Posts Tagged ‘Amazing’

With horrific live action remakes like GI Joe: Rise of Cobra and the impending doom that is Akira, is there really any need for further destruction of our childhood heroes? Well, finally someone has made a positive adaptation and interestingly it’s fan-made!

With a budget of zero, Dermot Canterbury has successfully recreated the 80’s disco-style opening sequence to Ulysses 31. Somehow he has managed to make it MORE camp. Ulysses looks less like a hero from a childhood animated fantasy and more like a bad porno Bee Gee.
 

 
Nice use of tennis balls though! Props.

(Media courtesy of Fluffrick and Denofgeek)

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Slinkachu – Mini Art.

Posted: November 14, 2011 in Art
Tags: , , , ,

No not a Pikachu Slinky… although that is an interesting idea.

This post is about contemporary artist Slinkachu, a man famous for his captivating photographs of tiny model railway figures hidden around large cityscapes.

Each set up presents both a micro level viewpoint, zoomed into the miniature figures, and a macro level wide shot, revealing the artwork as the centre of a larger landscape.

Tony Stalks... Ok I'm aware that oranges do not have stalks but you do better!

 

It is this combination of large and small scale perspectives that so intrigue and delight. The ‘mini installations’ have an unmistakable charm, spawning many homages in the art world. In Slinkachu’s work there is obvious social commentary and nostalgia play, with references to subjects like pest control, littering and crime. Perhaps the real success however is that all of these are treated with deliberate informality in a media environment where overreaction and hyperbole are common.

His work is beautifully inoffensive, completely avoiding political correctness, whilst functioning on a level that everyone, of any age, can enjoy. This universality is what I adore most about Slinkachu’s work. Although there are clearly various levels embedded deep within each piece, for example, in the installation entitled ‘Scars’ (below), there is ultimately a shared understanding created by the simple charm he manages to instill. I can’t possibly imagine anyone that wouldn’t fall in love with his work.

A very poignant message I think you'll agree.

I purchased ‘Little People in the City: The Street Art of Slinkachu’ a few months back and was so enamoured by it that I’ve been following him since. You can get it on Amazon for under £7. He has also recently released a catalogue of his newest collection called ‘Concrete Ocean’ which can be purchased from his website.

Aside from his ‘little people’, Slinkachu also has a project called ‘Inner City Snail’ which presents how all-encompassing graffiti can be. Banksy eat ya heart out.

Moving graffs. Slowly moving graffs.

20 minutes? Twenty minutes? Veinte minutos? Twaintee minoights? However you say it, it’s just as unbelievable.

For anyone who has played this game, and been manically frustrated with how easily you can die, especially on the later levels, you will have so much appreciation for this video. For the life of me I don’t understand how this gamer had the patience to perfect their run without dying. Jesus, they must have attempted this hundreds of time!!

Hats off to you, Sir.
 

 

For a review of this game, please click here.

So, after the amazing success of the first night of the Dialogue Festival and with the prospect of seeing Richard Herring in a small church, to say I was excited is an understatement.

And you know what they say about having high expectations setting you up for a fall? Well, let’s just say they weren’t bloody wrong!

The second night, called TechnoBabble, kicked off with an off the cuff introduction from the man himself, Richard Herring. To the delight of the low capacity crowd (maybe 25 – 30 people), he ignored the script he’d been given in favour of some improvised comedy, actually ridiculing the cheesy, planned lines he had been handed. Our appetites whet, Richard then left to perform an intro at another venue, leaving us with our first act, so to speak, in the form of Perez Hilton.

When advertised, infamous blogger Perez Hilton was described as a ‘special guest’. Although he lives in America, he’s such a D-List celebrity that it was fair to assume that First Direct had flown him out to London for this very show. This was not the case…..

