Portal 2: Travelling through Aperture and history in 10 days

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.

Portal 2 cover art © Valve (source)

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.”

Don’tcha just love all that wacky portal business? (source)

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.

Endless tubes and pipes and beams…endless say I! (source)

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.

Do you have a favorite? (source)

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.

We’re really done this time…right? (source)

4 thoughts on “Portal 2: Travelling through Aperture and history in 10 days”

  1. I must get “Portal 2” sometime. I was going to buy the first “Portal” recenty, but then the only way I could get it on the 360 was with these other games I didn’t want, and I got distracted catching up on the PS2 “Ratchet and Clank” games, and yeah. Still no “Portal”. When I get around to attempting to buy it again, I may go straight to the second game, though. I love old structures, too.

    Who knew there was a real guy named Cave. Who in the world is named Cave? Is that short for something? Perhaps Cavid, a variant of David. Once when I was on Wikipedia, looking for a page for the Vincent Valentine from “FFVII”, I found out there was a real Vincent Valentine. Which I guess isn’t too weird. If I find there is a real person named Cloud Strife, though, I’ll be pretty darn surprised.

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    1. We also have the version of the original Portal + those other games, none of which I’ve ever played. I’m sure they’re fun, but they aren’t Portal. I think the multi-game disc is worth it just for Portal alone, which I don’t think it’s an absolute prerequisite for Portal 2.

      Cave is an odd name, isn’t it? It’s possible it was a nickname that just stuck. And it was probably distinct for him back then when there were one too many guys named James, John, or Joseph. I’m willing to bet that someone out there has named their kid “Cloud Strife __last name__.” There is already a kid (or kids) named Sephiroth somewhere and the world must have balance!

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  2. Thanks so much for linking to my article!

    I know exactly what you mean when you say it’s tough to find time in a two-gamer household. I definitely always feel awkward turning away from my girlfriend to play something solo, so I’m glad Portal 2 was finally something we could sit down and do together. And I also liked your observation of how creepy the old Aperture facilities were. I never thought of those scenes as being like horror games without the monsters, but that’s pretty spot-on and definitely a big part of what makes that section interesting.

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    1. You’re welcome — your post on Portal 2 is a wonderful read! I love all it’s moments of quiet exploration — it feels very grand yet sad. Aperture’s ominous aura is like a character itself! It’s fun and all to roam around a game shooting at enemies or each other, but playing around in and escaping lone atmospheres such those in Portal and Portal 2 is just as (if not more) satisfying.

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