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Critical Consensus: Portal 2

Holier than thou.

Every time Valve releases a game, it's a little bit special. Sitting on a trove of some of gaming's hottest IP, nonchalantly refusing to release anything until it's absolutely ready, Valve knows how to work anticipation and fan fervour like no other company.

Portal 2 has been no exception. A sequel to a game which was released as part of a three-game box set, genreless and seemingly as niche as niche can be, Portal 2 has nonetheless fascinated and enthralled both press and public for months.

Valve's delicate and involved teasing, with a campaign which has run the gamut of subtle and complex ARGs, cross-promotion with indie titles and the brute force of Victoria station's massive ads has ensured that both established fans and curious newcomers have been kept on tenterhooks.

At around 5:30am this morning, Valve set Portal 2 live on its on PC distribution network: Steam. Some sites chose to break the 9am review embargo, not unreasonably, while others have stuck to the schedule. What decision the bricks-and-mortar retailers will make about their street date remains to be seen.

What is clear, however, is that Portal 2 is one of an exceptionally rarefied breed of game which is receiving almost universal acclaim.

The game's review average currently sits at an astonishing 96 per cent on PC and 94 on Xbox 360, putting it in the top five best rated games in the service's archive, alongside the original's Orange Box.

Portal 2 is a game full of surprises, so the review process is obviously fraught with spoilers. The pieces selected below are among those who've made the greatest effort to avoid those, however, so read on in comfort.

As good a place to start as any is Oli Welsh's superlative review at Eurogamer, which dispenses a rare and pure 10 out of 10 to the puzzler. As with the other reviews covered here, Welsh skirts around many specifics of gameplay in order to preserve the delight of their discovery for the player, but his assessment of the structure and generalities of the game are generally pretty exemplary.

The script, says Welsh, is "a riot". Penned by Eric Wolpaw, Jay Pinkerton and Chet Faliszek, the dialogue is "both shameless and devastatingly successful in its pursuit of belly laughs" whilst maintaining a cool and aloof irony in delivery and tone. What that results in is "that rare beast, an actual video game comedy – and one of the funniest ever."

John Walker at RPS, perhaps the most careful reviewer in terms of potential spoilers, agrees wholeheartedly, singling out special praise for Stephen Merchant's voice-actor turn as personality core Wheatley.

"Ricky Gervais's frequent comedy partner firmly establishes himself independently here, offering a naturalistic delivery that hits every beat with exquisitely effortless timing," says Walker, adding that "It's so damned funny. It's funny from the opening scene to the very final moment, which made me guffaw. "

That comedic balance is a fine one, says GameInformer's Adam Biessener in the process of awarding his 9.5.

"The touch of gravitas here and there is just enough to ground the writing and serve as a contrast to Portal 2's goofy world. I would have preferred Valve to play it slightly straighter and give a look into what catastrophic events led to the current sorry state of Chell's world, but that's the sci-fi nerd in me talking. We don't need to know why the Enrichment Centre is; that it is trying to kill us is enough."

That's a sentiment echoed at IGN, which highlights the fact that while Portal 2 "occasionally strikes a more serious tone, an abundance of cruel jokes and cheerfully sincere death threats prevent it from losing its sarcastic charm."

Animation is key to the game's allure, too. Welsh praises Valve's animators for "delivering work of exquisite, movie-quality detail and timing," with the game's co-op mode providing their greatest moments, meaning that "even the robotics of Aperture Science's test chambers are lent personality and character, moving between slick, synchronised spectacle and the involuntary, violent tics of a madman."

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