To be honest, I didn’t have any real desire to see him in person, so was more than happy to view his smiling bonce from 600 miles away. But it seemed a little cheeky to advertise him as a guest when really he was only appearing via Skype. Jesus, I could probably get him on Skype now! Essentially, Perez’s set formed an introduction to a story telling method known as ‘pecha kuchas’. A pecha kucha is a collection of 20 slides, each with 20 seconds of spoken word creating a narrative. What does pecha kucha even really mean though? I assume that it’s Japanese for something like ‘tedious and annoying’; almost sounds like Ashton Kutcher too, fitting. Mr Hilton was to deliver his own pecha kucha (recorded I might add), which was then to be followed by a live Q & A.

This idea was pretty pointless and uninteresting right from the outset. What would Perez Hilton even have to offer us as a story? Maybe an enlightening commentary on the socio-political atmosphere in Libya? Ah no, just a shitty explanation of how he came to fame. Just what I wanted….

God was clearly present that night in the church though. Proof for all you atheists if ever you needed it! Perez’s set was immeasurably improved by a technical failing which meant that there were no slides present as he was talking. Consequently, the audience had no idea what he was referring to whatsoever (like we cared anyway) which made every new slide more and more hilarious. It didn’t ever matter what he had to say anymore. As soon as he opened his mouth to another failed slide the audience could not help but snigger.

The Q & A wasn’t any more successful. Richard Herring had not yet returned so instead a random techy from the back grabbed the mic to converse with Perez. No-one may even have registered that this was another f*^k up if the anonymous replacement hadn’t opened his conversation with “Sorry Perez, if I knew I was doing this tonight, I would have been better dressed.” Well done that man.. that’s that illusion shattered. In all fairness, if this poor guy was a last minute stand-in then he didn’t do a horrible job. It’s just unfortunate that he had about as much charisma as some wilting spinach. He chatted away to Perez for a bit, asking particularly uninteresting questions, notably from a piece of paper that had clearly been prepped 5 minutes earlier. After 5 or 6 questions he started looking to the crowd for questions, he had run out and was desperate for some support. Sadly he was not to be rescued yet. The audience had patently lost interest in this part of the show and were no more engaged by the prospect of getting to talk to this “celebrity”. No-one wanted to ask a question, apart from one bloke who requested “Can we see your slides?” to the delight of the crowd. It got to the point that the surrogate compere actually planted some questions with a few members of the audience in the hope that it would seem a successful, even ongoing part of the show. Disastrously though, with such small numbers in the audience it became clear what he was doing, with only Perez assuming that everything was going swimmingly, not drowning like he was.

Everyone clearly wanted Richard Herring to talk to Perez, optimistic that he would vehemently rip the piss out of him. Replacing him was always going be a tough gig, made all the worse by the failings of the technical team. I ASSUME that they have one but there was no sign of it at all!

Thoroughly disheartened at the night so far and in real need of something entertaining, they then proceeeded to have 4 ”guest” bloggers come on to the stage having apparently won some sort of prize – what was it, to be eaten alive by an angry audience? Clearly no-one in the crowd was interested at this point, especially after the first blogger, physically nervous, read awkward Monkhouse-esque jokes from her phone. Chants of “Herring, Herring, Herring” echoed in the back of my mind….

Luckily 2 of the speakers were at least interesting however; one, Jon Morter, the legendary marketing machine responsible for putting Rage Against the Machine at Christmas number 1, and Trisha Champaneri, a girl whose passion for sport maintained the interest and humour of what was the definition of a ‘tough crowd’.

With hours having passed and disillusioned patrons leaving before the end of the nights proceedings, things were not going well. But wait, next up are Richard Herring and Josie Long! This can only get better surely?! Well yes, technically, but only because the start of the night had been complete s@#t!! What followed was a complete shambles, labelled as a ‘tweet off”. From the outset, I and seemingly everyone else (including the organisers) had very little idea about what this involved. I assumed that this was going to be some kind of mc battle, updated for the technologically minded middle classes. What we got instead was a confused combination of nervous chit chat, mixed in with a few tweets every now and again. And what a surprise, technology was to play another villainous part.

