Portal 2 review

We take a look to see if a return trip to Aperture Science is worth your time in our Portal 2 review.

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When Valve released Portal in October of 2007, gamers were pleasantly surprised by its unique ability to tell an entertaining, well-written story through a puzzle game seen from the first person perspective traditionally reserved for shooters. Portal 2 puts players back in the role of an orange-jumpsuited test subject named Chell, who awakens deep within the labs of Aperture Science many years after the events of the first game. In the first Portal, players had to navigate a series of puzzling science experiments, confront a malevolent AI named GLaDOS, and escape the facility alive. Portal 2 sends players back to the lab and stays true to the series' roots, while offering a bigger, prettier, and crazier storyline along with a new arsenal of tools. As the action for Portal 2 kicks off, Chell meets a talkative spherical robot named Wheatley (masterfully voiced by Stephen Merchant) who seems eager to help her escape. What starts out as a fairly straightforward attempt to flee quickly becomes much more complicated. Throughout the journey's puzzles, twists, and turns, players discover more about Chell's predicament, the ethics-free legacy of Aperture Science, and the colorful denizens that helped shape it. Due to the fact that Portal 2's story is one of its biggest draws (and rewards), I'll refrain from spoiling the proceedings further. (Suffice to say, Jonathan Coulton's closing song for the original Portal is a big hint.) More so than in other games, the dialog in Portal 2 is so consistently laugh-inducing that it actually functions to reward the player and the hysterical voice-over bits become extra incentives to soldier forward. As in its predecessor, the puzzles in Portal 2 are incredibly well designed. Though Portal vets may find themselves slicing through the first third of the game's puzzles like a hot knife through butter, they soon become markedly more complex. A first glance into some of the later puzzle rooms can initially feel overwhelming, due to their massive size and number of interactive pieces. Trial and error are often necessary parts of discovery, and the sense of accomplishment achieved by getting through a particularly troublesome area is palpable. It’s no small design feat that solving some of Portal 2's more intricate puzzles can actually make the player feel incredibly smart. Portals aren't the only tools players will need to use to succeed. This time around, the portal gun is supplemented by special cubes that can redirect lasers, as well as re-directable light bridges and gravitational fields. Managing momentum is as fun as ever, and many of the puzzles require you to figure out a way to launch yourself across vast spaces. On top of that, three types of gel are eventually introduced. Blue gel turns any surface into a trampoline, orange gel increases movement speed, and white gel allows the player to shoot portals onto previously unaccommodating surfaces. While it's nearly impossible to describe the scores of clever ways these tools are used without spoiling their associated puzzles, you can imagine how crazy things can get when all of these elements must be made to work in concert. What I will say is that each of the new tools is a ton of fun to experiment with, and practically beg the player to do just that. Of course, the addition of these tools greatly expands the possible types of mind-bending scenarios. Portal 2 also includes a cooperative multiplayer mode for two players. Rather than simply having friends run the single-player gauntlet together, co-op in Portal 2 is a completely separate storyline, complete with clever voice-over work. Co-op centers on two robots though, instead of human test subjects. The circular-bodied Atlas, who appears to have been based on the same type of robot as Wheatley from single-player, is joined by P-body, who looks like one of the game's turrets modified with arms and legs. Players team up to complete a series of themed chapters containing eight tests apiece - for science! In addition to each being equipped with a portal gun, Atlas and P-body also have a series of gestures and commands that can be issued in-game. The gestures are mainly just humorous ways for the players to interact (high-fives, dancing, rock-paper-scissors), but the commands are more functional. They allow players to do things like point to a specific surface or issue a countdown clock, which is helpful when simultaneous button presses are required. On that note, playing with voice communication enabled makes things a lot easier. Certainly, the suite of commands and text-based chat give players the tools they need to communicate without speaking, but I found that some of the games' more intricate puzzles became much easier when I could discuss the solution.

'Whatever you do, don't press that button!'

