Portal 2 – Warning! Spoilers Ahead!

WARNING THIS POST CONTAINS MAJOR SPOILERS FOR PORTAL & PORTAL 2!  READ AT YOUR OWN RISK!

 

 

 

 

The Cake is clearly a Lie…    There was no Cake this time.

It’s with more than some measure of exhaustion that I sit here and write this. My absence from writing and my physical state is all tied to one thing, one word. One game.

The Good

For the past week, I’ve been wrapped up in the struggle to escape the evil AI presence of GLaDOS, the main antagonist of the Valve game. And, it’s been a ride (a jump and a fall) and a half. I played the first game about a year ago. I hadn’t really known about it but had discovered it on the PS3 game The Orange Box which I had purchased for Half Life. I did some research, realized that it was a popular game and started it one afternoon after work. I finished the game 3 or 4 hours later, absolutely thrilled. Portal 1 was said to be one of the most original games released in 2007, won a list of awards including the 2008 Game Developer’s Choice Award for Game of the Year, Innovation and Best Game Design. GLaDOS won the 2007 Game Spy Best New Character award and the companion cube won Best Side Kick. Which is ironic because… It’s a cube. It’s fun, it’s fast, it’s original. It’s immersive. I found myself completely taken by the world, loving the dynamics of its movement and the ingenuity of its puzzles.

For those who don’t know what it’s about, Portal is a game focused on making your way across a course using an ‘in’ portal and ‘out’ portal while being quietly antagonized by the passive aggressive AI GLaDOS. At first she seems quite normal but her contempt for humanity and you as the player comes through and you soon realize that at some point or another, she might just take those tests one step too far. Portal was an instant hit and had several internet meme’s like “The Cake is a Lie” that stemmed from it. The game is short, taking only about 3 or 4 hours to complete. But, what it lacks in length, it certainly makes up for in quality. It’s credit song “Still Alive performed by Ellen McLain, the voice of GLaDOS was an instant hit.

Portal 2 builds on this. The first notable thing is its increase in length. It took me approximately 12 hours to complete it. The game is a sequel to the first, picking up where the other one left off but it’s not crucial for you to have played it as they have a very good couple of ‘introduction’ levels. The puzzles (and this game is really all about puzzle solving) varies constantly, there are no two which are alike and it uses the principles of the first ones to build on. They also brought in various new ways to navigate around the test arena such as coloured paint which can either make you run faster, bounce higher or give you a substrate on which to create portals. This concept, for interest, was designed by a group of students from the DigiPen Institute of Technology whose game Tag, the Power of Paint won the Independent Games Festival Showcase of the Year award. They were later employed by Valve and the elements of their game were incorporated into Portal 2.

What I liked is that none of the puzzles are unsolvable. Yes, if you try and do them on only about three hours of sleep at midnight they can be a bit difficult to visualise, but if you take a step back, take a deep breath and look again, you can find the solution. I didn’t tear out my hair in frustration one and leap onto the internet to find any solutions. I didn’t have my computer out all week. I was too busy playing Portal…

The Bad.

The increase in length does come at a price. I found towards the later chapters that I was tired of the puzzles, especially after I had grasped how they worked. I found Chapter 6 specifically quite tedious and hard to navigate. They also had very few time trials in this one which, believe it or not, I actually quite enjoy. Another critique, though this was my roommate’s, not mine – was that the game was in first person and that your HUD is basically like a first person shooters. There are some people who don’t enjoy the genre at all and it might’ve been nice to take a step back into third person (though, if you look at games like Skyrim and Fallout that never really works and you end up playing first person anyway…).  Also on the PS3 system, I found that the loading times were quite long. As someone who is a very impatient person, I found that quite vexing.

The Ug… Unbelievably Wonderful.

There’s no ugly in this game. It’s unique, it’s enjoyable and it’s challenging without it leaving the gamer feeling as if things are moving over his or her head. Apart from the puzzle aspect, I love the story behind it. Portal uses a narrative (or let’s say a monologue) between the AI and the player to carry you through the puzzles. It’s a very clever design because it works on a ‘succeed and reward’ system. The game uses your own sense of accomplishment to reward you for playing and succeeding. There’s nothing more satisfying than suddenly having all of the puzzle pieces fall into place and realizing that you know how to get yourself out of the room. You feel good, you feel smart, you feel as if you’ve accomplished something. It’s like finding the cheese in the maze and you don’t even blame the game for taking it away from you and forcing you to look for it again because you know you’ll find it. The dialogue of the AI comes into play here as a reward function.

The humour is black, Adam’s Family style and I love it. The AI interacts with you before and after every puzzle and her comments make it worth it. And, strangely enough, as with the case of the companion cube, the game makes you care about inanimate objects. Nothing pleased me more to see my companion cube again. It’s a metal iron block with a heart on it – but that didn’t make me any less glad.

The game also has a Co-op function through Steam which is, if I read the reviews, quite popular (though I’ll confess, I haven’t been able to play it myself).

All and all, Portal 2 is a great expansion on Portal 1. You won’t feel disappointed at the end and personally, I feel that it’s one of the best game endings that I’ve played to date. I loved how the main character Chell’s emotion is conveyed through the game or rather, through the contempt of GLaDOS and how you truly feel a part of the experience. I found myself holding my breath as I leapt off of tall ledges, flinching whenever a turret hit me and dreading the ending as the evil AI and I had our final standoff. It was a journey that I will never forget and certainly, never forget. It might not have had cake (the developers were tired of all the cake jokes) but it certainly had more to offer – including potatoes. Personally, it’s been one of the best games that I’ve played to date and I can highly recommend it to anybody.

Portal 2 too won quite a few rewards including the 2011 ‘Ultimate Game of the Year’ Award at the Golden Joystick Awards and the Spike VGA’s Most Anticipated Game of 2011. By the end of August 2011 over 3 million copies of the game had been sold worldwide and it was the USA and UK’s best selling game for the first week of its release. It’s available on PS3, Xbox360 and PC. 

List of Portal Awards

List of Portal 2 Awards

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About Alyssa C.

Having never quite grown up out of her nerd phase Alyssa spends her life between being a technical advisor for a pharmaceutical company, playing console games, reading anything she can get her hands on, tweeting as @alyssc01 and occasionally declaring herself Supreme Ruler of the Universe. She's a freelance writer willing to take on any challenge with numerous grammatical errors. The first three is always free.