Portal has been etched in the minds of countless gamers since 2007, and with much anticipation, Valve has finally released its sequel. Reviewing Portal 2 was a treat for me because I too was blown away by the original.
However, unlike the other review sites that just focus on the game, our looming questions also talk about how Portal 2 stacks up in 3D. I will be taking a close look at Portal 2 on Nvidia GeForce 3D Vision, DDD, and IZ3D stereoscopic 3D drivers, and will be giving a final rating based on MTBS’ 3D Game Analyzer (M3GA).
General Game Review
The original Portal was released as part of a Valve Bundle package called the Orange Box for PC and Xbox 360. Even though it wasn't considered a full game, it proved memorable because of its non-violent (nearly) puzzle solving innovation. The idea was that you had to figure out ways to escape a series of rooms by open and closing portal entrances and exits with a Portal gun. Of course, each level grew more complex than the last, and only proved disappointing when the game concluded sooner than hoped.
Valve has done a great job with this sequel by adding multiplayer and new physics elements to the game. This adds a whole new level of depth and intrigue to the game. While the original seemed to be a lot of fun on a modest proof-of-concept budget, Portal 2 is everything gamers would want in a sequel.
At the conclusion of the original Portal, Chell (your character) has just defeated GLaDOS, the artificial intelligence that is creating the death defying puzzles for you. After an explosion that knocks you out, you are placed in stasis. In Portal 2, you wake up in a motel room which is buried deep in the “Aperture Science Facility”. A “personality core” (a robot head on a track) named Wheatley gives you some simple cognitive tests, and the adventure begins!
Unfortunately, while Wheatley (played by Stephen Merchant) is both charming and full of personality, he is also an idiot, and manages to inadvertently reawaken GLADoS from her slumber. Of course, she is less than happy to see you again!
While the first half of the game features plenty of adventure based on elements of the first (opening and closing apertures, jumping, etc.), Portal 2 adds robust elements to the game. You have to master new tools like gels that make you jump super high, portal sprays, and speed enhancers. There is also an entertaining visit to the original Aperture Science Facility which manages to mix nostalgia with science fiction. I guarantee you will never look at potatoes the same way again! I won’t spoil the surprise, but this section is voiced by J.K. Simmons, best known for his roles in the Spiderman movies and Law & Order.
One very distinctive change you'll recognize from the first Portal game is the added multiplayer component. In actuality, Portal 2’s single player campaign leads to the multiplayer component which is also a story. It’s a great experience because it requires you to work with someone else to complete online puzzles, and it’s not something you can do solo.
This was at times a mixed bag because it can be frustrating to play with random people that are still figuring out how to play effectively. In a way, it's these times that can stir up some hilarious moments that you and your partner get to enjoy as you go through each chamber as a team to find a way out.
All the game play elements are incorporated into the multiplayer mode, except this time you get to take control of a tiny robot. Valve has also incorporated some ways to communicate to your teammate if they don't have a microphone.
Now the big question…how is Portal 2 in stereoscopic 3D?
Nvidia Stereoscopic 3D Findings
Maingear X-Cube Intel Core I7 Processor 2.66GHZ 6GB RAM GTX 470, GTX 275 (PhysX) Windows 7 64 Bit NVIDIA 275.33 Stereo Driver NVIDIA GeForce 3D Vision / Acer GD235HZ
I'm happy to report that Portal 2 had no issues when played with Nvidia’s 3D Vision drivers. The game looks and plays absolutely beautifully. Even though the computer I am using is far from High-End by today’s standards, Portal 2 still manages to run very smoothly in stereoscopic 3D mode.
Avid S-3D gamers will also be pleased to learn that the convergence setting isn't locked, so you have the ability to control whether or not there are out of screen effects. With Portal 2, you can easily achieve a combined depth and pop-out experience with Nvidia GeForce 3D Vision drivers. The only noticeable anomaly we could find is when you walk through portals, the sides of the screen will look clipped for just an instant.
The out of screen effects work very well when you are carrying Wheatley around, or when you are maneuvering the game objects (e.g. cubes, bots, etc.). At times, even the environment does well in 3D – like when you are walking down a railed path and can see the sides of the railing "pop out" of the screen from both sides. S-3D really adds an intense immersion factor to Portal 2, even though the graphics are somewhat simple. The best part is you don’t need a top grade graphics card to get these 3D benefits.
DDD’s results are very similar to that of Nvidia’s, but they are still a bit buggy. First, the water reflections are rendering at screen depth (no separation) - not a deal breaker, but noticeable. Second, the portals aren't rendering properly 100% of the time. As shown above, the portals will occasionally flicker between a black fill and what you are supposed to see. We aren't sure, but this may have to do with how shadows are rendered in the game, and we couldn't find an in-game or driver setting to correct the issue.
Finally, as is the case with Nvidia, if you walk to a sweet spot through the portal between one room to the next, the left and right hand side of the screen get filled with vertical bars. It's really not a big deal because it happens so fast - but the problem is there. The anomaly is shown above.
Like Nvidia, DDD does offer combined depth and pop-out flexibility with the 3D settings. If you want to be adventurous, choose the "Generic" DDD game profile, and you can adjust the portal gun separately from the rest of the scene in the advanced profile settings. Not everyone likes this, but it does give you the option to have the gun deep into the scene, while the game objects can still pop out. We strongly recommend turning off the auto-convergence features of the DDD drivers if they are on by default because the game is much more comfortable and easier to adjust when this functionality is off. In fact, while it's a valuable feature for some titles, we recommend that DDD turn this feature off by default unless absolutely necessary.
iZ3D had its own set of challenges and benefits. To get Portal 2 to work, we had to use their 1.12 iZ3D drivers. Their new 1.13 release candidate drivers didn't work for us at all - and it had nothing to do with Nvidia's latest GeForce 275.33 drivers (we tried earlier versions too) which have been problematic for iZ3D.
Fortunately, we had luck with iZ3D's 1.12 drivers combined with a special baseprofile.xml file that iZ3D provided. Nearly everything works as it should except the water reflections that are rendered at screen depth (no separation between left and right views). Similar to DDD and Nvidia, iZ3D also suffers from the clipping anomaly when you walk through a portal, and there is a minor deformity when portals are forming - very minor, though.
If you can get 1.13 drivers to work with Portal 2, then all the power to you because the baseprofile is already included with those drivers and should work out of the box. Not for us, however.
The special iZ3D baseprofile has been attached in the comments section of this review.
NOTE: We discovered that iZ3D's 1.13 drivers default the separation levels way beyond normal which explains the scrambled experience. Unfortunately, even after reducing the separation levels to normal, 1.13 features new bugs and anomalies that need fixing. iZ3D's 1.12 driver combined with the updated baseprofile is still recommended. The good news is these errors should be easy to fix in a future iZ3D profile or driver release.
While Nvidia’s GeForce 3D Vision drivers took the Portal cake (pun intended), Portal 2 looks pretty good no matter which software solution you choose provided you can get things running. I think games like Portal 2 are ideal for stereoscopic 3D technology because they require you to judge object distances and regularly interact with the environment as part of the game.
I'm hopeful that since games like Portal 2 are so impressive in stereoscopic 3D, they can stir others to create more 3D compliant games and possibly new technology that will blur the line between reality and virtual reality. There are several more 3D screenshots from all the driver solutions in the MTBS gallery. Please be sure to comment and share your own experiences with this game!