Progress in multiplayer is based on a per-player basis. Each time you begin a co-op game with someone you haven't played with before, you'll start from scratch. In one respect, this makes sense. Due to the progressive nature of the challenges, it's not unreasonable to want players to experience them chronologically. That said, this implementation almost guarantees that folks won't be playing a whole lot of co-op with random strangers, unless they simply want to play the first dozen levels over and over again. Once you've beaten a puzzle, the game lets you go back and replay it with the same partner; however, there's not much incentive to do so once the puzzle has already been solved. (I was pleased to note, however, that the PC to PS3 co-op test session I conducted with Shacknews' Steve Watts worked quite well for several levels, until the server crashed.) Portal 2 also includes an in-game store, where players can spend real money on hats and other cosmetic enhancements for their co-op robots, including extra gestures and taunts. Though these knick-knacks only run a buck or two each, I still can't quite get my head around purchasing such stuff for a linear, puzzle-based experience. Unless Valve plans on releasing reasonably-priced co-op level packs at a regular clip (which I'd happily purchase), spending extra cash on virtual swag that only my co-op friends will see seems pretty ridiculous. I had an absolute blast playing through both of Portal 2's campaigns, but I'm not sure that there's much reason for me to play through them again, beyond wanting to re-experience the witty script and impeccable voice-acting. A striking lack of replayability aside, Portal 2 still manages to serve up some of the best solo and cooperative experiences I've had in quite some time, thanks to its great puzzles and truly memorable characters. Provided that your notion of a game's value isn't tied too heavily to the number of hours you spend playing (or replaying) it, I'd highly recommend seeing what Aperture Science has in store for you this time. You monster.
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From The Chatty
  • reply
    April 26, 2011 9:30 AM

    Jeff Mattas posted a new article, Portal 2 review.

    We take a look to see if a return trip to Aperture Science is worth your time in our Portal 2 review.

    • reply
      April 26, 2011 9:34 AM

      Spoilers: Yes.

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      April 26, 2011 9:36 AM

      Short answer: Yes
      Long answer: Yesssssssss

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      April 26, 2011 10:22 AM

      I loved everything about Portal 2. I stayed away from all news articles or hype while it was in development. I knew if I read anything regarding Portal 2 it would begin to kill the game for me before it was even released. I always find that the games I adore are the ones that take me by surprise. More often than not I'm disappointed that I spent money on a single player experience because they are dull and awful but the Portal series so far has been well worth it for me.

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        April 26, 2011 10:28 AM

        Same here. I tried my hardest to avoid all videos and other pre-release media (where they revealed too much imo), and was glad I did. I absolutely loved Portal 2.

        Immediately after beating it I muttered "...that was fucking awesome" without even realizing it.

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        April 26, 2011 12:05 PM

        I haven't read anything about it.

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        April 26, 2011 12:58 PM

        I did the same. I saw a screenshot or 2, but I didn't know of any of the new elements, characters, etc. Wheatley was the most delightful surprise of all, with plenty more making the whole package money well spent.

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      April 26, 2011 10:48 AM

      Loved this game, wish it wasn't so short. Hoping they come out with DLC for it, maybe something that will tie into them developing Half Life 2: Episode 3............... I can wish can't I? Also didn't enjoy Co-op so much as I didn't single.

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        April 26, 2011 12:38 PM

        I thought it had good length. Any longer and it would become a drag.

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          April 26, 2011 12:53 PM

          That's what I thought too. I was ready for it to end when it did. Well timed imo.

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            April 26, 2011 12:59 PM

            Valve has really gotten their pacing down to a science (lol) with this game.

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          April 26, 2011 12:55 PM

          Agreed. The only way I could see it being longer is if there was some sort of drastic gameplay mechanic change at a point in the story to justify added length and keep players interested.

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            April 26, 2011 12:58 PM

            The only part of the game I want lengthened is the turret opera song at the end of the game

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              April 26, 2011 12:59 PM

              seriously though. Who else thought it totally owned more than the final song did? I'd have been happy if that were the song and it ended there.

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                April 26, 2011 1:57 PM

                I totally agree. The opera was a very sweet way to end the game. The song at the end was stupid

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        April 26, 2011 2:44 PM

        If they release the advanced challenge test chambers as DLC, i'm so fucking there.

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        April 26, 2011 3:44 PM

        Length was fine for the story but I sure was expecting some more complex challenges like they had in the first one

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        April 26, 2011 11:31 PM

        The length would have been fine if the game was cheaper. Never should have been more than $29.99 ($24.99 for original Portal owners).

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          April 27, 2011 12:12 AM

          I got it for $35 for PS3 preorder on Amazon after $20 amazon credit. First time I preordered anything.

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      April 26, 2011 10:49 AM

      I actually didn't mind replaying the co-op levels from the beginning. I played with 3 different people, 2 of which never played the original, so being a helpful partner for their learning experience was actually kinda fun. I could see where it might get old the 20th+ time, but for showing someone new the awesome world of Portal, I think the co-op works perfectly.

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      April 26, 2011 11:26 AM

      Sounds like 20 bucks honestly.

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        April 26, 2011 11:43 AM

        Portal 2 is amazing and is easily worth whateverbucks really.

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        April 26, 2011 11:45 AM

        Your honesty is nice but your valuation is bad. :(

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          April 26, 2011 12:23 PM

          I can see it though.

