I played Portal 2 recently and thought that the only way I could write an informed review is if I went back and replayed Portal 1, which I did. Both of them are great games in their own right, and they each have things that they do better than the other.
When I first played Portal, you could have knocked me over with a feather. Such a simple idea, yet capable of such depth; those are always the greatest games / inventions. The first one, being so short, had to make some adjustments from the normal pacing of a typical game, which I think ended up being beneficial. Unlike Portal 2, which had an exasperatingly long “tutorial” or ramp-up sequence, Portal 1 had just a couple of easy levels before subjecting you to puzzlers.
Although Portal 2 was many times longer in terms of play time, Portal 1 was in some respects more difficult. There are fewer “hints” and context clues to show you where to go. In Portal 2, almost all the places that you would need to place a portal in order to pass any level were marked by irregularities in the tiling on the walls that created a doorway-like pattern. In Portal 1 there were no such hints in most of the levels. There were some markings, but these were usually only given when great distances or awkward angles were involved, so that players would not spend an exorbitant amount of time figuring out the exact spot necessary.
The new features introduced in Portal 2 were mostly pretty interesting, but I felt that each time they gave you a new toy to play with, they also reset the difficulty of the following levels to a rudimentary state in order to familiarize you with the mechanic. They were so wrapped up with incorporating these new mechanics in neat ways that none of the levels were very hard. That said I do like the new gels, especially the orange one which lets you travel super fast.
I liked the story telling style of Portal 2. There was a small glimpse of the defunct nature of Aperture Sciences in Portal 1 but it was undeveloped. The quirky voice overs in the 1950s segment of Portal 2, done by the same guy that plays the editor of the Daily Bugle in the Spiderman movies, were very good. Voice acting in video games is sadly sub par most of the time, and this was an exception. I also liked the 1950s segment because it was much more challenging for me than the clean, sterile spaces of the rest of the game. The clutter for me obscured what I was supposed to do, and it felt much more organic that way. I really felt like a fugitive trying to bust my way out of the mad, mad place. It’s a little cruel how they constantly taunt you with signs saying “Exit” on the other side of some partition you can’t get to though.
The cooperative mode was pretty awesome, the puzzles were more difficult and mostly very fun. If you have someone to play it with, it would be a real shame to miss it. What’s great about it is the coordination required, the need to really think on your feet as you, say, ride on a conveyor belt that doesn’t stop and need to react quickly to dodge certain doom. Sometimes you make mistakes because you used the wrong color portal and wiped out an earlier portal that you needed to retain until the end, and that’s frustrating, but it is never too hard to restart, and hopefully you will know better next time. There is one hilarious puzzle where the only way to get to the end is for you and your partner to crash into each other in midair. Team work!