As with seemingly every semi-popular title these days, Portal 2 has received both high praise and a surprising amount of eHate. Various gaming forums were ablaze last week with complaints.
Many were dubious about the early launch tactics. Players were encouraged to play games in a Valve game pack dubbed the 'potato sack' to work towards an earlier release for Portal 2. Bizarrely, it didn't seem to occur to Valve that if you let people online play the game too early, everyone will buy it online, and the physical stores miss out. Inevitably then, after a few weeks of effort and some financial expenditure by eager fans, the game released what was effectively only a few hours early.
Added to this were early complaints about the game's length. A single player campaign that can be rushed through in about six hours was poor value for money to some. Some even finished the game the same day they purchased it.
There were also accusations of a console port, with one or two assets alluding to this in the PC version. Add to this the typical variation in pricing found through multiple retailers, and it hasn't been an easy road into the hearts of gamers for Portal 2.
What Portal 2 does have on its side however is a highly praised predecessor, huge anticipation, and an excess of mediocre first-person shooter titles on the market. Gamers looking for a more intellectual experience are in for a treat, because, at the end of the day, all of the above is just background noise.
Portal 2 is one of the best gaming experiences on offer this year, and what makes it so good is really what it isn't. Portal 2 isn't a modern war shooter. It's not another open-world sandbox of dubious merit. It's not 90% graphics, 10% storyline. It doesn't feature overtly macho stereotypes bromancing everywhere.
What you get instead is a first person puzzler. Fans of the series will know the basics already. Newcomers would be best to play through the original Portal right now. Considering how cheap it is, the value for money ratio is very high.
Playing as female named Chell, you must navigate your way out of the aperture labs testing facility. She's armed with a gun that shoots portals, one to enter, one to exit. You'll find yourself trying to get from one end of a chamber to the other, using a combination of portals, gravity, lasers and physics to get you there. Sometimes you have to go backwards to go forwards, and sometimes you'll just have to fire yourself out into the void, and see what happens.
Where the game shines is in it's ability to frustrate you, over and over, but just enough to make the feeling of success that much greater. Some puzzles will have you scratching your head for a very long time, before the answer comes to you, and you wonder why you missed something so obvious. Some of the puzzles even occur outside the test chambers, as you make your way out of the facility. This is a refreshing change of scene from the white walls of the test labs. Though it does make life a bit trickier on occasion, as your sense of direction has to be keener.
New tricks appear this time too, with the addition of three gels. A blue gel that allows you to bounce, a red gel that speeds you up when walking on it, and a white gel, which will allow you to place a portal on any surface it touches. This last one is especially clever, as you will find yourself on occasion painting your own way out.
Chell isn't the only character on this journey with you. A small robot 'eye' named Wheatley is your companion, waking you up from stasis at the beginning of the game. Voiced by Stephen Merchant, this armless, bodiless orb still has more personality and emotion than a thousand hardened marine stereotypes.
And of course, GLaDOS is back. Slightly miffed at being destroyed by Chell in the last game (and sounding somewhat like an angry autotune machine, only easier on the ears) she's up to her old tricks, and is decidedly catty this time round.
Both characters add to the atmosphere and will have you laughing many times throughout the campaign. In addition, the CEO of aperture, Cave Johnson adds his musings over the PA system. The humorous approach works most of the time, though every now and then it'd be nice to have some peace and quiet.
Visually, the game sports a few new graphical tricks, with an environment that can change around you, or fall out from under you at any moment. The lighting has been improved, and the game runs smoothly on even modest systems. If consoles are the lead platform, this reviewer didn't notice.
Whilst some folks have blazed through this part of the game, the single player portion typically take about ten hours to complete. It's not the longest game in the world, but the quality shines through without lots of filler.
Add to this, there's the well thought out co-op mode, complete with it's own campaign for you and a friend to play through entirely different test chambers. As robots. Even better, you can in theory play with another PC player, or a PS3 player, or even a Mac user. Whether you'd choose to do so is another matter entirely. Only the poor old Xbox 360 is left to itself, with no inter-system co-op available.
Perhaps best of all however, this is a title that is for ages ten and up. So you can play with your kids, without swearing (apart from your own) or gory violence (again, unless you find the game too hard in places). It's a rarity in modern game design to find such a comprehensive package that isn't festooned with age ratings.
If you can get the PC version, do so, as the combination of pricing and mouse control make the title just that little bit better. That said, the console versions still provide an excellent gaming experience. Portal 2 manages to exceed expectations without compromising any of the core gameplay that made the original so popular, and should easily be considered one of the best titles available so far this year.