This article contains very mild spoilers.
Giddy. It’s an odd sensation, not one that normally pre-empts most inaugural whirs of a PlayStation 3 disk as it slides into the slot, but it’s one that’s perfectly suited to how I felt yesterday as I booted Valve’s Portal 2 for the first time. Sure, we’ve read about it, pored over screenshots and even took a sideways glance at the currently running ARG, but playing a game for yourself, curtains drawn, cup of tea in hand: no, you can’t beat that.
As you’ll know from our earlier preview, some of us here at TSA are huge Portal fans. The first game was an unexpected highlight of the crowded Orange Box, its peculiar mix of first person puzzling and hints at a laboratory way behind what we saw in the game provided a memorable experience that resonates well beyond the cheap memes and ignorant digs.
Portal was brilliant, that’s a fact, and – guess what – Portal 2’s better.
Much better.[drop]Our review’s steadily formulating, and will appear next Tuesday morning in all its splendour, but (and without risking any embargos here) you can rest assured that your pre-orders are safe.
Right from the off, Valve’s mastery of real-time story telling, a skill that carries on from the wonderful Half Life, is at the forefront, with Chell’s introduction to the world far more brutal and powerful than it was last time around.
Wheatley, the personality core we’ve heard so much about, is pitched perfectly with Stephen Merchant behind the mic: he’s deliciously funny, hugely entertaining and absolutely British in language and execution – his guide essential for the early hours of the game’s plot as the player first familiarises themselves and then proceeds to make their daring, but naturally rather complicated escape from the Aperture centre.
But Portal 2 isn’t just about a smartly paced plot, naturally the game’s chock full of test chambers, but this time the way they’re implemented and introduced is so supremely smart and deft that going back and playing the first game just seems like a huge step backwards.
Yes, the game eases you in by slowly giving you the Portal gun again, one portal at a time, but you’ll soon find that there’s so much more to Aperture behind the scenes than you could ever possibly have imagined.
What that might entail, of course, we won’t be spoiling here. Suffice to say that Valve are truly geniuses, you’ll be smirking like a Cheshire cat at times and grinning like a loon at others – past adventures are referenced, in-jokes are repeated, love hearts still adorn companion cubes, forgotten characters are remembered – and how. And the script, thankfully, is also genuinely humourous.
There might be more adventure and ‘story’ to the puzzles this time, but it’s all good. Very good.
But, and here’s the bit you’ve been thinking about all along: the way the game introduces the concept of the gels, Portal 2’s main new puzzle feature after the actual portals?
For fans like me, it’s mind blowing. You’ll see…