          Say Portal 2 and the upcoming Witcher 2 both cost $50. If I have only $50, I know (having played Portal 2) that I'd pick Witcher 2 every time. It's a much bigger game, and regardless of how determined everyone seems to be to divorce game value from play time, the fact of the matter is that a game which I can play and enjoy for 50 hours has more value to me than a game which I can play and enjoy for 10, assuming the price is equal.


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            April 26, 2011 12:56 PM

            So how do you factor enjoyment into a price? What kind of science is used for that?

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              April 26, 2011 12:59 PM

              I don't like to think of enjoyment in terms of a scale. Either I'm enjoying a game and glad I bought it, or I'm not and wish I hadn't. The question for me is purely numeric...a game that I can enjoy for 50 hours is of more value to me than one I can enjoy for 10. And since that enjoyment will be the same whether I buy it today or a year from now for half the price, or even less, I'll always go for the better "value" games first.

              The only exception to that is big MP games, where you want to have enough people interested so that you can have big team matches (like BF3, MMOs, etc)...those I tend to give priority over anything else.

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                April 26, 2011 8:58 PM

                It's hard to convince people of this.

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        April 26, 2011 11:47 AM

        My backlog is so big I'm waiting for it to go on sale. I'm a terrible person.

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        April 26, 2011 12:08 PM

        You are a horrible person.

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          April 26, 2011 12:16 PM

          We weren't even testing for that :(

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          April 26, 2011 12:17 PM

          It says it right here on your results... we werent even testing for that

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        April 26, 2011 12:15 PM

        Portal 2 is the first new game I have bought since CODBLOPS back at Christmas.
        I think its worth the $45 I paid.

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          April 26, 2011 12:45 PM

          My steam account told me my CC was expired, which means I haven't bought a game on steam in well over a year. I'm kind of proud of myself for that

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        April 26, 2011 12:43 PM

        I came to the same conclusion. While I loved the first game, Portal 2 isn't the game for me. Certainly not at $50.

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          April 26, 2011 1:15 PM

          Then you should have gotten it from Amazon for $35 or got in on the 2-pack for $40. There were plenty of chances to get it at a $10-15 discount.

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            April 26, 2011 7:30 PM

            And there will be hundreds of chances to get it for $10 or less in the future.

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        April 26, 2011 12:53 PM

        I think relatively speaking it's worth as much as most other games coming out right now (I.e. Borderlands, BC2), but I think all of those are overpriced. I waited an bought it for $35 on amazon and it was absolutely worth it.

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          April 26, 2011 1:18 PM

          After only playing through the campaign, I feel like it was a fantastic experience for $35 and definitely would have paid $50. It easily has the best dialog I've ever heard in a video game and the gameplay/story progression is such a refreshing change of pace from most games. Hell, I love just admiring all of the polish Valve puts into its games.

          Plus co-op!

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          April 26, 2011 2:47 PM

          most other games coming out right now, Borderlands and BC2, wut?

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            April 26, 2011 6:13 PM

            those are the last games I have paid full price for :/ I don't buy a lot.

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        April 26, 2011 1:15 PM

        It's a weird kind of game because it's the very best at jokes, presentation, and music, but all blinders removed the gameplay and exploration are basic and not that memorable to me. Is it worth full price right now? Yeah, if you have the money for that, otherwise you're not going to die waiting.

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          April 26, 2011 1:17 PM

          Ergo it's pretty similar to an adventure game ;)

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          April 26, 2011 1:22 PM

          I think waiting to play a game like this that has so much discussion and news around it that not playing the game near release makes it lose some of its magic. You are bound to have parts of it ruined for you just by being on the internet.

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            April 26, 2011 1:32 PM

            Thats basically the only reason I bought it full price :( I hate you all

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            April 26, 2011 2:51 PM

            yah I'm glad I got it at release... im sure I would of ended up getting most of the story ruined if I had waited on it.

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        April 26, 2011 4:03 PM

        Your mom sounds like 20 bucks honestly

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          April 26, 2011 5:54 PM

          Classy..

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            April 26, 2011 6:18 PM

            Well, if she's only $20 then I'd say no, she's not that classy.

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        April 26, 2011 6:22 PM

        I spent 35, haven't played co-op yet and am very satisfied even so.

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        April 26, 2011 7:03 PM

        that's the phonetic spelling

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        April 26, 2011 8:50 PM

        I got 11hrs out of the SP campaign, and just started on the coop one. Compared to the various other $60 games with shorter campaigns I'd say this one is definitely worth the $35 I spent.

        Also the game is amazing.

