Portal 2

Posted on April 11, 2011 by psu

Portal 2 had a lot to live up to. Four years ago Portal started as a free short add-in to The Orange Box and turned out to be by far the best game in the entire collection. Now Portal 2 has struck out on its own, in its own box and at nearly full price. Did going solo ruin the magic? Or was Valve able to score again? Well, it turns out that to me it’s a bit of both.

While I was happy to see Portal 2 show up, I did not really indulge in any of the pre-game hype or marketing. I heard it was pretty interesting though, and the GWJ wasted nearly half a podcast angsting over whether Valve had become a big bully company, not above using its position of strength to cynically feed the pavlovian impulses of the hard core gamer. From what I can tell the answer is of course they are, but so what.

Anyway, in something of a cruel joke, the box from Amazon showed up first thing in the morning at work. So I had to stare at it all day, and then at dinner, and then some more at the Target while we ran some errands after dinner. So it wasn’t really until around 10pm that night that I got to start falling through orange and blue holes.

About a week later I had gotten through it all. It took five or six play sessions averaging around and hour to and hour and a half. As expected this is somewhat longer than the first game. This is because the market dictates that AAA full price games need to be too long in order to sell to their core audience who like games that are, in general, too long.

That said, Portal 2 was not too long by much. And the fact that the pacing was just a tiny bit off is really my only complaint about the game. In every other way Valve has managed to capture what was good about the first game and amplify it. So let’s review:

  1. Interesting mechanics. Generally good pacing.

  2. Puzzles that require that you compose the interesting mechanics in interesting ways so that you feel a little rush of genius when you get to the other side of the room. This rush is also used in an interesting way in the narrative… but that would be a spoiler.

  3. An interesting narrative that doesn’t get in your way while you are playing the game (for the most part).

  4. Good writing, funny jokes, excellent characterization in the voice acting, and an enjoyable song.

So, about the pacing. My feeling is that each major area of the game felt about one “level” too long. This was especially true in the overlong middle act that tried to expand on the narrative arc with an interesting twist while at the same time introducing some new mechanical tricks to layer into the portal-based puzzle solving. I have been accused in the past of being an unfeeling oaf, but I wasn’t really that interested in the back story presented here. And, the new mechanics wore thin by the end of the sequence. So, as I said before, if they had taken one test chamber out of each part of the game, I feel like I would have been happier. As it was, I spent a long time in this mid-game staring at industrial platforms trying to figure out how to get off of them. Or staring at vertical walls trying to figure out how to launch myself upward. It got old. I got impatient. I think we are both at fault here.

That’s all I have to say. That’s really all I can say without getting into spoilers. I think this is as much of a winner as the first one was, which means that there probably won’t be a better video game released this year.