Head candy for the gamers as Portal 2 returns

The road travelled by Valve’s mind-bending mod has been a long and glittering one on its way to the powerhouse that it is. Electronic Arts have released what could well be a watershed moment for gamers everywhere with their latest venture into the fantastic physic’s of Portal 2.       

2011 has already proven to have had one of the greatest starts to the gaming calendar we have ever witnessed, but the latest release from Valve and Electronic Arts shows us that there are still some jewels left in gamings’ crown that we have yet to sample.  

Just when you thought you had seen all that the psychotic and torturous GlaDOS had to offer, Valve go the extra mile and turn the one time Half Life mod into a true contender for the coveted Game of the Year title. How they ever managed to find that elusive formula that turns an already massive hit into a rip-roaring sequel success is a secret that the developers are keeping to themselves, but one that we hope spreads like wildfire through the gaming world as if there was ever proof needed that follow ups can indeed be as good as the original, and even in the few rare cases such as this game, a vast improvement, then Portal 2 is it.

From the moment you awake amidst the rusting ruin’s of the once pristine playrooms for the eternal tormentor GlaDOS, you find yourself being swept along into a vast new world of impressive visual’s and gorgeous gameplay as Valve bring the story of Portal to the next level. With first class characterization’s of inanimate objects having life breathed into them by the achingly charming Stephen Merchant, who plays your lone ally and side kick Wheatley, a spherical blend of satire and suicide who never fails to lead your character Chell out of the frying pan and into the very fiery pits of Hades themselves, as well as the soothingly dulcet tones of Ellen McLain who returns as the ever watchful, ever suspicious GlaDOS, (Genetic Lifeform and Disk Operating System) Valve’s superior title oozes class and sophistication as it sweeps you along on a never-ending roller coaster of emotions from jubilation to down right hair tugging frustration as Portal 2 never once let’s up in its pace or purpose . Portal 2 reputedly has over 13,000 lines of dialogue between the put upon Chell and testing tormentor GlaDOS, and with a first class script being written by the likes of original Portal penman Erik Wolpaw,  Left 4 Dead writer Chet Faliszek you just knew that the storyline was going to be something special right from the outset. But with the comedic talents of National Lampoon’s legend Jay Pinkerton  being drafted in to concoct a tale of truly satirical and beautifully arranged bickering bliss between the three main players, Portal 2 has gone a long way to prove its credentials as anything but the mere mod that it once started life as.

The storyline follows the path of the previous game in the series in that you awake to find yourself amongst the ruins of the Aperture Science Labs. The very same said laboratories that you destroyed at the end of the first Portal game. Surrounded by decay and overgrown debris, Chell is greeted by the cheery tones of Wheatley, (Stephen Merchant), whose character never fails to liven up the proceedings with a constant stream of witty banter. From the first meeting with this happy chappy it’s a steady path to despondency as you are quickly reunited with your traumatic torturer as Wheatley manages to resurrect the artificially intelligent assassin with his usual haphazard half-wittery.

Without wanting to ruin what has to be the absolute sequel of the entire gaming year, Portal 2 moves into new territory with the arrival of Wheatley and the reborn GlaDOS, and gamers will be agape at some of the spectacular acrobatic’s and astonishing aerial display’s that Chell manages to perform once she gets her hands on the legendary Portal Gun. Before long players find themselves once again at the whimsical fancies of the petulant program that makes 2001:Space Odyssey’s now infamous ‘Hal’ seem little more than ‘slightly miffed’. In direct and stark contrast comes Portal 2’s vengeful GlaDOS who seems intent on spending the rest of eternity with the unfortunate Chell, with not even the normal inconveniences of such Human frailties as ‘death’ deterring her  in her pursuit of ‘bunny-boiler-esque’ revenge against the downtrodden organic, stating that once time has taken its ultimate toll on the mortal being that as a ‘hobby’ GlaDOS intends to pursue an interest in re-animation to bring Chell back like a phoenix from the ashes to continue her testing until Hell itself has frozen over, or time comes to a stand still, whichever happens soonest?

