Thursday, April 21, 2011

Portal 2 for PS3

Released today I got it yesterday. Kind of lucky as it integrates with Steam via the Playstation Network and today it seems the PSN is offline.

First things first - do you need to have played the original Portal to play this? No, but it really helps if you have as some of the cutscenes assume some knowledge of previous events. Play-wise though, no all the elements get re-explained.

For those who haven't played it really is quite simple.There are two portals - blue and orange; walk through one and you come out the other; during the game you get given a gun that can place these portals almost anywhere you like. Use this to solve the puzzle rooms you find yourself in.

I'm going to try to avoid spoilers, which is a shame as some of them are just really funny.

You start with a basic movement tutorial disguised as exercise - look up, look down, move here, look there. From the outset the humour and atmosphere come through - you're in a corporation and they're going to do the most cost-effective minimum they can get away with. Then things change and once again the atmosphere comes through with the "nine, nine, nine..." and the revelation of the sheer scale of the facility you're in.

The next part of the tutorial will be familiar to the players of the original as it's almost exactly the same with the same rooms; it's a nice touch. As with that you start off with portals provided for you so as to get used to them, then you gain the ability to fire a single portal and then finally back to two. One thing I will say is that the physics tutorials particularly momentum isn't quite as well handled. I can certainly imagine some people getting stuck at how to fling themselves over gaps. This carries through to some of the new elements you do have to work out how they function yourself.

Saying that though the initial puzzles themselves do introduce these elements in simple terms so you can get used to them but they can ramp up quite quickly. Once I started with the hard-light bridges some of puzzles  actually had me stopping to work out how the proper combination of events and I even had to scratch my head a couple of times. Most of the time I spent in the rooms though was just looking around; yes it's that pretty.

Saying that though there are still some graphical slights. In the initial room, possibly due to its construction, seams could be seen between the wall and ceiling; as the room was shadowed here the hard white light shining through was quite noticeable; haven't noticed it since. Some of the textures aren't quite as highly detailed either; although some of this can be attributed as 'decay' some of the wall paintings/scribbles were quite pixeled/jagged and certain lettered textures that you'd expect to be able to read were unintelligible. I'm surprised at this for two reasons - firstly every other texture is very good, in one section a set of tiles had been removed from the floor and the 'glue' swirl markings were visible - each was different. Secondly memory couldn't be in that short a supply as each level was separate.

That brings me to the one real fault of Portal 2 which has been mentioned by most other reviewers - the loading. The original Portal you got maybe three levels before you hit a load while in an elevator. With Portal 2 it's every level and sometimes occurs while you're travelling down a corridor in an air-lock type situation. They don't take long, 10-15 seconds maybe, but it does just throw you out of the game a little; particularly if you've played the first game and can thus whiz through the initial tutorials it starts to feel like - level, stop, level, stop, level , stop all in quick succession. I'm not sure what's going on there, but I'm curious as to why a two room level needs to be loaded up all by itself when the initial expanse doesn't.

There have been some small alterations in gameplay. The tutorials now feature directional arrows to your next objective to help you along, but the biggest change is being able to see portal locations through walls. This is very useful as it's possible to flung around the chambers and thus lose your relative position. Being able to see where those portals you fired now are helps orientate you and also helps avoid situations of sending something the wrong way because you thought the exit portal was over 'there'.

Outside the game Steam integration was seamless if you haven't a Steam account it just creates one using your PSN identity. The whole process of creation, sign in and status required me to press just one button. Why would I want to sign up for this - Portal 2 features cloud saving. By default the game will sync your last three save games to Steam. Sign in on another PS3 or even a PC with Portal 2 loaded and you can continue where you left off.

One small point was the sound level; woah that was quite high. For every other game (Destroy All Humans excepted) I've normally been able to leave speech at maximum and just turn down the music. For Portal 2 I had to turn down the master volume to about a third and then turn down the music

But for all those minor quibbles this is Portal and it's just damn near perfect.

[Update -  Managed to try the co-op out with someone who's never played Portal before. They soon picked it up and much fun was had. One small point is that you can't save your progress. According to the forums it saves your progress and allows you to pick up from that point onwards, but some mention of this in the game would be nice.

I've now played the single player game twice and collected all single player achievements, most I picked up on the first run the trickier ones took my second run to complete. I must say I'm a little disappointed with the ending, but I don't know why I should be. In the original game you had your portals, cubes and buttons, and 'discouragement' lasers and in the finale just ended up using portals. In this game you get the same stuff but also repulsion gel, frictionless gel, portal gel, redirection cubes for the lasers, gravity tubes, faith plates, and hard light bridges. In the finale you use the portals with the three types of gel.

To get through the tests you have to combine these all up to pass and then only require half that information to beat the end. Just kind of flat.

It also lacks the challenge mode from the original though there are achievements in the co-op version for using X number of portals nothing like this exists within the single player game either as an achievement or as a challenge. With the way the game is structured I can understand why, but it is a shame.