06 May 2011

My review of Portal 2 (Story Mode)

Two weeks ago when I finally got my copy of Portal 2, I was really excited to start playing the game as my brother and I had become fans of the original game when it was released almost 4 years ago. I am not a huge puzzle game fan, though I have been known to play simple puzzle games like Tetris, Bejeweled, Hextacy, Flood-It!, Line Up/Collapse, and Words with Friends, mainly on my phone when I'm bored or have a free moment. I'm mostly an FPS player and have become an ardent Halo player since the franchise's release (and since we got our first Xbox). (more after the break)
For months before The Orange Box's release, my brother and I heard about Portal and the incredible reviews before its launch. We also watched, in fascination, of the game's gorgeous graphics and creative new puzzle gameplay in teaser trailers. In fact, it was nearly the entire reason we got The Orange Box. Though it was very short and we finished the game in a few short hours, it provided a lot of enjoyment for us with its unique blend of puzzle-gaminess and first-person shooter. It was not complicated by any item drops, weapon upgrades (besides the upgrade to the dual-portal gun), complex story lines and a huge list of enemies to defeat; the only enemies were a few turrets, GLaDOS and the levels themselves. It was ultimately because of how fun the game was that the shortness of it caused me to crave more - more levels, more interesting portal tricks, more simple story. That's why, after some rabid dissemination of Internet rumor about a sequel, the official announcement of Portal 2 was music to my ears.
I remember the first teaser trailer's release, and remember GLaDOS's voice giving me chills of excitement. Then, as Valve's official Portal website began publishing more trailers closer to the game's release, I grew more and more excited. I had become a Portal-addicted junky, and the knowledge of my upcoming fix made it unbearable to wait any longer.
Starting the game for the first time when I got it in the mail from Amazon was incredibly satisfying - and I hadn't even gone through my first portal of the game yet! The main menu was very simple and made jumping into the game painless - no difficulty settings, no mess & fuss, just acknowledge that you understand when its auto-saving and off you go. Though the game picks up where the last one left off, playing the previous game wasn't mandatory to understand how to play the game, which makes the introduction for newcomers to the small franchise easy. Even getting acquainted with the environment and mechanics of the game were easy, fun and seamless, which is not always the case with games. As mentioned in an episode of Major Nelson's podcast, it was almost imperceptible when the game began and the tutorials finished, which was one of the nicest touches by Valve.
When I completed the game on Wednesday, my full opinion of the game could be summed up like this: it was one of the best, most enjoyable games I've ever played. The gameplay was fantastic and the storyline enjoyable and easy to follow. Though all the puzzles in the game were fairly simple, their presentation to the player made them difficult at times, and a few of them actually frustrated me. It was these times of frustration and thinking that I've seen all the angles when being stuck on a level for more than 30 minutes that I walked away for some time and came back with a fresh head and realized that I was over-thinking the level and the solution was brilliantly simple. The fact that the game could frustrate you, and the elation when you have the "Ah ha!" when you realize that you were overcomplicating things make the game incredibly satisfying. But the icing on the cake (pun intended) was the characters themselves: GLaDOS, and my person favorites, Wheatley and Cave Johnson. These characters enriched the storyline and did so in a very entertaining way, for that I applaud the story writers at Valve for their efforts and Ellen McLain, Stephen Merchant and J.K. Simmons for their outstanding voice performances.
My only gripe about the game was the frequent and unnecessarily long load times between levels. Being used to Halo and a lot of other games, load times between sections within a single level was usually unnoticed because of new loading techniques, and I believe Valve missed a great opportunity here to use these techniques to make a very seamless experience between chambers. I understand the need for loading vastly different environments, as there are a few in the game, but huge loads within the same environment where the asset palette is nearly the same is, in my opinion, unnecessary. Perhaps these loads are necessary for game add-ons, which I have heard will be forthcoming beginning this summer, but regardless, I believe that there may have been better ways to handle it. I am sure the developers and producers of the game talked a lot about it and perhaps the load screens were a necessary inconvenience.
All-in-all, the single-player game was fantastic and definitely satisfying. Although knowing the solutions to the puzzles may drastically affect its replayability, the achievements that tag along with the game add some difficulty to the game whilst still making it enjoyable. Unfortunately I have yet to find a friend who owns a copy of the game for the Xbox 360 that I can play cooperatively with, so I can not make conclusions about that new aspect of the franchise, though I have heard it is just as enjoyable. Perhaps I can encourage Ashley to join me, seeing how she seems a bit afraid of the game and believes that its too difficult for her. I think she does not give herself enough credit and will find the game is fun for her too.

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