It was obvious immediately that this part of the show had not been tested beforehand. If it had been, the organisers would have soon realised that using only a quarter of the screen to display the 2 twitter pages was entirely ineffectual, making it almost impossible for the audience to see what was going on (especially myopic people in the second row :[ ). Instead it became an absolute necessity for audience members to use their mobile phones to follow what was happening on Twitter, a consequence which obviously lost some of the crowd. Moreover, both Josie and Richard seemed at a loss as to what they were supposed to be doing, tweeting each other or talking to the audience. Most people would struggle to do both effectively, nigh on impossible when you are trying to make people laugh. This resulted in a disastrous, clearly untested techno-fail, readily accepted by both of the comedians:

DialoguefestRH (Richard Herring) – “so I am aware that if we are tweeting we can’t entertain the audience here coz we can’t speak, but if we speak we can’t tweet”  and “this does not work at all”

dialoguefestj (Josie Long) – “PLEASE DON’T TELL THE REST OF THE INTERNET ABOUT THIS GUYS”,  “Why have I done with this with my life?” and “this is purgatory”

It was bitter irony that they both used their Twitter pages to criticise the night whilst they were supposed to be attacking each other. The idea was inevitably doomed from the beginning; in order for the ‘tweet off’ aspect to succeed it was vital for the comedians to direct their attention solely to their Twitter pages, thereby creating a continuous, fluid conversation with each other. However, in doing this they would ignore their audience, in this way obliterating the stand-up aspect. No disrespect to Richard or Josie, they did their very best to entertain a horrendously disheartened crowd, and for what it’s worth they managed to keep us entertained.

To close the night, Richard Herring delivered a thoroughly enjoyable stand-up set. It was a refreshing bout of success on a night where the byword was disaster. Although most of the material was recycled from previous shows (Hitler Moustache / What is Love Anyway?), it was truly delightful to hear him passionately deliver what are very well-written comedy skits. Having seen him twice before, I can easily say that I will never tire of Herring’s comedic talent. He has an obvious skill for comedy writing – he did write for Al Murray’s Pub Landlord though, ouch – and when this is combined with his fluid delivery, his impeccable timing and his natural improv skills he cannot be bettered. He is also great at attacking hecklers, as one Australian female soon found out.

It’s just a shame that he was unforgivably let down by the poor organisation of the event. They were lucky to book such a renowned comedian for such a small-scale gig; I’m sure that won’t be happening again! The biggest irony is that the night, devoted to the use of technology, especially in regards to communication, was let down irrevocably by the tech used in it.

TechnoBabble??  TechnoBollocks.

So, merrily wandering the internet earlier this week I spotted an advert for something called the First Direct Dialogue Festival. Never heard of it? I’m not surprised as it’s a surprisingly low-key affair for an event that has so much to offer.

The festival spans four days in early November at three small venues in-and-around Notting Hill. During this time, those lucky enough to have discovered it have the opportunity of seeing comedy and debate from the likes of Adam Buxton, Richard Herring, Robin Ince and Josie Long, with Will Self and Alan Moore (of Watchmen fame, amongst others) making special appearances.

So what’s it all about? Well, in keeping with the maxim of Ronseal, it’s about dialogue. No s~@t Sherlock! In a little more depth, the festival will explore the inner workings of conversation and the spoken word, discovering why it still remains so vitally significant in a world where technology has created a somewhat faceless, artless communication network. Every night of the festival is devoted to one of five themes (Debate, Technobabble, Lyrical, Chatterbox, Banter), all with different celebrities and a varying artistic focus.

