unfortunate because throwing things is fun. That’s seriously all I can think of.
In conclusion, this game is amazing in pretty much every way. I love it and if it were a person, I would probably propose to it (if you were getting a sense of this review being more of an overly-long marriage proposal, that would be why). All the preceding was also without getting into how awesome it is for us PS3 owners, what with the inclusion of Steam and all the little perks that entails, like cross-platform co-op play and free digital copies for the PC and Mac. I don’t think it’s hyperbole to say that this is my new favorite game. So, obviously, this one gets the full five stars; the first five stars I’ve given anything that I’ve reviewed, ever.