I intentionally had put off playing Portal 2 for a long time after its release. It wasn’t that I was waiting for review scores to convince me, its price to drop, or even that I was unsure whether I wanted to play it at all. Rather, I was biding my time, denying myself this purchase each time I passed it on a store shelf, letting the seeds of want really take root within me, building almost to a fever-pitch. Then, one day, I was ready. I made a quick trip to the store, came home, and within minutes I knew it had all been worth the wait!
I credit my friend (and former colleague at BNBGAMING), Armand Kossayan, with my familiarity, even basic awareness, of the Portal series. You see, after the adventure game days of the ‘90s, the only time I really went back to my PC for any type of gaming was World of Warcraft. Other than that, I actively kept myself unaware of anything other than console gaming for various reasons. Joining BNBGAMING would change all that.
Armand was the first one to bug me about setting up a Steam account. No big deal there; I’d set up a free account, join a friend list or two, and be done with it. And that’s exactly how it went down. Until the day an email showed up in my Yahoo inbox informing me that Armand had gifted me a download code for Portal (I believe he had gotten one with another purchase, and, already owning the game himself, passed it on). Whether by stroke of luck or Armand being an excellent judge of character, I ended up on the receiving end of the free code.
Even though my PC could barely handle the strain of Portal (now you know why I so adamantly stayed away from PC gaming), I managed to make my way through the relatively short campaign in one or two sittings. I think I clocked in at just over four hours total. Nothing to write home about. The puzzles, while fun and, towards the end, challenging enough, were just enough to keep me playing, but wouldn’t have left a lasting impression on their own. But what really stuck in my mind – and subsequently stoked the fires of want for the sequel – was that incredible sense of decay underneath the sleek veneer of antiseptic whiteness. As the game progressed, if you paid close attention and found the hidden rooms offering glimpses “behind the scenes” of the scientific testing modules, the real plot revealed itself: I was a prisoner. I was alone. I was in danger. And I wasn’t the first. Someone had been here before, done what I was doing, had somehow found a way out, and had left me hidden clues along the way.
What a great, intriguing, horrifying story to find oneself in the middle of! Even more impressive when the game started out as a “simple” physics-based puzzler, but by the end the puzzles themselves just became a sort of garnish while I experienced the gripping story. And all that stuffed into a 4-hour experience – fantastic!
So once Portal 2 came around, I needed no encouragement to be excited about it. Even so, when we published our review for the game, it was – fittingly – Armand’s continued words of praise for the game that continued to whet my appetite for it. A deeper, richer experience? Puzzles even more multifaceted, with the additional vectors of not just portals and companion cubes, and various forms of gels? More characters, giving new flexibility to the protagonist/antagonist relationship? Delving into the forgotten subterranean testing chambers used in the distant past, and following Aperture Science’s progress through the decades as a test subject presumably would have back then? Not to mention a completely separate two-player cooperative campaign? It all added up to one amazing package of pure gaming joy!
The Next Leap Forward
Looking back now, Portal 2 is easily one of the biggest Must Haves of the current game generation!
The above list of reasons why the game is great is but a quick synopsis, but one aspect that deserves further exploration is, to me, the game’s captivating story.
I would like to preface this by saying that it’s quite easy to miss the story, or play the game purely for its puzzles and not let yourself get tangled up in the intriguing history it puts on offer, if you’re so inclined. I’ve seen it done. By moving along through the obstacles, paying no heed to recorded messages or hidden niches and such within the environment, you could probably get a much more straightforward (if still brain-bending) puzzler. It all depends on how much of your own imagination you’re willing to bring to the table.
But honestly, why would you want to ignore such a treat???
I’d certainly wondered long and hard about what was going on behind the curtain at Aperture Science. The palpable sense of isolation, the lack of any explanation to my being there, the necessity for these tests – I wanted answers, dammit! And when Chell, the protagonist, is sent hurtling downwards into the vaults of decommissioned Aperture labs, testing warehouses, and offices, I got my chance to witness the evolution of the company from its infancy, straight from the man behind the company’s head desk himself, Cave Johnson.
Cave’s narration in-between puzzles, the way his visionary naiveté turns into jaded self-deprecation, and ultimately the surprising revelation about GLaDOS’ origin were, in a word, spellbinding! Rarely – if ever – have I been so utterly captivated by a game’s background story than the one Chell is witness to on her trek back to the surface. While the minute details of the plot may escape my memory over time, it’s already safe to say that Portal 2 is going to be one of those games whose world I will be utterly delighted to revisit in 5, 10, 20 years from now.
A Proud Moment in Parenting
Which brings me to the second reason Portal 2 holds a special place in my collection. Apart from simply being damn memorable, it also marks a milestone in the second generation of gaming career. Though I’ve played games with my son before (Lego games, anyone?), Portal 2’s multiplayer campaign was the first game to put us on equal footing. Sure, I explained the basics to him and walked him through some of the early stages, but many of the later puzzles would see me fruitlessly trying solution after solution, only for him to finally figure out the correct method and portal placement to reach the exit. If it was just a one-time thing, it wouldn’t have had as much significance, but I was proud and elated at how often he would reach a correct conclusion faster than I could, making it a true collaborative experience instead of the veteran/newbie roles we normally fill when playing together. Elevating my son as an equal to myself on a gaming level alone was worth the price of admission!
Though I’m sure it won’t be my last foray into the bowels of Aperture Science, for now I bid them a fond farewell, and consider this game…