When it was released as a small bonus section to The Orange Box collection of Half-Life 2 and Team Fortress 2, Portal received such critical acclaim that many gamers bought the release primarily to give this new game a try. Based around the use of a portal gun that can generate two linked openings in any wall, allowing free passage between them, Portal remains one of the most unique games of the past decade, in a genre that can best be described as puzzle-first-person-shooter. Portal received such high praise that it spawned numerous discussions of the debate of quality over quantity among video games. Some worried that the stand-alone sequel, Portal 2 – which recently released, would not stand up to comparison to the dark humor-laden, but short original. However, the new Portal 2 does not disappoint. Containing much more content than the original, at least as mind-stumping puzzles, and perhaps even more humorous material, Portal 2 is a recommended purchase for nearly any video gamer.
The backstory of the game revolves around the player’s role of a test subject in an automated laboratory determined to test various limits of the human subjects. Awakened after the laboratory was destroyed (presumably through actions in the original), you as a test subject must try to make your escape. Unfortunately, nearly all the old equipment is still functioning so you’ll need to make your way through the test site to free yourself. Through some humorous cut scenes and dialogue, players are treated to their first few tests which also serve as a basic learning curve for those unfamiliar with the previous game.
The heart of the game is simply trying to reach the exit safely, and may require picking up and placing boxes to activate switches, and even avoiding live fire from robotic sentries. Through the use of the portal gun, a player can sneak around corners (put a door on each side), trick robots into shooting each other (put a door just behind a robot and sucker another robot into shooting into the other entrance), or even to launch oneself at high velocity (put one door down a pit, and the second on the wall – jump down the pit through the portal and you’ll be launched straight out the wall at high speed.) In this way, the game plays a bit like a first person shooter, but rewards clever thinking and planning over reflexes. Portal 2 introduces quite a few new tools and toys to the player’s arsenal, so it should provide plenty of new puzzle material for dedicated fans of the first game.
The game is obviously longer than the original, but is still a bit short in comparison to some games. However, since each test is more of a puzzle than a standard FPS level, gamers can go back and retry each level to earn badges or rewards for completing them with minimal resources or time. In addition to the main story mode, there is also a two player mode with a series of challenges that can only be attempted by two cooperating human players. All in all, Portal 2 is well worth a rental at a minimum if not an outright purchase for most gamers willing to give it a try.
Kid Factor: Sure there is some gunfire, but it isn’t the player who wields it. There is also quite a bit of dark humor, but it is not of the violent, macabre side, but more of the “hey isn’t this a dismal future – why don’t you make the best of it” sort of thing. The puzzles can be a bit tricky so just being able to pull off standard FPS controls isn’t enough to get one through the game, however, the cooperative mode could still hold some nice features for an adult to play along with a younger player so that the adult can handle some of the harder puzzle aspects for the team. It’s rated as an E10+, and that’s a fair age bracket. The puzzle complexity may frustrate a few gamers at that age, but most would probably just look up solutions after a few too many failures anyway. If nothing else, I recommend it since it is a first-person-shooter (FPS) that rewards thinking over raw firepower in almost every situation.