PlayBack: Portal 2

For science.

I still remember the rush home and the excitement of getting Portal 2. It arrived a day before the launch date, but at the wrong address. I was over the other side of the country at University, only returning for the weekends back then. So, when I finally got home on Friday evening, I immediately loaded up the game I had been anticipating for years.

And, although you might be expecting to hear that I played it all weekend without stopping, I only managed to complete about half of it that night as I had a long day of being sociable and seeing friends the next day. But my friends didn’t have portals, and they weren’t that puzzling, so what was the point really?

I soon returned to Portal 2 towards the end of that weekend, and completed the second act and then moved onto the third, and it was amazing. It secured itself as one of my favourite games of all time – and definitely the best of last generation – and in the following week I returned to the single player game three times alongside playing co-op, completing the game again and then once more with developer commentary on. I played it once more, finishing the single player in under two hours. I had bested Portal 2.

And, until last week, that was the last time I had played through Portal 2. Returning to it after such a delay was incredible; I had forgotten how many of the later puzzles work and despite knowing the entire story, it felt as fresh as the day I had bought it.


Best Bit

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For me, it’s hard to pick the best part of Portal 2 when there are so many things which make it so fantastic. We’ll start with the core concept – the portals themselves – which are sublimely simple in their nature yet, when combined with all of the other mechanics, can become something incredibly complex. It’s perhaps due to the level designers, who have meticulously crafted some of the greatest first-person puzzles in history.

And then there’s the writing, which brings these puzzles together and makes it much more than just a set of test chambers. Wheatley, as played by Stephen Merchant, blends both slapstick humour with smarter comedy, while GLaDOS is sarcastic and sardonic in the best way possible. Then you’ve got Cave Johnson, voiced by J.K. Simmons, who again brings a different tone of comedy, with his lemon-ade speech being one of the most memorable in gaming. Oh, and how about The Part Where He Kills you, where you’re notified of that fact by chapter name, a trophy popping up, and twice in the dialogue? That’s superb.

Beyond those two aspects, there is the even deeper puzzle-solving with the co-op mode, along with a good variety in locations and gameplay mechanics throughout, and then there’s deep symbolism which many people may have missed. There’s so much good in Portal 2 that it’s hard to overstate, despite my enthusiasm attempting to achieve just that.

Portal 2 expanded the universe without ruining it; there was still plenty of mystery to Aperture Science – and the world outside of it – but we learned just enough to keep us happy: telling us any more than they did could have perhaps ruined it and any potential for theories.


Worst Bit

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People complained about the length of Portal 2, but I think the eight hour mark on your first play through is just about right for a game of this kind; it never becomes boring, constantly innovating with new mechanics. People also complained about the middle act, with the ramping up of the difficulty, eagerly introducing the new mechanics such as gels with little explanation, but I felt as though that really fitted, and I loved the challenge. This part isn’t for talking about the good things, though, so let’s try to find something bad.

One of my biggest grievances – if you can call it that – with the game is the lengthy load times. These can be about fifteen seconds or more between test chambers, and completely break any immersion when long corridors or elevators could’ve been used to mask these. But that’s about it.


Portal 2 is one of my favourite games of all time. It might not be yours, but it speaks to me, and although my anticipation was through the roof after the E3 2010 PS3 reveal, and then only escalated in the following years up to release, it truly surpassed all of my expectations right up until that final, long-distance portal shot at the end.

It impressed me so much that I don’t feel like I want another game – I’d be very giddy if Valve finally counted to three, but I don’t feel as though they could live up to anything they created in this game. I hope they return to the universe one day, but really don’t expect anything to beat the second visit.

11 Comments

  1. I only played through the co-op, but really enjoyed it. Should dig it out and give the single player a go.

  2. This is one of my favourite games. I love it and I never bore of it. I really wish they would do another one

  3. Love what Stephen Merchant brought to the Portal series, found Portal 2 much easier than the first game though.

  4. In terms of local multiplayer on PS3 this is only surpassed by Borderlands 2. Me and my mate spent umpteen hours in this game and loved every second. Another Portal game would be very welcome

  5. For me it was the voicing that made this game.gameplay was simple enough,yet challenging with it.
    For the best part of the game I was left scratching my head. Some of the puzzles were beyond me.I couldn’t see the wood for the trees. Ahhh good old you tube..

    • The best part of the game for me was also where I was left scratching my head – But for me the working out of said problem by myself (through considered thought or just general experimentation) was what made it the best.

      It was a brilliant game though & one I didn’t expect to enjoy as much as I did.

      • The genius for me was when I worked out a way to solve a puzzle and it kinda felt like I’d tricked the system. I’m sure I hadn’t, such is the meticulous attention to detail of the level design, but that made it feel really organic,

  6. I’d agree with pretty much everything in this great article. I’d perhaps add that the art direction is also fantastic. The progression of Aperture Science through the ages and the associated aesthetics are sublime. This game is probably in my all time top three. In no particular order…

    – Portal 2
    – Deus Ex (original)
    – Half Life 2

  7. Might try to find this cheap from somewhere.

  8. My mate introduced me to this as he wanted to have a co-op play through. I am not a fan of first person games, but enjoyed it enough to purchase it & the orange box to play it some more. :)

  9. I agree completely. The first game was incredible but, coming out of the blue, it had little to live up to. This one had a huge weight of expectation so I couldn’t help but be a little concerned it wouldn’t live up to it. It actually far surpassed my expectations, especially the story telling.
    The way it fills in the back story gradually through the clips of Cave Johnson and the items scattered through the offices is similar to the way The Last Of Us builds its atmosphere with fallen suitcases and teddy bears at abandoned checkpoints. It’s a subtle but super effective technique.

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