The first night, which we managed to blag for £5 a ticket on Groupon – revealing how under-promoted the festival is – was focussed on Debate. Compere Robin Ince led the evening, introducing first a set from Adam Buxton, a pop-culture fanatic and one half of the inimitable comedic duo Adam & Joe. Now you’ve all probably seen the video of Adam, Joe and an endearingly young Louis Theroux dancing around to ‘Groove is in the Heart’. If somehow you’ve managed to miss it then treat yourself here). Alternatively, you may have heard Dr Buckles on Radio Four or witnessed him hosting Never Mind the Buzzcocks recently. If so, then you will have some idea of what to expect from his show.

Adam’s set, essentially a ‘best of’ compilation from his popular show BUG, explores the greatest media sharing site of our modern culture, Youtube.  With hours spent trawling the site, he has compiled a collection of what he considers to be the best music videos and the most amazing user responses to them. Now although this is not particularly new territory, for example the Channel 4 show RudeTube also seeks outs popular videos from the site, it is Buxton’s charm and impeccable delivery that make the show his own. As he described himself, the show feels like he has invited us “round to his house for dinner”, but leaving us undernourished he soon digresses, instead showing us videos he likes. The great thing about this feel, especially in the tiny church we were in, is that it creates such a refreshingly informal atmosphere. He shows us a few videos and we have a laugh together. After particular selections he then also proceeds to unveil some hilarious comments left by Youtubers on them. He extracts the very best comments, having clearly committed himself to hours of slogging through undoubtedly inane or abusive chatter. The actual comments he selects are incredibly funny, but it’s his comedic delivery, complete with a range of hilariously indistinguishable accents, that have the audience belly-laughing throughout his set. This is interspersed with Adam’s own music videos, one involving some talking poo – not like South Park, I’ll leave that to your imagination. I’ve always enjoyed his quirky, energetic humour right back from the original Adam & Joe series and it’s great to see that he hasn’t lost any of it; despite sporting a lumberjack beard and having kids he’s still able to prance around the stage rewriting the lyrics to Grace Jones’ ‘Pull Up to the Bumper’. It was one of the finest comedy sets that I have seen in a long time, my continually watering eyes were a testament to that.

Here are some of the best videos he had to offer, each one amazingly different:

Iz Tropical, The Greeks. Video produced by Megaforce.

I absolutely loved this video and had to share it. The combination of naive children playing innocently with nerf guns and the destructive adult animation is wonderful. It made me want to be 12 again, or at very least just shoot some kids with some foam projectiles. The Play Doh C4 was a lovely touch too.

It also got the biggest laughs of the night from its Youtube commenting continuity afficionados:

As a self-professed literalist, Mr Buxton repeated this last comment with hilarious accuracy.

Manchester Orchestra, ‘Simple Math’. Video produced by Daniels.

This video was so engaging and totally mirrored the emotional feel of the song. I admit, I’m not entirely sure what it was supposed to mean but nevertheless, the fluid cuts between the past and present, the juxtaposition of a car crash with childhood relationships, left an undeniable impression on me.

Pigwiththefaceofaboy, ‘A Complete History of the Soviet Union, Arranged to the Melody of Tetris’. Video produced by Chris Lince.

There is nothing that I really need to say about this video. I adore games and have always held a special place in my heart for remixes of gaming theme tunes, so just the Russian-style adaptation on accordion is enough to earn my love, especially as it speeds up as the video progresses. Yet, there is so much more to love about it. The choice of the Tetris theme goes so far beyond simply providing a suitable backing tune and interesting visual prospect. Instead, it is used as a rather inventive metaphor for the Russian working classes, toiling away daily in manual labour yet ultimately seeing nothing for the fruits of their work (in Tetris, your ultimate goal is to make the very thing you have worked at for hours disappear).

