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Thursday, 24 July 2014

Portal 2.

This was a triumph~

I'm making a note here: HUGE SUCCESS.

Portal 2.

Portal was never really meant to have a sequel, was it? Portal was never really meant to be, being more just a fun extra project for The Orange Box that players could blur through in two hours, featuring a simple puzzle gameplay mechanic, a single voice actor, and locations mostly made from recycled Half-Life 2 assets, as a spiritual successor to the rather commercially unsuccessful Narbacular Drop.

Then it – kind of became a massive pop culture icon and one of the most well-loved video games in the medium. Even people who haven't played it might well have heard people remarking that 'the cake is a lie', which has arguably become the game's most prominent legacy.

In a medium where length, graphical quality, and how much of your console of choice's processing power it can eat are often used as markers for a game's worth, it remains genuinely surprising that Portal was such a success. You can see why, sure: That one voice actor is excellent, delivering well-written and funny lines; the Half-Life 2 assets are used to great effect; and the gameplay mechanic is simple enough to be easily grasped but can also be applied to a diverse range of puzzles.

I don't think anybody was really expecting a Portal 2, either. Hoping for it, maybe. Expecting it, probably not. But it came out anyway, now with four voice actors (J.K. Simmons, Nolan North and Steven Merchant joining Ellen McLain) and about three hours worth of extra length, making it about twice as long as the first game.

That's 100% more science.

In Portal 2, our intrepid, mute adventurer/test subject Chell awakens an indeterminate time after her battle with the Aperture Science AI GLaDOS, under the watchful eye of Wheatley, a rogue personality core who seems to be pretty much an idiot, but who is invested in getting them both out of the broken and crumbling research facility. Once again, Chell is armed only with springs on her ankles that stop her being hurt from falls, and the Portal Gun, which can create one blue portal and one orange portal, that connect to each other, allowing instant transportation of herself or any other object between those two spots.

As Chell and Wheatley continue through the facility, they accidentally re-awaken GLaDOS, who separates the two of them, forces Chell back into testing, and starts rebuilding the facility. Things really only go downhill from there.

The single player campaign is – long. Longer than it really should be. Long enough that it kind of outstays its welcome, and the humour starts to wear a bit thin at times, and it all seems to be trying a bit too hard, attempting to carve out a new identity for itself while clinging to that which made its predecessor popular. It's a noticeable flaw in what is, nevertheless, a good game with fun dialogue and an actually fairly engaging storyline, as you discover more about the history of Aperture Science. The gameplay, too, is good, but also starts to wear a bit towards the end, when the addition of speed, bounce, and portal-surface goos that can be sprayed from dispensers over an area begins to drag on long enough to stop being 'interesting new gameplay element' and start being 'getting a little old gameplay element'.

The thing, I suppose, is that Portal was never meant to be a game longer than about four hours maximum: The gameplay can't hold up for longer than that, really, and no amount of good humour from the game's core cast can really mitigate that for very long.

What lovely artwork.

That said, I didn't struggle to complete Portal 2's single player campaign. I didn't leave it hating it, like I did with Final Fantasy XIII. The worst I can say about it is 'I enjoyed it, but it went on a little too long', and all things considered that's a pretty mild criticism. Also, there's an opera at the end. So that's nice.

So, multiplayer. I played multiplayer quite a long time after I played the solo campaign, with Reecey of Nine Over Five, and in some respects – mostly gameplay respects – it's better than the solo game. In multiplayer, you play as two testing robots, one of which creates orange and red portals which connect to each other, and the other creating blue and purple portals which also connect to each other. The fact that you have two sets of portals and two characters who can now be moved around through them alters the gameplay massively, giving it about four or five extra levels of depth.

It's also shorter – you could easily complete the entire multiplayer storyline, including the extra levels 'Art Therapy', in about four hours if you're good at working together. 

Atlas and P-Body.

Reecey and I were not good at working together.

Some of this was because we have very different ways of solving puzzles.

Some of this was because we're not very patient people.

Most of this was because I kept murdering her. Oh, what fun we had. She killed me, I killed her, I killed her, I killed her, I killed her, I killed her, I killed her, I killed her, I killed her, she killed me, she killed me, I killed her, I killed her, I killed her, I killed her, I killed her, she killed me, I killed her …

It got to the point where a puzzle required, like many puzzles do, for one player to put themselves in a position of vulnerability – in this case, walking on a hard light bridge that I could shut down at any time and, indeed, had done twice already – and I asked her to trust me, only to get incredulity in response.

Well, that looks dangerous.

But that's part of the fun of it, and something the game actively encourages, as GlaDOS attempts to turn you against each other by showing blatant favouritism to you each in turn or, at one point, saying different things to each of you.

The plot of the multiplayer sections is not at all bad either. It's not much of a plot, and it's mostly delivered in hints at the end of each of the testing courses, but it's a coherent plot, which is more than can be said for the vast majority of multiplayer experiences, including games built entirely around multiplayer. The Art Therapy levels also have their own storyline that leads off from the main multiplayer campaign, like a kind of mini-sequel.

So, it's a flawed game. If we're being honest, they probably shouldn't make a Portal 3, unless they're willing to seriously mix up the environs and characters (isn't there an Aperture Science ship that's gone missing in the Half-Life games? Could be fun), and maybe even implement some kind of fundamental change to the gameplay as well. Flawed doesn't mean bad, though, and I'm glad this game exists, both because I think, on balance, the solo campaign is a fun and worthy experience, and because the multiplayer campaign is amazingly fun. 

Ah, our glorious leader, Cave.

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