REVIEW: ‘Portal 2’ is the perfect video game gift for this holiday season

Promotional artwork for ‘Portal 2’ courtesy of Valve Corporation

With the holidays rapidly approaching, many are looking for video games their loved ones may enjoy. It’s hard to decide with all the different genres and titles out there what one gamer may love and what another may not. There are some titles that transcend these aspects, titles that all forms of gamers may love. One such title is Portal 2. It incorporates so many different facets of gaming that it’s hard not to find something to love; first person shooting, puzzle-solving, action scenes, platforming, co-op, all wrapped up in a thought-provoking and clever narrative. Portal 2 is an all-time classic as well as the ideal gift for the holiday season. Whether a regular gamer or a casual viewer, there is something for everyone to love in this game.

Widely considered one of the best video game developers of all time, Valve hit its stride in the 2000s, with game series that are still popular to this day like Half Life, Team Fortress, and Counter-Strike. These games left a mark on the whole of gaming. From this golden age of Valve came one game that was different than the rest; however, with all the same charm and ingenuity indicative of Valve-style games: Portal 2.

The first Portal game was released in 2007. It was a fun, quirky, puzzle game that didn’t overstay its welcome, taking only about an hour or two to finish. The setup was simple: the player is a test subject for Aperture Laboratories. As the player, you simply want to escape these tests. However, in the short run time of the game, many fell in love with the mysterious lab setting and the surprisingly hilarious, snarky robot. This robot tested the player with the game’s puzzles. It quickly became a cult classic. The biggest thing to come out of it; however, was the iconic portal gun, a sci-fi device that the game’s puzzles revolve around. It opens two connected portals wherever you shoot it, allowing the player, as well as puzzle objects, through.

In 2011, Portal 2 expanded on this already well-liked game in every way.

Portal 2 thrusts the player immediately into a new world of tests and puzzles. The protagonist is Chell, the silent test subject and the same protagonist of the previous game. It’s clear from the get-go that the graphics have improved immensely. Understated, but beautiful, it perfectly conveys the now-decrepit lab as well as the cold, clinical, technology of the later game. There is more variance in the environments as the game progresses. The soundtrack compliments the looks of the game very well — even having some high moments of its own, although it usually goes unnoticed, ranging from technological ambiance to high-paced beats.

Promotional artwork for ‘Portal 2’ courtesy of Valve Corporation.

It’s clear from the get-go that the graphics have improved immensely. Understated, but beautiful, it perfectly conveys the now-decrepit lab as well as the cold, clinical, technology of the later game.

The gameplay of Portal 2 has many of the same mechanics as the first game, while the puzzles are completely different. Armed again with only a portal gun and your own wit, you must traverse puzzle rooms called “testing chambers” in order to progress. Each one builds off your knowledge of the last, incorporating more and more original and diverse mechanics. Even as the puzzle difficulty ramps up, it never feels unfair or only difficult for difficulty’s sake. The solutions always make sense, even if it takes a while to coordinate or figure out. Each chamber gives all the pieces and lets the player go at it on their own. Finally solving a puzzle makes the whole experience worth it and gives you the knowledge to take to the next room. The settings, solutions, and secrets are all integrated perfectly into the story at the same time. 

Even aside from the main game, the delightfully fun co-op story adds a whole other facet. Still managing to bring new mechanics and solutions after the single-player story, the co-op mode encourages both puzzle-solving and the perfect amount of cooperation. Now with two portal guns, both players are absolutely vital for every puzzle, expanding even beyond the bounds of the main game. Creative and unconventional, Portal 2 has gameplay unlike any other game out there, combining first person shooting elements into the physics-based puzzles which make up the bulk of the gameplay, the perfect marriage of two elements that would otherwise separate some gamers. Portal 2, meanwhile, will satisfy even the staunchest game critic this holiday season. 

Despite having a relatively small cast of characters, Valve manages to cram charming character and brilliant writing into every nook and cranny of Portal 2. It also has perhaps some of the best vocal performances in gaming history by Stephen Merchant, Ellen McLain, JK Simmons, and Nolan North. Every character in the game is notably entertaining – even the silent protagonist has her funny moments. It’s more than just the laughs that make the so writing special, however. As you make your way through the lab, deeper tones show themselves. Behind the seemingly-endless puzzles there are themes of meaninglessness and the struggle for freedom. The pure size of the setting makes you feel small and helpless in front of the emotionless machines of Aperture Science. In the grand scheme, you don’t matter, but yet you still fight to escape with what little you have. Then, at the end of it all, Portal 2 throws one of the most mind-boggling and one of the most satisfying endings to wrap up this utter delight of a game. This game will easily captivate gamers who love a good story.

Portal 2 is a game with something for everyone: ingenuity, puzzle-solving, graphics, soundtrack, writing. A lot of love went into this game and in return many love it. It affected how video games were made and has shown how gameplay and narrative can go hand-in-hand when done correctly. Portal 2 is a quintessential gaming experience — one of which will earn you passage into any gamer’s heart — and a great gift for anyone who enjoys a great video game.

Portal 2 is rated e10+ for everyone 10 and up.

Genevieve Hankins is a pop culture critic for Oswego East High School’s online news magazine the Howl

Leave a Reply