I couldn’t get hold of Portal 2 when it first came out as all the places I tried were sold out. Eventually it dropped to the bottom of my “to buy” list and I nearly forgot about it. Finding it cheap was a bit lucky, and reminded me I wanted it.
Note that for me to talk about what I liked (or disliked) about Portal 2, I need to discuss the story, and so therefore, there will be spoilers.
The introduction was definitely interesting, and hooked me immediately. I also warmed quicly to the first new character, the personality core, Wheatley. The ruined aesthetic of the now aged Apeture laboratories really hit the right notes for me, and made me curious and wanting to explore. It probably helps that I love places that are ruined and being taken back by nature.
After GLaDOS woke up, interest began to wane quickly for me as the game seemed to slip back into the whole puzzle shtick of Portal. Now, that worked nicely with the original Portal as you began with no real hint of what was happening in the world beyond the puzzles. It wasn’t until a few chambers in that there were hints that there was more beyond the testing and puzzles. However, here we’ve already seen all of that, and getting “trapped” back into the testing with no real hint of how the story would progress sucked some of my enthusiasm. Having said that, the introduction of a few new mechanics (light-bridges and tunnels) added some extra interest to the puzzles, but not really enough for me at this point.
That changed quickly as Chell is ‘banished’ to the bottommost levels of the complex, and we enter the old world of Aperture and get to see how it changed through the decades.
This is the type of story, and atmosphere, that really works well for me. We see hints of what Aperture was, and the crumbling – yet still partly functional – remains of that. The atmosphere generated gives a wonderful feel of the various time periods, and how the whole place evolved. The hints of backstory, of where the character GLaDOS might have come from, also added an extra hook for me, and I wanted to see how it all played out.
We’re also introduced to some new puzzle mechanisms in the form of “gels” that allow you to jump (or bounce) higher, move faster or place portals where you couldn’t before. I have to say that my first inkling of these made me question if they’d ruin the “portal experience”, but I now think they make a great addition to the other puzzle mechanics. The liquid effects are also quite pretty too!
I’m not sure whether perhaps I began to suffer “puzzle burnout” or what it was, but at times I almost began to feel “oh no, not another puzzle”. Having said that, the lure of the story kept me pushing on. I wanted to see how the whole Aperture Corporation developed and changed. I wanted to find out what happened to Cave Johnson, I wanted to find out how GLaDOS really came about.
I also partly wanted to escape, but that was mostly a minor urge.
One thing that also struck me was the beautiful way they managed to make the environments seem incredibly large. Though you couldn’t get close to some of the structures, it seemed some of the caves/rooms extended for miles. It really gave me a feeling of awe inspiring space.
The escape from the “old” Aperture back into the present day, and getting trapped in Wheatley’s tests didn’t bring back my old feelings of apathy. I think this was for a few reasons. For a start, the Wheatley character managed to hug the balance between being still somehow useless and bumbling, and yet also dangerous in some way. It was also clear that we were trying to escape now, rather than at some indeterminate point in the future, and that kept the anticipation – and interest – high.
The events leading up to the escape were brilliant, and this is one part I won’t ruin. But I really enjoyed it, and actually laughed with how it all worked out. From here, we again get to duck behind the scenes of Aperture and see how it all operates. While this section was yet more puzzling, using those skills we’ve already honed, it felt fresh and interesting.
And the ending? Loved it. I absolutely loved it. It was fun, it wrapped things up nicely, and left me with what I felt were “rewards” for having finished the game.
And then I played through the game again. Then once more with Developer Commentary – which I think more games should have. My only regret is that I didn’t put in save points so I could go back and replay the bits that interested me the most.
Really, Portal 2 is nearly my perfect game. It has a story that kept me engaged, an atmosphere that urged me onwards, characters I adored, fun puzzles, and an ending that felt satisfying.
Now I’m just wondering how they can do a decent Portal 3…