Following Adam’s set was an unfortunately uninspiring debate about the Art of conversation and whether the rise of technology had killed it. Robin Ince mediated the debate between experimental comedian Simon Munnery and globally celebrated comic writer Alan Moore. Disappointingly, what could have been a very interesting debate ended up as an unbalanced critique of modern technology, without ever really discussing how conversation had been affected, let alone the prospect of it being a damaged ‘art’. The rise of the internet and social networking were never never mentioned, unbelievable when you consider that they have probably had the biggest impact on conversation. I fully expected the debate to be centred around these communicative tools and how they have streamlined our conversations into small sound bites, whilst allowing them to be shared globally at the touch of a button. Undoubtedly, the debate needed a commentator from a modern perspective to balance out the somewhat outdated opinions of Simon and Alan. Adam Buxton, whose set was devoted to modern technology and innovation, was the obvious choice for this. He certainly would have livened up what was a lifeless debate, especially after his own high-energy performance. Perhaps if they also opened up questions to the audience during the actual debate, rather than asking for them to be written down beforehand, it could have been directed in the way that people expected whilst keeping it relevant and fresh.

Robin Ince’s final set at least seemed to open up the debate slightly. It soon became clear that he had an awareness of social media and how it has affected modern conversation, so it was odd that he didn’t choose to use this point of reference to mediate the debate. Nevertheless, his set was an engaging and thought-provoking way to close the proceedings.

As a reward those that stuck it out until the end, Alan Moore once again approached the stage to pitch a new idea for a children’s cartoon. The captive audience chuckled away as he began to divulge his plans for a Scooby Doo-style crime solving caper starring himself, God and Hitler. There was an explanation for why this unlikely trio had united as a “dream team” (Moore’s own words) but I think it’s more fun to leave you without it… Suggestions on a post card please. The possibilities seem both endless and non-existent.

Roll on Thursday, with Richard Herring and a live tweet off!

Often I may be commenting on games, films, music or books that are somewhat outdated but somehow I have managed to miss. Hence ‘From the Vaults’… Onward!

Developer: Chair Entertainment, Epic Games

Producer: Microsoft Game Studios

Platforms: Xbox Arcade (reviewed), PC

Price: 1200 points (purchased for 600 during sale)

As Muse so eloquently put it, “Our time is running out”, and boy they weren’t wrong! As the years roll by it seems harder and harder to devote any real time to gaming. Jobs, relationships, doing your own washing, it all ensures that daily there is less and less time to sit down and session one of your favourite games. I remember fondly the days of my youth, sessioning Ocarina of Time after I returned home from school, not a care in the world. Now you’re lucky to squeeze in a few hours after a long day at work, and that’s if you find the energy from somewhere to avoid monging out in front of Dave. What was it Peter Parker used to say? ‘With great age comes great responsibility’, or something like that….

Beyond the diminishing time frame that increases as each year rolls by, the gaming industry itself continually makes it harder to divide your time. Games are released in increasing number, with bounding rapidity on multiple formats. Think about it, how many top quality titles have there been released within the last month and continuing into the next few? Fifa 12, Battlefield 3, Arkham Asylum, Modern Warfare 3. And that’s on top of all the games you have undoubtedly mounted up on your shelves, unfinished or even unopened! As games get more and more replayable, attempting to collect all those bloody achievements or trophies, with the ever-increasing amount of DLC and the days spent levelling up with online multiplayer, is it any wonder that many people immediately avoid the prospect of purchasing arcade or indie titles. There’s just not enough hours in the day!

However, conversely, an unavoidably strict daily schedule is the very reason why arcade titles catch my eye. Despite my fervent desire to complete the single player campaigns of all the games I own, often I find myself struggling to immerse myself in a full title. Instead, it’s much easier to get involved with a game you know is going to have much smaller scope and therefore less play time. This, accompanied by a half-price sale offer, made it impossible not to add an additional game to my collection. In this instance, Epic Games Shadow Complex.

We all know that Epic are predominantly known for their renowned third-person sci-fi shooter series (say that three times in quick succession!), Gears of War. Epic by name, epic by nature. Clearly, they have set themselves an impressive precedent, but can they live up to this with their ongoing releases? Let’s explore….

