ven though the Source engine is nigh on seven years old, Portal 2
’s graphics do not disappoint. They’re not the greatest ever, either, but it is rather impressive how Valve has managed to update it enough to remain relevant for so long. As always, they’ve done a fantastic job with the art style, so even if the visuals aren’t technically stunning, they’re among the most pleasant to look at in any game. For instance, the use of lighting is superb and does rival anything the CryEngines or Unreal Engines are capable of. There is one sequence in the first act of the game where you’re running along catwalks behind the scenes of the test chambers, and the only source of light is from Wheatley’s eye… Seriously, the dynamic shadow effect will blow your mind, especially if you consider how shallow the system requirements are.
nother feat of Valve engineering is the appearance and behavior of the colored gels introduced in the second act of the game. Source was known for its realistic standing water used to such excellent effect in Half-Life 2
, but now they’ve managed to create a 3D liquid that forms droplets and undulates realistically as it shoots out of its originating pipeline. Several puzzles involve redirecting the flow of the gels with portals, which usually results in a wondrous fountain of liquid that often distracted me from what I was doing. Still other solutions involve capturing flowing gel in a tractor beam, and watching it float to its destination is an equally awe-inspiring sight. It is in that situation that a limitation of the engine becomes apparent, though; it’s possible to capture so much liquid gel in a tractor beam that the calculations required to animate all of it will slow even an otherwise buttery-smooth framerate to a crawl.
f I had to pinpoint one aspect of Portal 2
that annoyed me the most, it would be the sheer abundance of loading screens. Now, of course all previous Source engine games have had loading screens, but they were brief pauses in a hallway or airlock room, not full-blown cut-aways with progress bars and static images that may or may not have anything to do with where you’re currently located. It wouldn’t be so bad if they were few and far between, but loading occurs at the end of every test chamber (after boarding the elevator) and there is more than one instance of loading screens sandwiching a 45-second “cutscene” that consists of you seeing and hearing stuff, yet not actually doing anything. Some insist that this is a sign of the Source engine’s obsolescence, but I would venture to guess that making the levels smaller and more segmented was for the benefit of the consoles.