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        April 26, 2011 8:56 PM

        i'd tip them $20 on top of the $50 purchase price

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      April 26, 2011 2:13 PM

      Ive often wondered what good a game review is when its posted over a week since the game came out and people either already beat it or decided not to buy it.

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        April 26, 2011 2:35 PM

        And without some kind of rank (be it stars, numbers, etc.) to get it listed on the aggregates.

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          April 26, 2011 4:14 PM

          Are you joking? Ratings are retarded, I am glad they don't do that shit.

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          April 26, 2011 6:29 PM

          Not having ratings is a way of saying "hey guys, look, we take video games very seriously".

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        April 26, 2011 4:14 PM

        I think it's to provide a fair analysis instead of just the version that is given out to the press which is usually not complete, or you can't play online with.

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        April 26, 2011 6:18 PM

        Because reading analysis of games is often more interesting than a consumer reports approach banged out at release

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          April 26, 2011 6:24 PM

          Rock Paper Shotgun does analysis. These Shack reviews read like a shorter version of a PC Gamer review.

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          April 26, 2011 8:46 PM

          This is a review, not an analysis

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      April 26, 2011 3:41 PM

      fun ride but I was expecting more

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        April 26, 2011 4:10 PM

        Don't worry, I'm sure VALVe will send someone round to suck you off while you play Portal 3.

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        April 26, 2011 6:23 PM

        Like what, exactly?

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          April 27, 2011 1:15 PM

          harder challenge mostly, I didn't get stuck more than 5min

          when watching the vids it seem to me puzzle were going to be hard and unforgiving (crusher?)

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      April 26, 2011 4:02 PM

      As other people have said, I love the game but it never really seems to get out of tutorial mode. Each time a new element was introduced, I got excited by the Rube Goldberg machine possibilities. However, these never eventuated. Here's hoping for the DLC!

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        April 27, 2011 3:22 AM

        I'm sure Valve will release some free challenge maps soon.

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      April 26, 2011 6:24 PM

      I didn't want it to end, so I played through it again. Now I'm playing through it again after that.

      I need a friend to play co op with. Someone with the same work schedule as me.

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      April 26, 2011 7:02 PM

      I loved it, co-op was fantastic and yet there seems to be a lot of unfulfilled potential, perhaps to make the game more console/casual friendly.

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      April 26, 2011 7:27 PM

      this is great, dont click spoilers

      turret opera from the OST

      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uq_xNxEGe8g

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      April 26, 2011 9:26 PM

      Easily best game I've played in a very long time.

      However, who here feels that the game play has slightly shifted from critically timed and placed portals to solving puzzles.

      Don't get me wrong I love the game and it's a breath of fresh air among all the shit released now.

      One of the most memorable moments from Portal 1 were those crazy jumping maps where you had to quickly place portals.

      I quite miss those and I think the reason for that is the multi platform release strategy.

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        April 27, 2011 12:41 AM

        Yes exactly. It was a bit painful re-watching the E3 video http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JZD17pQSqUU where they were showing off those acrobatic type levels where you're flinging portals while flying through the air. The type of gameplay at 2:14 onwards gives me chub and it was definitely missed in Portal 2. It just has to be due to it being a more mainstream game and allowing casual console tards a chance to finish the game. C'mon DLC!!! We need levels like that and more.

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        April 27, 2011 9:41 PM

        Probably due to making it more accessible for gamepad controls... The first time I played portal 1 was on my PS3 and some of those levels were really tricky using analog sticks. When I went back and played it again on my PC it was so much easier.

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      April 27, 2011 12:24 AM

      Anybody know what happened to those levels we see in E3 videos? They looked pretty complicated requiring you to use paint and timing ect. Hopefully they'll put them back in later as DLC or free addon.

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        April 27, 2011 12:48 AM

        Given Valve, it wouldn't surprise me at all if they did show up as a challenge map pack or something.

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        April 27, 2011 12:48 AM

        Does anyone have any links to Valve discussing taking out content that was perceived as too hard? I think I saw someone mention it the other day. I'd love to read what Valve have to say about this if it exists.. Probably a bunch of dumb play testers having a lot of sway over what made it into the game :(

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      April 27, 2011 8:59 AM

      After constantly laughing out loud throughout the singleplayer game, I was surprised at how absolute my disconnect was with the coop. Especially considering the giddiness of late night playing and dropping my buddy into spikes and the like. It just didn't work for me.

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      April 27, 2011 9:36 PM

      Great game, finished it last week. BUT, way too short for the price IMO, and not a lot of replayability per the review. That's what I get for being an early adopter instead of waiting to pick it up for $15 down the road.

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