Jason...... Bourne perhaps?

Importantly, Shadow Complex is entirely different to their Gears of War trilogy. It’s a 2D shooter (well seemingly) in which you play a single character, Jason, who’s primary objective is to rescue his female companion Claire. One day whilst travelling along some kind of nature walk, Claire stumbles upon a hidden subterranean base…. as you do. She is subsequently captured as a spy and imprisoned deep within the base’s walls. That’ll teach her for not using a Natural Trust walkway; textbook error! As the eponymous male hero, your job is of course to locate and rescue the clumsy damsel in distress, not easy with a smorgasbord of minions seeking out new intruder (that’s you!) Yet, soon your mission takes on a much more global significance as Claire’s captors are discovered to be hatching a plan to invade San Francisco. Roll up Jason, the classic hero archetype with a classic hero name (Argonauts/Power Rangers) as he somewhat frivolously decides to take on the whole operation. What a guy, what a guy.

Foam bridge it up!

Despite the game’s name, the plot really is that simple. It is never really explored much beyond this fairly superficial level which, arguably, is a constraint of the game being an arcade title. Alternatively though, when you look at Gears it can be observed that narrative complexity is not really Epic’s forte. The plot is certainly secondary to the gameplay in Gears of War, which is clearly mirrored in Shadow Complex. In this case though it does not appear to leave any lasting damage. The game is so detailed and there is so much to remember in the way of back-tracking that it is beneficial to coast through a very straightforward plot, but more on this later.

The introduction to Shadow Complex is very successful. Where many games supply you solely with an opening FMV explaining what kinda shit is going down (bear in mind this does happen after the introduction here though), SC provides the gamer with a minute-long playable section. Suddenly, the game casts you into the deep-end with no real explanation of the control system or your abilities, leaving you to fend for yourself by spamming away optimistically. Although brief, the player is given a moreish insight into the potential of the games combat system and its interesting 3D perspective.

A note on this; although the game is predominantly a 2D scrolling shooter (there are a few sections where the use of a turret gun enables a first-person perspective), it is accompanied by an impressive 3D background. This interesting perspective initially seems a little odd, perhaps as a result of it feeling a little out of the ordinary. This soon subsides though as the user witnesses how successfully it functions. The background is interactive, with enemies located on multiple planes of vision creating a variety of combative action. The game automatically changes your line of fire so that you are able to effectively shoot enemies in both the back and foreground. These changes are executed timely and accurately, key for maintaining the fluidity of the game.

Fuck, shit, arse, crap. Sorry, I've got turrets.

In essence, the gameplay is extremely similar to the original 2D Metroid series. The protagonist must navigate a vast 2D world, destroying waves of enemies they encounter in each area whilst seeking their updated objectives. Like Metroid, the game is separated into very distinct sections, separated by sporadic save points strategically placed around the map. Initially you begin with a limited armoury and moves list, essentially just jumping, climbing, shooting and melee (allowing for a stealth strategy to be deployed as with many shooters on the market these days… or you can just shoot the shit out of everything in sight!) This simple core gameplay deepens as you progress, obtaining new weapons and abilities that increase the creative potential of combat and exploration; a particular favourite is the Foam Gun, try attaching a grenade to it! Further Metroid influence can be seen in the very deliberate back-tracking element to the game, forcing the player to re-examine areas previously explored with their new weapons or abilities to progress with the main story or to locate the many hidden items dotted around the map. Particular areas are inaccessible until you locate alternative weapons – shining your torch on blockades reveals a specific colour that can be destroyed with varying projectiles (much like Metroid), for example, red sections require missiles – ensuring that game progression is somewhat linear whilst allowing for significant personal exploration.

For this back-tracking element to function effectively it is vital that the game has a detailed but clear map, which it does and is undoubtedly inspired by Metroid. See for yourself:

Shadow Complex - Metroid: Notice much difference? No.

