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Portal 2: This one’s for science

Eight hours.  That’s about how long it took me to plow through Valve’s puzzle gaming masterpiece Portal 2.  It’s not exactly a long game, but honestly it was already a done deal as soon as they announced there would be a sequel to the three-hour long original cult classic a while back.  I knew I’d be getting the game.  I was more than a little worried about how it would turn out.  With a chaotically lovable insane AI, a unique game mechanic and a near endless series of memes, the first Portal captured the hearts of millions, with only a three percent fatality rate (plus or minus 2 percent for accuracy).  I’m always a bit leery about sequels to games I enjoyed the crap out of the first time around. Just in case.

That being said, the eight hours I spent in Aperture’s science facility this time around was some of the best puzzle gaming I’ve encountered in a long, long time.  And the writing along was enough to knock my boots off, which I did find a little odd since I don’t think I actually own a pair of boots.

This time... this time the shoulders come out. Now we're serious.

As I’ve mentioned before, the original Portal didn’t really have much in the ways of a plot.  That’s fine.  It didn’t need one.  All you needed to have fun in the original game is the Aperture Science Handheld Portal Device, and a snarky AI named GlaDOS to spout insanity at you while trying to test you to death.  The game only lasted three hours, so by the time you noticed there really wasn’t a plot, you had already beaten the game, slept on it, enjoyed a nice grilled cheese sandwich for lunch the next day, and finished reading War and Peace.  Which is pretty impressive, man.  That book is crazyhuge.

Portal 2 can’t manage that same trick again.  This isn’t a game that was just tacked on to an already insanely good deal involving Half Life 2 and Team Fortress 2.  So, Valve needed a plot and they needed one fast.  Here’s how the beginning of the game shapes up.

Wheatley is bad at many things. Waking up Chell is one of those things.

You once again take control of a young woman named Chell, who is still wearing no fall damage boots and an orange jumpsuit for some reason.  Following the events of the original Portal, Chell is once again captured by Aperture Science craziness and placed in suspended animation for (probably) hundreds of years.  She’s suddenly woken up by a personality core named Wheatley who got it in his head one day to resign from his job at Aperture Science.  Unfortunately, he has spent most of his life stuck to rails on the ceiling so he needs someone a little less robotic to help him out.

The facility hasn’t fared well over the years.  Plants are growing up through the floors unchecked, and debris from Chell’s first trip through the test chambers is littered just about everywhere.  But along the way, well, one thing kind of leads to another, and GlaDOS herself comes back online.  This time around, well, she’s…  not too happy with you.  I don’t think there has been a robot as sarcastically bitter constructed in any other medium ever created.

Sure she could just straight up kill you, but then who would help her do science?  So off you go through a series of test chambers while GlaDOS slowly works to rebuilt the science facility.

Uh, hi GlaDOS... how have you been? Dead? Oh... uh... *cough*

From there?  Well, that’s where you should probably just play the game.  A healthy sense of uncertainty in these things works wonders to make a game a memorable experience.  But the humor, ridiculousness, and puzzles that we’ve come to know and love return with a vengeance, this time armed with a liberal helping of multi-colored goo, tractor beams,  and sassy turrets.

I’m the kind of guy who likes to solve ridiculous puzzles involving portal physics, so this wasn’t nearly as big of a problem for me.  But some sections of Portal 2 drag on a little long.  The general way the game is designed is that a new element to your testing will be added.  Then you will have to proceed through X number of test chambers involving that new element.  After this is complete, you will be introduced to a new element.  Ect., ect., ect.  While I enjoyed sitting down and reasoning my way through each puzzle, I could see how this would be a little off putting to someone who is used to something a little bit faster paced.  Don’t worry, though.  Various sections are thrown into the puzzles that keep your trigger finger active and the adrenaline pumping.

That being said, game difficulty was a bit of a factor.  A few of the test chambers took me a while to solve, but none of them were really difficult to figure out.  In fact, the only places where I actually got stuck in the game for any length of time were between test chambers.  And those were less of puzzles in the sense that I couldn’t figure out what to do, but more of puzzles in the sense that I had to find the one sliver of white wall somewhere in the dark, deep chamber that would actually allow me to place a portal to allow me to continue.  It was less of puzzle solving and more of just me blindly firing portals at walls to see if it would work or not.

GOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO

But the writing itself was so smart, I couldn’t help but press on through the end of the game.  Chell’s past relationship with GlaDOS really keeps you on your toes, and you never know what to expect.  I’ve always said that you can gauge a game’s greatness on its “oh shit” moment.  In other words, by the moment where everything you know to be okay and safe is violently ripped out from other you and you’re honestly not sure what’s going to happen next.  I might have to revise this thought for Portal 2, because at no time in the game did I get the feeling that things were going Chell’s way.  The whole game is just a headlong dash down into a hallway knowing that the pit bulls are chasing you into a bigger room full of more pit bulls.  Acid spitting pit bulls.

Anyway, Portal 2 also features multiplayer!  You and a friend can take the roles of Blue (Atlas) and Orange (P-Body) as they are sent though a series of test chambers, each armed with a handheld portal device.  Thinking with two sets of portals is downright fantastic, but to me the multiplayer is missing an element.  It’s missing a plot.

Blue and Orange are robots.  Which means you can die an infinite amount of times with absolutely no consequences.  This takes an element of danger out of your puzzle solving shenanigans.  And who cares if GlaDOS offs you?  It’s not like the assembly bot isn’t gonna put you back together again, right?  Admittedly, I still have a series of tests in multiplayer to finish, if Enosh ever stops smearing caviar on his stomach in a hedonistic display of debauchery from the safety of his yacht.  But anyway, from what I’ve seen so far, the games are missing a much-needed element of danger.

Also also, because Valve loves to make money, the Portal 2 multiplayer on Steam has an added “robot enrichment” program.  Which translates into “give us some more money for new robot skins and flags and mustaches.”  While I’d love to gear out P-Body to the nines in a tophat and handlebar mustache, there’s no friggin’ way I’m gonna pay $4.99 for each item.  You can unlock some items just from playing through the game, but after three to four test chambers with Enosh, all I got was a pink friendship flag to proudly display.  Which of course I did as soon as possible and haven’t looked back.

Blue doesn't really respect Orange's personal space.

Anyway, Portal 2 has some of the best writing and puzzle solving gameplay I’ve encountered in a video game in quite some time.  The ending is superbly epic (and I’m not one who just throws that word out just because I like something.  You hear me, internet??  Quit devaluing the word epic!) and the characters never stop being funny.  Though honestly, the main reason you should play this game ASAP is that it’s just a matter of time before you stumble on some firsthand footage of the game from some douche who is dedicated to ruining the entire game experience for everyone who hasn’t played it.  Get the comedy while the gettin’s good.

Happy testing.

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One Response

  1. Oh man. Valve really out did themselves with this one. Absolutely superb. The only complaint I have is the end song. It was creative and witty, but it wasn’t memorable. I won’t be humming it incessantly in two years. Just ask Tophat, that is a thing I do with Still Alive.

    EDIT: Ok, two complaints. The loading screens tend to really break up the between-the-test action. It’s annoying. It may be limited to the PC, though that doesn’t really make sense since it’s installed on my harddrive…

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