Reflections on Portal 2

Posted: April 29, 2011 by Raparth in Uncategorized

Well, here we are again…
It’s always such a pleasure…

I must initially apologize for this being a a couple days late.  I got 4.5 hours of sleep and seemingly 30 hours of studying/writing done in the 36 hours from Wednesday to Thursday.  It was exhausting, to say the least, but I can now discuss at a fair length exactly how fun the philosophy of William of Ockham is.  But more on that… maybe never.  Then I also had the final submission of my Senior Thesis due today, so that certainly took up a lot of time the last few days.  Anyway, getting to the reason you’re here…

This is neither going to be a numerical review attempting to gauge some objective standard of excellence nor a particularly systematic examination of the game, either of the plot or the technical aspects.  Instead, I will focus on some key aspects of Portal 2 that make it both fun, engaging, and distinctly different from its predecessor. [b]Very light spoilers, alluding to but not detailing aspects of the game, may well follow. You have been warned.[/b]

There are certain that the puzzles present themselves. Portal 2 is more a game of observation and planning, where you spend a lot of time looking around at the level and visualizing certain strategies. This is a much different mood than Portal 1’s spirit of free experimentation. Much of the facility is in ruins, removing most of the portal-friendly surfaces from the areas. The player must, thus, be very careful to notice where there [i]are[/i] portal-friendly surfaces, and then see how they interrelate. This makes the game much more mental, rather than “physical” (i.e. trying things out), which while somewhat inherently limiting, also keeps you from trying out 20 things that will never, ever work. I obviously can’t say how many puzzles have alternative solutions, but having played the coop campaign through 1.5 times and seen the single player done the same number (I watched a good chunk of Cynthia’s trials from across the room, while I obviously did them all myself), I found only one puzzle that had two very different solutions (it was in the coop campaign).

The most interesting thing about Portal 2 is how much better the storytelling is that the first game. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a very different story, requiring very different modes of transmission, but, overall, it was much more engaging that Portal 1. Wheatley, that little blue eyeball, was, from the very first scene, a great way to learn about the change in time from Portal 1 to Portal 2 and was a nice little reminder of the eccentric science done by Aperture Science Laboratories. He serves as a great source of that information, while (unintentionally from his perspective) being a very good filter for what exactly we might learn. He thinks some things are less important and others super important, utterly regardless to what a sensible human being would decide. (After all, he [i]might die[/i] if he tries this new thing.)

The portion of the game I am most impressed by is the point at which you start at the bottom of the facility, working your way up and (via the ruins) through time. Hearing the voice recordings progress from (I believe it was) the 50s all the way to the 80s is a lesson in visual and aural storytelling. We find out how Aperture began, seemingly so fitting for the reckless spirit of its time (if more reckless than the rest), progressing through the years less than gracefully (I particularly loved all the 2nd place trophies, no doubt losing to Black Mesa.) and seemingly becoming more and more sinister. No, that’s not right: more and more desperate, desperate to do that limitless science that Aperture loves. (As a brief aside, referencing White Wolf’s [i]Mage: the Ascension[/i], I hope I was not the only one to see Aperture Science as the reckless and spirited Sons of Ether, while Black Mesa is conversely portrayed as more dour Technocrats.) Still, there always seems to be the sliver of hope, still grasping onto this love of Science. Needless to say, the potato serves as a wonderful plot device that really turns around our expectations.

The story works so well, right to the end, but has me wondering where we are in relation to Half-Life 2: Episode 3… Where is that damned game, anyway? It was great until the end, and then we got another great song. I can’t help, though, loving coop more than single player, just because Portal works so [i]damned[/i] well in a group. How did we used to get by with only 2 portals? 4 works so much better. Plus, shooting your friends around the map, their little mechanical lives in your hands… Well, Science Collaboration Points are so funny. GLaDOS’s ability to try to turn two robots against each other sent me into laughter nearly every time.

But, my friends,
Now I Only Want You Gone…
~Mr. Pacman

P.S. Back to WoW more dedicatedly, soon. I can’t want to fight the Zandalari. Warcraft Trolls just work so well, for me. Lately, between papers and finals, I’ve been trying out Supreme Commander 2 and Dawn of War 2, both are a couple years old but very fun.

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