Now, although the map looks vast, perhaps scaring you a little about the explorative element, it also offers some vital help with back-tracking. Doors that require particular unlocks to open them are marked in their specific colours on the map. However, there are numerous vents and windows that can be accessed which are not marked, so better get that memory working! Where’s Dr Kawashima when you need him? Additionally, all hidden items are marked on the map as a question mark whenever the user enters the room in which they are located. This ensures that items are rarely missed, providing a useful guide for all you completionists out there. Although this sounds like it’s too much support, almost cheating, your memory and spatial awareness are still very much engaged as many items are only accessible later in the game, requiring you to remember which ones need which ability, and in what very specific ways.

For a thorough review, it is important to mention replayability, which this game certainly has. With achievements demanding at least a second playthrough, back-tracking to collect every item and three sets of challenge packs, you will certainly play Shadow Complex beyond that initial run. The latter are interesting hologram-style challenges which will aid in you in learning particular techniques that will prove to be vital in your quest; with rankings that can be compared on Live with friends and globally there are competitive layers to this gaming onion.

Melee attacks are usual for keeping covert.

The only criticism I have found of Shadow Complex, and perhaps it’s one that many people would find particularly damaging, is that it is too similar to Metroid to be a simple homage, or influenced by it. With a map that absolutely resembles that of the classic Nintendo title and very similar gameplay and game progression, especially in the method of gaining access to doors, you cannot help but feel that it is somewhat a rip-off. But fuck it, I LOVE METROID! Ok, so it is disappointingly unoriginal. Worse still, there is no way that the developers could have ever got away without the comparison being made and I’m sure they were fully aware of that fact but happily ignored it.  There is such a fine line between being influenced by something and completely stealing the idea, and unfortunately Shadow Complex appears to fall in the second camp. However, it must be said that the inventive change of perspective effectively enhances the gameplay of this title, creating a vital distance between the two franchises. Despite the seemingly shameless gaming theft, Shadow Complex is a bug-free pleasure to play from start to finish and one not to be missed.

So what have we learnt? Despite the torrent of full-release titles due for release towards the end of this year, arcade games cannot and must not be avoided. Sure there is almost certainly a whole heap of awful arcade and indie titles out there, but make sure that you do your research first!

Oh and don’t hike anywhere that isn’t registered by the Natural Trust, you never know who you might meet.

Developer: Valve Corporation

Publiser: Valve Corporation

Platforms: Xbox 360 (reviewed), PS3, PC

Price: £39.99 (£36.99 on Gamestation)

(Please note that post this may be a little spoilerific, so if you haven’t played/finished Portal 2 yet then exit here)

A wise man once said ‘Perfection is hard to improve’. Never has this phrase been more accurate than when used to describe Valve’s ingenious FPS puzzler, Portal.

Originally bundled in with the Orange Box in 2007 as an additional side-project, Portal was a surprising hit. Capturing the hearts of Half-Life fans the world over with its quirky puzzles and dark, sarcastic charm the game has sold almost 4 million copies (excluding Steam sales) over the last four years.

Pour-tal. (I'm so sorry)

Unexpectedly, Portal rapidly began to receive acclaim, in many cases overshadowing Half Life 2 and Team Fortress 2, which were very much anticipated successes. Awards included the Game of the Year, Best Game Design  and the Innovation Award at the 2008 Games Developers Choice Awards, amongst many, many others.

Years later, we now found ourselves handling the sequel. But how does one replicate the success of a title that has become so critically-acclaimed, especially something praised for its originality and innovation? How do you transfer a fledgling side-game to a stand-alone hit? Well, ask Valve, because somehow they managed it.

