Every now and then, when the stars align right and the fates deem it appropriate, I’m given the opportunity to finish an entire game in a reasonable amount of time. The most recent example of this is Portal 2, which I completed late last year in a record 10 days.
I don’t set out to spend an excruciatingly long time with a game; sometimes I end up addicted, other times it just really does take me 6 months to finish a game because I’ve only got a couple hours a week to play. With Portal 2, however, I actually had a deadline. Yes, I realize it’s a little lame, but in a house with two non-co-op (for the most part) gamers, a little (a lot) compromise is sometimes (always) called for. In the case of Portal 2, the circumstances involved a friend of my husband’s with whom he promised to play Portal 2, Gamefly, an overabundance of vacation days, and the holidays. This strange combination made for 10 mostly free days during which I had more time to game than I had had in awhile.
**Spoilers** to follow, but you probably knew that already.
The original Portal was a wonderful surprise, not so great ending, but wonderful still. Knowing that Portal 2 was certainly in our future, I didn’t pay much attention all the press it got early last year. The addition of co-op play seemed like a natural progression for the sequel, but how, I wondered, were they going to pick up the story? The end of Portal seemed pretty final. (Though I recall something about a patch was later added that changed the ending?) Well, it wasn’t and it was now the future! And you were still Chell, awakened from stasis, and you were still at the Aperture Science Enrichment Center; though as you discovered, it had become quite dilapidated. You weren’t alone, though, as a brilliantly-voiced personality core named Wheatley appeared and decided to help you escape. As the two of you made your way out of the facility, you ran into a seemingly defunct GLaDOS, and you (though mostly the bumbling Wheatley) accidentally end up reactivating her. And y’know what, GLaDOS was still mad at you after all these years. Because of course. She managed to separate you from Wheatley and, in the grandest act of revenge, began rebuilding Aperture for more “testing.”
You faced several chambers, with the trusty portal gun at hand; until Wheatley appeared, again, to help you escape, again. Things don’t go as planned and you end up facing GLaDOS, again. The solution presented was to switch GLaDOS’s core with Wheatley’s, which you do. But mild-mannered Wheatley quickly turned to an evil-minded, but still kind dumb core. He placed GLaDOS into a potato, because why not?, and they proceeded to bicker about Wheatley’s original purpose. In his mounting anger, Wheatley chucked you and potato-GLaDOS down, down, down to a very wet and abandoned part of Aperture. From there you form something of a partnership with potato GLaDOS, though she “disappears” for a portion of the game, in order to get out of the facility. In addition to the portal gun, new gels transform surfaces, new light beams serve as “bridges,” and other new challenges arise. There’s no shortage of things to see as you travel chronologically through Aperture that essentially built upon itself throughout the 1950s, 1960s, 1970s, and so on. And your journey wasn’t always a quiet one. At times, you were treated to recordings of Cave Johnson, former Aperture CEO. His superbly snarky mini-rants and stories helped piece together the puzzle that was Aperture and the history of GLaDOS.
My 10 days with Portal 2 were not an easy 10 days. I found the game to be much more challenging than the original one. Thankfully, it was also much more entertaining with the addition to Wheatley and Cave Johnson.
By the way, did you know that there is an actually somewhat famous Cave Johnson from history? He was from Tennessee and he served as postmaster general under President James K. Polk during the 1840s. He probably didn’t know much about combustible lemons. Mail, yes. Lemons, no.
Anyway, besides Johnson, there were a couple other things that I really liked about Portal 2. One was that intense creepiness of the abandoned facility. No, there weren’t any zombie-fied denizens or ghosts hiding in the walls, but it sure felt like there could have been! The developers did a fantastic job imbuing life into rooms that appeared very tired and worn. I’m personally fascinated by abandoned structures and their histories, so being able to explore Aperture was a wonderful adventure.
On the heels of that was my second favorite thing: following the history of Aperture through the decades. The facility was sprinkled with rooms filled with office equipment, electronic gadgets, and art and posters that reflected the decades. Images of a young Cave Johnson and mid-century modern décor of the 1950s eventually gave way to more garish, more fluid, more tacky interiors of the 1970s with images of an and older (yet not wiser?) Johnson. And each time you finished a level, Aperture’s changing logo flashed onto the screen. The logos reflected so well each decades’ design and typography. So simple, yet so memorable.
10 days gave me enough time to savor Portal 2’s atmosphere, grind my teeth at the difficulties, and truly enjoy the games’ inner and outer dialogues. Had I had less time, imagine how much I would have missed! If I had had more time, imagine how easy it would have been to forget everything from the previous play through! It was the perfect amount of time to become immersed and engaged. Portal 2 outshone Portal in many ways, but the two games stand quite solidly together and on their own. As great as some opened-ended games are, it’s nice that they are balanced by games that have definite beginnings, middles, and ends. The action and story in Portal 2 meshed together well and flowed perfectly as you progressed. It was a pretty great 10 days, the likes of which I probably won’t see again for a long time.