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While the puzzles in Portal 2 are engaging and clever, one of the things that defined the first game for me was it’s ability to take you through an engaging psychological romp all while doing it in the guise of a clever puzzle based game. Portal put you in the role of an unwitting test subject who was essentially the rat in the ever expanding maze. All this made even more concrete by the literal promise of cheese at the end of the maze, in the insanely clever cake joke. Phrases like “The Cake is a Lie.” had so much more connotation and impact in a world where a mad and psychotic AI has essentially fragmented and boiled down the human psyche to risk grant reward. And then boiled that even further down to… cake or the promise of it. Think about that… the first game wanted you to accept that a highly complex robotic algorithm had watered down the entirety of human motivation to the promise of cake. It’s a perplexing, and mildly embarrassing thought when you truly examine it. I mean who reading this can say to themselves… “I don’t like cake”. I could go on and on and on, in fact I could write a research paper on it, others have. My point is that something that marvelous is fostered from a truly terrific and inspired place..
Then you have the GlaD0S of Portal 2, and you have Wheatley. These robots have been stripped of their personality by having been given a personality. I can’t spoil anything, or ruin the surprise for you, but part of the magic of the first game was the thought that GlaD0S was an entire AI construct that went mad and developed a sense of digital insanity that resulted in her warped and deadly persona. In Portal 2 the revelations in the story take almost all of that magic away from the character of GlaD0S. These things were more than likely added only after the first game was a surprises success and someone saw the need to create more story for a sequel.. (in this humble Editor’s opinion of course.) Again the issue with this is that it also creates the suggestion that every single piece of equipment with some semblance of sentience within Aperture Labs has the same explanation behind it’s origins.
This again crops up with the character of Wheatley. The suggestion in the game is that Wheatley is from the same genus (or digus? Who cares.) as GlaD0S. The other and stronger suggestion by the end of the game, is that similar circumstances make Wheatley’s specific individual circumstances possible. Basically it works like this. GlaD0S’ creation is revealed to be intentional, and something much different than what you originally thought in the first game. When you find out how exactly, you can start to see how every other digital person within the lab may have come from a similar fate. This makes Wheatley’s betrayal much less interesting, and perplexing to rationalize. No longer are you dealing with some rampant computer intelligence, you are dealing with the possibility that you are facing a human creation. The inherent fear of digital life becoming something more was something that Portal tapped into with great effect, but Portal 2 has pulled a reverse, almost literally.
Human liability is a theme that I’m willing to explore time and time again, but in the case of this specific game I would say that there seems to be a willingness to forgo what made the first game so cerebral in place of some of the greatest one liners ever written and delivered in a video game. At least Portal 2 has that going for it, it’s a funny game. But it’s also “funny” in another sort of way that just makes me concerned. It almost seems like Portal 2 was designed to be a cash-in in some respects, which is probably a larger slap in the face to the legacy of the first game than anything else. The biggest offender is the marketing device for JJ Abrams’ movie “Super-8” that is shoe horned into the game as a feature in the “Extras” menu. It’s essentially a two minute Source created interactive movie trailer made specifically for the film it’s promoting, and it’s inclusion in the game isn’t just dubious, it’s downright revolting. I don’t mind intelligent advertising in my games, but things like this just drip of poor taste in judgment. I don’t know if The National’s inclusion into the soundtrack is as grievous an offense as the Super 8 crap, but it’s subject to a lot more scrutiny because of it.
Coop also fares a similar fate. The game that is present is great on it’s own, but it’s tarnished it’s own reputation by nickel and diming you right out the gate. Want new colors for your coop bots that you will only play with for roughly 5-6 hours? That’s gonna cost real money friend. That shit may fly on a protected console where the people that produce them can control how media enters and leaves those machines, but when you start trying to pull that same crap on the PC crowd, we get a little pissed off. Especially when it’s someone like Valve that’s doing it… a company that has built an empire off of the backs of modders, and community monkeys. I guarantee that within a month of writing this, someone will have found a way to hack those skins into the game without having to pay, just to spite them. And if they do, then good for them. This is the first time that I feel like Valve has used their good reputation to help them sell a product that isn’t even up to their own standard of quality and content.
For it’s puzzles and ingenuity in the main game I give it an A, for the needless rewrite of GlaD0S’ character and the implied fate of every other digital character by proxy, I give the game a B, but for the shameless profit shakedown that this game is covertly carrying out in every other respect… a D. That averages this could-be great title into a paltry C.
I know that’s not going to win me any friends, but I call it like I see it.
Josh Wright had also written some notes that I felt like including in this review as he’s the friendly enterprising soul that romped through coop with me.
“Some of the new features added are these really interesting fluid challenges that have you interacting with different levels of physics. The new items change the function of the portals in really nifty ways. The orange liquid and blue liquid change how you can move through a level by being bouncy and quick respectively. A new white fluid allows you to splash portal-ing surfaces anywhere you choose. Those three new mechanics change the entire second half of the game, but not enough to make it really any different than the first.
My gripe was that much like the first, it seemed much too short. I completed the entire game in less than 10 hours. For a 50 dollar game as anticipated as it was, to have it be that short was a huge let down. It’s visually beautiful, but I don’t really think it’s worth the price tag to be honest. I give Valve a whole lot of credit for essentially finding an interactive way to re-invent the puzzle game, but they need to deliver less dressing and more meat. The story and quirky humor of the game only carry you so far. I might play it again someday, but only with content packs added by users. “
Portal 2 is available now on PC, PS3, and Xbox 360
It was developed and published by Valve Software and EA (at retail).
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