To the game…

For fans of the original, expect plenty more of the same. Once again you take the role of mute protagonist Chell, awoken from stasis after the destruction of GLaDOS (Genetic Lifeform and Disk Operating System), the artificial intelligence computer system that you combat in the previous title. Chell’s stasis is disturbed by a small personality core called Wheatley, who attempts to guide her towards an escape pod as a means of rescue. In the process of doing so however, they accidentally awake the dormant GLaDOS, who, bitter and aggressive after her prior downfall, proceeds to rebuild the decaying Aperture Science labs in order to put Chell through another cycle of rigorous and dangerous tests.

Portals in action

The game physics remain generally unchanged in Portal 2. Testing your spatial awareness, the player must use ingenuity and experimentation to progress from chamber to chamber with their trusty Portal Gun. But there are also some interesting additions this time round. Instead of relying solely on the use of two portals, there are also Hard Light Bridges (long panels that can be used horizontally to bridge a gap or vertically as a resourceful shield), Tractor Beams and three types of gel: Repulsion (a blue gel that causes the user to bounce when they come into contact with it), Propulsion (an orangey-red gel that increases the speed of any user passing over it) and Conversion (a white gel allowing any surface to become portal-able when ‘caked’ in it – a little in joke there); the latter device is particularly game changing as it enables an endless amount of possibilities.

Bridge the gap!

These new additions are key to Portal 2. They ensure that the game is not a simple revamp of the original, adding new degrees of difficulty and variation. For veterans they establish dimensions unexplored previously, keeping it fresh and interesting. Importantly, Portal 2 has a really accessible learning curve. As with the first game, the first few test chambers function as an interactive tutorial, instructing the user on the basics of portal usage. Experienced players may find this a little tedious, but can run through them quickly enough that it should not become a problem. As the game progresses, portals must be used in more inventive ways, testing the creativity and logic of the player, with the new gameplay elements added continually for extra obstacles. In the later chambers, when Hardlight Bridges, Gels and Tractor Beams are combined, the game really comes into its own, setting impressive challenges.

The levels are well designed and really show off the sequels improved graphics. Between chambers, Chell is often treated to more detailed passageways, complete with growing foliage and transforming surfaces as GLaDOS attempts to rebuild a decaying facility. Escaping the somewhat sterile environments of the original, which were almost entirely centred around very small-scale and repetitive lab designs, the player also gets a glimpse into the vast scope of the Aperture Science building, with long distance shots that sometimes seem endless.

The bumbling Wheatley aka Stephen Merchant

Portal 2 definitely seems a bit gloomier, aided considerably by a beautiful ambient soundtrack. This goes hand-in-hand with perhaps the most impressive voice acting ever witnessed in a game. Ellen McLain (GLaDOS), J.K. Simmons (Cave Johnson) and a surprise appearance from Brit comedy writer Stephen Merchant (Wheatley) provide the perfect comedic delivery of a hilarious script that is notable for its wit and charm. GLaDOS appeals to the child in all of us, regularly spouting the equivalent of ‘Your mum’ jokes (“Oh good, you finished the test. Let’s see what the data says. Hmmm, it says you’re a terrible person. Weird, we weren’t even testing for that.”), with Merchant’s Bristolian accent lending itself particularly well to a clumsy, dim robot. And referring to audio, don’t forget the outro song… It’s sure to be another Valve classic.

Add to all this a newly developed multiplayer system and you have a winner! The campaign can be played co-operatively in both split screen and online modes. PS3 users can play over Steam using PSN, finally allowing console and PC gamers to cross formats (although currently, due to PSN’s outage, this won’t be possible for the near future), and will also receive a free promotional code for the PC or MAC version. Disappointingly, Xbox Live users can only play with other Xbox owners, but hey, at least it’s actually working! Impressively, the co-op mode is made up of all new test chambers, doubling the hours of play time. Co-op is much more than just a name in this title; it is completely vital. The multiplayer chambers cannot be completed alone, some requiring the use of all 4 portals at your disposal.

Best of auto-mate-ons

And it appears that Valve have thought of everything: For users playing online without a mic the developers have included various tools, such as a Ping Tool, a cursor used for highlighting a pa