Portal 2, Torn Between Good and Great

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I played Portal 2 on Windows when it was out a while back. Then this year it came out for Linux (after a very long beta) and I thought… Hey, why not do it again ? That was a very wise decision. Portal 2 is actually pretty fun. It takes the same mechanisms that were at the core of Portal, and expanded on those by adding new elements (such as the liquids) and more background story. The thing that impressed me the most is that they did not stop at making a lazy data disk kind of sequel, with simply more levels. They actually introduced new characters, new environments, and tried to provide some answers as to how the whole mess of Portal 1 and GladOS came to be.

If you are not familiar with Portal, well the concept is very simple. You get a portal gun that lets you create two portals on specific surfaces on walls, ceilings or floors, a red and a blue one. Once they are both active, you can move your character (or any object) across these two portals, and litterally teleport yourself through them to reach other places. The whole ingenuity of Portal is to make you think and experiment to find the right way to reach the exit in each level.

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Visually, Portal 2 looks very, very similar to the environments of Portal 1 when you are in the test chambers, but as soon as you are out you will be facing huge open spaces, giving you the feeling or being a termite in front of a Stalinian building. Sometimes you can’t just help contemplating the stuff around you and say… WOW! And that’s when you realize that it’s not just slightly more detailed than Portal 1, it’s a different engine altogether capable of much, much more.

There’s obviously a ton of work that went into making Portal 2, with a great attention to details, textures. Your companion robot, Wheatley is a cool robot with great character. He’s what I would call cute and manuke in Japanese (that word fits him too well). Him and GladOS make a great pair of robots to populate the world of Portal 2. While we are touching upon the story, I am not sure if was such a good idea to put Portal 2 into a specific time-frame like they did. The first Portal was great since it could have taken place anywhere, anytime. It was Universal, it had not ties to anything.

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Portal 2 puts the origin of Portal in the Atomic Age, and while the overall narrative certainly has some charm and somehow makes sense, it does break the magic of the unknown. Just like when people tell you Father Christmas does not exi— oops, did I spoil that for you ? Just forget I mentioned anything.

It is not always a good idea to provide a clear explanation, especially in a sequel. It looks like they are trying to retrofit more content into a first episode that was, relatively speaking, a simple game. And sometimes Portal 2 tries too hard. The end attempts to duplicate the ending theme of Portal 1, but it feels a little off and forced. Was it really necessary ?

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But don’t let me detract you from enjoying it. Portal 2 is still a very good game. Good levels are numerous, and some will make you scratch your head for a while. I just have a few reserves about what is wrapping the whole game rather than the game itself. And by the way the game runs beautifully on a decent configuration. At the time of test I tried it on two machines:

  • I5 with GTX460 nVidia GPU card: It was running smoothly, with no noticeable slowdowns, at full HD resolution and full details. Awesome. Splendid.
  • On my i5/Intel HD3000 laptop, things were much worse, but hey, that was expected. It was still somewhat playable, if you don’t mind a relatively low framerate (10-20 fps, with peaks at 30 in less complex rooms), that is, and dropping details to low/mid level. Definitely not great to play Portal 2 on it (while Portal 1 runs very well on such a configuration).

Portal 2 is available on Steam only, and you can probably get in an upcoming sale for Halloween or Christmas if you are patient enough. It should not take too long now.


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