Portal 2 is another great game that I have played this year. I actually completed it a few months back, but have yet to get round to writing it up. Portal 2 was an interesting game, and not just because of its great premise (shoot portals into walls and use them to solve puzzles), but also because it felt like a long game that never rushed its great set pieces or indeed great sets...
1. Standard setting - Great Scenery...
While the games setting itself is actually pretty generic and serves mainly to set up the puzzles, what the designers did with the scenery was fantastic. Although firmly a puzzle game, the game took time to allow you to explore the environment, wander around different environements and generally enjoy the experience. I suppose that is the beauty of a puzzle game - you are not really forced to progress, upgrade or battle increasingly challenging baddies - you can afford to be slightly laid back in how the game evolves, so long as the puzzles are strong (whcih they are).
One thing I loved about Portal was the sense of scale - it was easy to forget that you were basically wandering from one puzzle room to another because the intervening passages were given such TLC that it felt as much as an exploration of the setting as exploring the puzzles. One example sticks in my mind - the room where you ultimately catapult through a huge sign in the middle of the room. It took me a good 10 minutes to work out what do AND how to do it. Yet, it was great just to look around, enjoythe sense of scale the design and play around with the environment. Where COD and GOW generally railroad you through (albeit amazing looking) scenes, Portal actually delights in showing you how great they look and feel. It was refreshing to play a game that didnt just allow, but encourage patience and a "suck it and see" approach to the environment.
2. Comedy moments aplenty
Most of the reviews comment on the outstanding voice acting, hilarious script and incredible sense of fun the game brings to the table. All these observations are accurate, but when you combine this with the sense of exploration, what you have is an undeniably funny, witty and fresh game.
The voice acting is excellent - GLaDOS and your sidekick are superb. So uch so, that I restarted the game a few times because i had missed some of the dialogue. This definately keeps the game fresh and interesting. The lead character says nothing and the plot is pretty thin, more to serve the game than vice-versa, but this is always fine and never wears thin (there are not too many games I can say that about...)
3. the 'weapon' of choice - the portal gun
The portal gun is genius. Genius, not because it is BIG or upgradable or anything like that, but genius because it constantly feels like you are putting it to new uses. OF course, the whole game is scripted and sure, Valve know everything you can do with it, but using it genuinely feels like you are the first person to do so. It always feels like you can do cool stuff and the sense of exploration is enhanced by having one incredibly versile tool at your disposal.
It is almost too obvious to say that the gun makes the game what it is., but it genuinely does. And not just for what it can do - it sounds great and when it does actually get upgraded with a potato it has genuine personality too. Some games do have great weapons in them (Metal Gear - FAMAS, AvP - Assault Riflle and GOW - Lancer), but none that capture the sense of fun and essence of a game in the way the portal gun does. I am not into over eulogising about how great the tiniest details in games are, but trust me, by the time you finish the game (in an ingenious way) your gun is a tried and trusted friend that you taught you how to navigate an incredible, living and breathingworld.
Any gripes? Well, a few. The puzzles did, on occassions feel like fillers - not all of them were relentlessly innovative, but this is a minor criticism. I also thought the pacing of the game was a bit off, particulary in the middle section. There were bits where the structure of the game was repetitive, and while the travelling between sections was great, ther rooms are basically just that - bigger versions, but basically ythe same. Any one of these things on there own would be totally fine, but added together with the pretty basic plot, there were one or two sections where I was having to self motivate to play, rather than just enjoying the ride. Minor complaints really, becasue the game does genuinely do a great job of creating a sense of exploration and fun.
In summary - it is a great game that I highly recommend any one gives a chance to. It is the sort of game I'd actually like my dad to play just so he experience a truly innovative game (i've not played portal 2...). One of the best games I have played in 2011 for sure and a great comparison with Dark Souls and Vanquish. I compare to Dark Souls (which I hated) because it has a sense of fun and challenge totally missing from Dark Souls (all challenge, no fun). The Vanquish comparison is made becasue it is fun, but in a totally different way. Vanquish also has a slim story, but both games maintain a great sense of fun and exploration the whole way through. Very different games of course, but I genuinely love games that a) dont take themselves too seriously and b) arent afraid of getting a great premise and sticking to it.
All in all, loved Portal 2 and a solid A rated game...