I spent my Sunday playing games instead of writing about playing games. Would you like to know what I just finished?
Would you like to know what I thought?
(ALSO A SPOILER!)
It was great.
(Seriously bro, here there be spoilers.)
Look, I think maybe I just need a little space to work some things out. I really enjoyed the first two or three hours I spent playing this game; Stephen Merchant monologues like a champ, and I couldn’t keep a goofy grin from my face during the opening act. The music was great. Spraying the walls with goo was fantastic. The level design was…well, it was fantastic. Except when it wasn’t, and even then it was pretty good, but the best part of playing Portal 2 was gaining a better understanding of why I enjoyed the prequel so much.
The best part of Portal was the puzzles. Duh. More specifically, it was solving puzzles in those austere white testing chambers that you spent most of the game seeking desperately to escape. You remember those tiny chambers, where you could attach a portal to nearly any surface you could see? Figuring out how to navigate those suckers with the Portal device felt unduly gratifying; the level designers clearly built each room around a central escape route, one hidden amongst a plethora of possibilities at the outset that inevitably seemed obvious in hindsight. Shuffling through those possibilities and discarding one route after another before settling on the solution was the most satisfying experience I’ve wrung from a game in a long time.
That sense of satisfaction stems from overcoming a challenge, proving a condescending AI wrong and winnowing the proper Portal placement from a plain white room. I felt the same satisfaction working my way through the first few chapters of Portal 2, choosing the perfect panels on which to plant my portals in order to progress. Of course the Aperture Science facility has had a rough go of it since Chell demolished GLaDoS in the first game, and it shows; vines wriggle through the walls and crumple underfoot, and the pristine white paneling quickly falls away to reveal Aperture’s gunmetal gray guts.
It took awhile, but I was knee-deep in those guts before I realized I wasn’t really having fun anymore. I’ll admit, part of my problem was that Wheatley had absconded, leaving only the wily battery-bound GlaDoS for entertainment. Worse, using the Portal device to traverse the grimy chasms of Aperture circa 1975 was less about finding the best route than it was finding the only available route; to put it simply, I spent the middle chapters of Portal 2 spraying and praying in a desperate bid to reach the next testing chamber.
You see, you can only apply portals to white surfaces. That affords you a certain degree of freedom to play around in testing chambers and find your own path, but when you’re rooting around in the Aperture substructure (where pristine panels are in short supply) you can solve every problem by scouring the environment for blatantly obvious portal panels. Thus, the game becomes an extended series of jumping puzzles easily solved by trial and error. Bummer.
I think maybe I enjoyed Portal 2 less than it’s predecessor, at least to the extent that you can quantify emotions like satisfaction and sheer unadulterated joy. It was just too long and frankly I’m too old to properly appreciate the sacred Value Proposition. I shelled out sixty bucks for Portal 2, and I’m quite happy with the experience. I would have been even happier if the game had been two hours shorter and the levels a tad smaller.
SCORE: 32 Moon rocks, but I haven’t played co-op yet.