Sunday, April 17, 2011

Portal 2: Some Misgivings

I’m looking forward to Portal 2.

I wasn’t at first, but the billboards every 100 feet in the Puget Sound area convinced me that something important is going on. (Strangely, all of them simply read “Obey” when I put my sunglasses on.)

I was initially hesitant, but not because Portal was a bad game. On the contrary, it was one of the most fresh and entertaining games in a year chock-full of them!

Unlike some, I do not believe that Portal was “too short” at roughly 4-6 hours. Rather, it seemed just right. The clever mechanics of the portal gun were easy to grasp, and the puzzles quickly advanced from simple to ingeniously difficult. It was hard to see where it would go from there. A lot more of the same, I think.

In other words, Portal had the decency to say good-bye before it outstayed its welcome.

Judging from the previews, Portal 2 adds some twists to the game mechanics: co-op play, propulsion and repulsion gel, and various other hazards and tools. I’m looking forward to trying it out, but I worry a bit that the novelty and difficulty these things present will top out quickly, and the game will become 10-20 hours of tedium.

On the other hand, I keep playing new levels of Angry Birds as they come out, and they usually amount to reconfigurations of old levels. I’m probably worrying about nothing.

Also, I suspect I would have enjoyed Portal just as much had it been a straightforward FPS. The writing and voice acting were top-notch.

Not a lie
Think about it: How many conversations about Portal have you heard about the “portals” mechanic? And how many about the passive-aggressive computer GLaDOS, her recipe for chocolate cake, and the song she sings over the closing credits?

If Valve brings their A-game to Portal 2, I know I’m going to have fun with the game. There’s no reason to think that they won’t. They seem to have been focusing all of their attention on it, maybe even to the exclusion of other worthy projects.

The only red flag is the “new ending” Valve put on the PC version of the game this year. It’s a simple change, one you might not even notice at first. Once Chell has escaped Aperture Science, instead of fading to white, she is dragged back into the facility by a Party Escort Robot.

That’s pretty weak. Valve pulled off a major setting shift between Half-Life (Black Mesa) and Half-Life 2 (City 17), but the Portal setting can’t change. GLaDOS is the game, and GLaDOS is the Aperture Science facility. I doubt I could come up with something more clever.

I feel that Portal worked extremely well as a short game, almost as a proof-of-concept. I’m not certain it’s ready to take center stage, but I’m willing to be convinced.

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