The graphic’s are simply sublime with gorgeous locations and sprawling sets that will baffle and bewilder even the most three-dimensional thinking individuals. Making welcome returns to the puzzling perfection are prop’s that will put smiles, and grimace,s on the faces of gamers worldwide, with item’s such as the gun turrets, pressure pad’s, cubes and floating platforms all appearing to test the mettle and mental capacity of Portal 2players. But the fun and games do not end there as also putting in appearances to put gamers aptitude to more rigorous feats of endurance are other fiendish foes such as the Propulsion Gel, which allows players to whizz across environments like a spiky haired Beano character of a similar moniker. Then there are the epic Aerial Faith Plates that, should they ever become a reality, would never be used by any right-minded human being…ever! And then we come to the cracking inclusion in an amazing and almost limitless list of tempting traps a perilous pitfall’s entitled Hard Light Bridges. These little beauties can be taken advantage of and put to exceedingly good use with just a little imagination and forward planning so that combined with the patented Portal Gun you can traverse previously unavailable areas’ and unattainable zones and ledges.

Each one of these twisted mind benders are introduced to the player in the same way that each new room is gently upped in difficulty with every opening of the travel tube that GlaDOS entices you into at the end of every round. Everything begins at quite the leisurely pace, with this seemingly pleasant jaunt through the desolation and destruction that was once the Aperture Science Labs lulling the player into a false sense of security from an early standpoint. So gradual is the gradient in the never-ending uphill trek that you will hardly notice that the inclusion of the aforementioned assistance aids and augmented security systems seem nothing more than a tiresome distraction to traversing the room’s obstacles and making it to the tube transport at the end of the level. But a false sense of security it all is nonetheless as GlaDOS and her cyber Knights almost ‘pip’ you to the post every time.

Single player game time cannot be measured in any great detail as each round has no set time limit to it and players can take…well…as long as it takes to figure out the answer to the four walled question. There is, however, the excellent inclusion this time around of the games multiplayer where gamers can team up in a separate co-op storyline with two lovable droid’s names Atlus and Peabody. These two must assets each other as they tackle the problem’s on offer before them, or face ultimate doom if they try to ‘go it alone’ Never really a good plan in a cooperatively based setting.

But in what has to be an absolutely groundbreaking moment for Playstation 3 and PC owners everywhere, we have the inclusion of the cross-platform unity that has been afforded these two gaming giants in what has to be a watershed moment in the history of videogaming as, if nothing else, the prospects for the future that this marriage made in Heaven could produce are truly staggering and should not be down played in any shape, way or form. Cross platform saves, cross-platform gameplay, cross-platform chat…the possibilities are almost as mind-blowing as some of the puzzle rooms set by GlaDOS herself.

Graphics: Clean as a whistle and as smooth as the silk spun by the queen’s if the insect world themselves. Valve have done a spectacular job bringing the world of Portal back to life and injecting more content and better visuals into this stunning sequel. Whether you decide to play this game with your friends as a cross-platform piece of gaming perfection, or whether you should opt for the excellent solo experience you will not find a single solitary problem or hitch from the opening sequences to the end credits. Magnificent.    10

Gameplay: If you have any interest whatsoever in platformers, puzzlers, physics based acrobatics or just plain fantastic gameplay then you have to plump for Portal 2 every time. The solo campaign is a first-rate romp through some of the very best gaming this or any other year, and the online modes features some of the most compelling co-operative challenges ever devised in the mind of a game developer.  Expect to be playing this game time and again  to experience all it has to offer as you wait  for the third in the series.  10

RePlay Value: Quite simply put Portal 2 is the best looking and best playing sequel of this year of sequel’s. With stunning locations and gorgeous gameplay taking you on a testing trek throughout the realm of the cyber queen GlaDOS players will enjoy return visits to the solo campaign, as well as the marvellous multiplayer day in and day out until the third in the franchise is launched. Gaming at its finest.  10

Presentation: The best, bar none! Valve and Electronic Arts have joined forces with Sony, especially, to create an experience as yet unsurpassed in the gaming world. Beautifully presented graphic’s pave the way for some of the most innovative and expansive gameplay it has ever been our great pleasure to enjoy. The inclusion of the Steam compatibility package for Playstation 3 owners and PC gamers is as sublime as it is revolutionary, and should be regarded as such. Portal 2 does not only stretch the boundaries of human endurance and intelligence, but also the possibilities for the future of collaborative gaming.    10

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