Dual Review: Portal & Portal 2


A few months ago, I was lucky enough to find the Portal and Portal 2 bundle on Steam for only $8.49 USD. So guess what? I purchased it! I know I’m usually a very “Nintendo” person, but those two games have always been on my wishlist ever since they came out. And now they’re mine! Take that, Valve! You think I can’t access those games just because I own a Wii? Ha!

But anyways, I think it’s really interesting to find games like Portal and its sequel in this day and age. To be honest, there really isn’t anything quite like it, especially in an era full of generic shooters and mediocre action games. Fortunately, both Portal and Portal 2 are neither generic nor mediocre; they’re great first-person puzzlers that may seem simple on the outside but actually quite complex – sometimes even quite challenging – on the inside.

Both Portal and its sequel revolve around one simple concept: shooting portals. The core of the franchise works like this: players have the ability to shoot two portals, and by entering one portal you exit through the other. This concept may sound stupidly simple, but the addition of several different mechanics make it surprisingly complicated.

For example, there are many points in both games that require players to use momentum to reach hard-to-reach places, like jumping into a blue portal from a high platform and flying out of the orange one to a far-away ledge. Sometimes, you’re required to build momentum by shooting and jumping into portals in mid-air. There are also times when players must carry around obstacles to throw at enemies or hit switches; it’s always satisfying to shoot a blue portal above a robotic turret and dropping chairs on them from an orange one. As the game progresses, more and more obstacles appear, and you’ll be finding yourself trying to solve puzzles over and over again. Timing is key, and a mistimed jump or switch press may lead you to fall to your death.

Portal 2 expands upon the basic concept of the original Portal with the addition of new puzzle toys. For instance, redirection cubes can help change the way lasers are pointing, which is essential to solving some tests. But the biggest new element in Portal 2 is the inclusion of gels, which if put on a flat surface can give that surface a special effect. For example, putting blue gel on a platform allows players to jump super high on that surface, or putting orange gel on a platform allows players to run faster on that surface. There are many other new elements in the game, all of which are cleverly designed to help players on their adventure.

But then comes the question: why are you shooting portals around anyways? Well, ladies and gentlemen, let me tell you about the wacky but absolutely personality-filled story of the Portal universe. In the first Portal game, you play as a young female protagonist, Chell, who is undergoing “testing” at a scientific facility known as Aperture Science. The testing rooms act as the “levels” that must be completed to pass the test, in which at the end of it you are promised cake. But as you progress through the testing facility, you notice that something is wrong; the wall are graffiti’d with cries of plea like “the cake is a lie” and “help me”. I’m not going to spoil the rest of the story for you, but trust me, Portal’s story is unlike anything you’ve ever seen in your life.

Portal 2 is basically a continuation of the Portal story, but this time instead of trying to escape from the enclosed areas of Aperture Science, Portal 2 gets rid of the claustrophobic environment in favor of the more open and mysterious hemisphere of the old Aperture Science Ruins. Much of the game takes place in large, open environments that require multiple steps to solve puzzles. And the game is very aware of its open nature; the addition of the zoom function helps players place portals in far-away and hard-to-reach places. It’s a great expansion to the original Portal’s ideas and gives Portal 2 a more action-adventure feel.

The primary source of the charm found in both Portal games is the robotic female voice that guides you through your “testing.” This voice will often crack a few bad jokes intended to piss Chell off with its irony and sarcasm, things like “I’m going to kill you… and all the cake is gone” and “Maybe you should marry that thing since you love it so much. Do you want to marry it?” It’s these things that give Portal the humor that it’s been known for, and when you figure out the source of this voice, things get even funnier. Portal 2 retains the charm of the first game by keeping the same female-voiced robot, but it also adds to the experience by including a new character to the mix, a male robot that happens to be the complete polar opposite of the female one. Again, I’m not going to spoil things for you, so if you really want to know what happens, you’ll just have to play and see…

…which isn’t really such a big deal, since both games are shockingly short.

Yes, both Portal and Portal 2 suffer from a short main story, though Portal 2 attempts to solve this issue with a plethora of bonus modes. I finished Portal’s main story in less than 4 hours on my very first play-through, and though you can play the last few levels at higher difficulty (or add in-game challenges to them if you like) or even play the game again with developer commentary, that’s only going to add so much to the experience, and that’s only if you even want to bother doing any of it. Still, the game launched at $20 (and it’s now only $10!), so I guess it’s all right for the game to be so short.

Portal 2, at twice the price (launched at $50, now only $20), only delivers twice the length when it comes to the main story. Yup, in less than 8 hours, I was all done with Portal 2. Fortunately, Valve has included tons of extra features to keep players going. Along with stage-specific challenges for each sub-level of the main game, Portal 2 also has several new community features, including co-op which can add 3-4 hours to the experience, depending on who you’re playing with, and a load of user-created levels. Technically, there’s unlimited content for Portal 2 provided that you have internet access and a couple of buddies, but if you’re alone in the middle of the desert, there just may not be enough to warrant a purchase.

But alas, both Portal and Portal 2 are fine games. Despite its short length, Portal still left me smiling, left me satisfied, and made me want more. And to be honest, I’m probably going to remember this game for the rest of my life. And Portal 2? It’s everything you loved about the original, with sarcastic robots, the lack of cakes, everything… but much more expanded. Expanded levels, expanded personalities, expanded story… it’s everything a Portal fan would ever want. Want user-generated content? Check. Want multiplayer? Check. Want more Portal? Double check. The original Portal marked the start of a new generation of puzzle games. Portal 2 is, naturally, twice the fun. Both games are must-haves, or at least must-plays, because of how unique they are. And they’re fun. Yeah, you can’t forget fun!

Pick up Portal for $10 and Portal 2 for $20 (or get the combo bundle with both games for only $25) on Steam today! And don’t forget to add me on Steam! My Steam I.D. is, of course, Battlestriker123!

Portal: ★★★★½

Portal 2: ★★★★★

Note: Hey! This is my first time writing a “Dual Review,” that is, a review that reviews two games at once! Tell me how you like this format, and perhaps in the future, I’ll do some more of these. Thanks!

So, tell me. How do you guys feel about Portal and Portal 2?


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