However, instead of returning the favor by killing you, she simply throws you back into Aperture for more crazy testing; the levels are much bigger this time around, with even greater challenges that lie ahead. So, yeah, Portal 2 follows the sequel formula of “bigger is better”. But considering how ingenious the original Portal was, this is an absolute compliment. The single-player campaign is absolutely splendid, with new and unique challenges introduced around every corner. You still have access to your Portal gun, which shoots two connecting gateways wherever you can stick them on walls, so you can conveniently travel to places you couldn’t reach otherwise. But there are also other tools introduced in the fray, including acceleration gel, which speeds up your progression once it spreads out onto platforms; lighted gateways that help you reach otherwise inaccessible areas (think Star Wars); and transporter tubes that let you float across treacherous areas. There are other tools as well, but we dare not spoil them for you here. The gameplay in itself is still quite wonderful, as you’re challenged to solve each area and occasionally dig deeper into Aperture’s crudded walls to see what’s going on.
Wheatley pops up to occasionally give advice and help you escape, while GLADoS continues to torment you, with your maliciousness still fresh in her computerized mind. Each stage section introduces something new, and challenges you to do your best, even if it occasionally gets maddening trying to figure something out. Just remember – physics are your friends. Single player action would be enough, but Valve wisely throws in a new component to the game – cooperative play. Here, you’ll work as one of two droids, working together between four portals to get through each stage. The levels here are completely different from the single player mode, though GLADoS still bugs you as she would in those stages. It’s fun working with a friend through Xbox Live in these stages, and the communication works well, whether you’re using a convenient headset (“Hey, stupid, fire your damn portal on the wall!”) or through simple gestures, such as a countdown or a portal indicator. The ability to high five and laugh with your buddy is a huge plus as well – especially when they do it back. Or, hey, you can kill them. For science. (You monster.)
Though the Xbox Live version doesn’t feature Steam connectivity (like the PlayStation 3 version does), there’s still enough to do between single and co-op multiplayer to keep you busy for hours at a time. And plus, you can always go back and revisit levels for faster times, just so you can say you did them better than your buddies ever could. Versus multiplayer would’ve been a hoot, but we definitely won’t argue with what’s been thrown in here. Valve continues to outdo itself in the presentation department. The bigger, badder levels are much more extraordinary than the first game. In fact, you may never go back to Portal: Still Alive after this. The attention to detail is quite eye-popping, especially when you go into the deeper catacombs of Aperture and go bouncing around like a pinball. It’s also great seeing the personality that the droids provide through small, simple gestures. GLADoS is foreboding and creepy, while Wheatley provides a few chuckles as he frantically looks about. The co-op droids are fun to watch too. Overall, this is a swell looking game – perhaps even more so than the Half-Life titles. Now that’s saying something. But what you’ll really like is the audio portion of the game.
Along with a new track from Jonathan Coulton (it’s not “Still Alive”. but what is?), the background music is atmospheric and nice. The sound effects are good to a degree too, what few of them are here. Where the game really shines is voicework. Ellen McLain once again steals the show providing the voice of GLADoS, with all kinds of warped and hilarious insults hurled at you as you proceed through each new stage. Adding to the fun is Stephen Merchant (“The Ricky Gervais Show”) as Wheatley, a chaotic mess of a robot who provides a lot of chuckles. But our favorite, the one who steals the show, is J.K. Simmons of “Spider-Man” and “The Closer” fame. As Aperture’s eccentric CEO, his comments are absolutely brilliant. Just watch the YouTube commercials if you don’t believe us. (“Nice job, robots!”) Really, don’t miss Portal 2. Even if you’ve never played the first game, the sheer brilliance that has gone into this game’s design shouldn’t be missed. It’s wonderfully fun and creative, while looking and sounding like a true sequel should. Don’t be surprised if this one pops up on our best of 2011 list. Even if there’s still no cake. (Damn it!)
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Platform: Reviewed for Xbox 360
Release Date: April 18, 2011