This is part of my 2011 wrap-up series, A Few of My Favorite Things, in which I discuss what I enjoyed this year, regardless of when it was released.
#14 Portal 2
Video game, 2011
I normally don’t buy games near their release dates, but Portal 2 was an exception for a few reasons. First, I got it on sale quite early in its release cycle at $30, a far cry from the $60 of most new games. Also, my friend Hunter offered to play the co-op game with me.
But the main reason I didn’t wait to buy Portal 2 is because the original is freaking awesome. If you read about video games at all, you know the story: An add-on to a Half Life pack ends up stealing the show, winning numerous awards, and going down as one of the most important games of the decade.
Strangely, the original Portal reminded me of another underdog landmark: 1977’s Star Wars. Both have the feeling of a ramshackle, unexpected work of genius over which the stars magically align. The end product feels completely original and fresh, almost pivotal.
The design in Portal, particularly the final chapter, is brilliant. It guides you without ever making you feel like you’re being guided. Even a single poorly designed moment could have ruined the immersion, but it never happened, right down to the balls-to-the-walls ending.
Best of all, the original is packed with personality and humor often absent from video games. Antagonist GladOS, dark and hilarious, steals the show.
Portal clocks in at a scant three hours, assuming you don’t diddle around too much. Full of dark humor, mind-bending puzzles, and a heart-racing ending that won over even the harshest critics, Portal feels something like the gaming zeitgeist of the late aughts. The “Still Alive” credits song seals the deal.
Oh yeah… the sequel? It’s great. More of everything that made the original fantastic. The game is about four times as long. The puzzles are expanded with physics-altering surface gels. GladOS gets more charact development. We meet a few new characters, most memorably Cave Johnson voiced by JK Simmons.
It lacks the impact of the original because the expectations are higher and the series tropes are now in place: Increasingly complex puzzles, increasingly funny voiceovers by GladOS, fantastic ending, etc. Speaking of the ending, I’ll say it actually outshines the original. Cinematic, well-designed, and epic, the ending includes a few absolutely unforgettable moments.
The world also feels bigger and more interesting. The new exploration bits are pretty bland on a gameplay level compared to the best puzzles, but I actually enjoyed exploring the world and unraveling how it went to hell.
Put simply, Portal 2 a very worthy sequel for a fantastic original. It vastly expands and deepens the experience. It’s not quite The Empire Strikes Back, but it’s just as enjoyable and memorable as the era-defining Portal.
Previously: #15 LOST