Cart: Portal 2 Cab: PC / Mac / Xbox 360 / PS3 Coin: Valve
There’s a lot of deft humour in Portal 2 – I’m just not sure who’s laughing at what.
Is it GLAdOS laughing at the plucky Chell as she attempts to venture, once again, through the labyrinthine, Aperture Science testing facility? Is it the moronic Wheatley, laughing at GLAdOS as he ascends from proverbial janitor to warden of the entire facility? Is it maybe the player laughing at the quasi-political, sociological references littered throughout the game? Laughing nervously one might add, seeing as so many cut close to the mundane bone of our day-to-day lives. Could it even be Valve laughing at its blindly adoring fans as they lose themselves in this cynical, mouse-trap reference whilst Valve’s ambitions for a Steam/Linux-based global domination grow ever closer? Or maybe it’s just Nolan North – who somehow manages to appear as not one, but three characters in yet another bloody game – laughing all the way back to the bank.
I’m not quite sure to be honest – but despite all of the apparent humour and charm, I find myself strangely unmoved by the world of Portal.
The first game – that launched with the insanely amazing Orange Box compilation – was a complete breath of fresh air. The whole concept of portals oozed cool and Valve’s implementation was pitched with sterile perfection. The simple premise left you with little more to embrace but the gradual increase in difficulty of each successive testing room. A puzzle game at heart; Portal excelled on so many levels and was the most original and ground-breaking game for a generation.
But was it a one-hit-wonder?
Portal 2 is an undeniably more polished and refined product and the attempts at a back-story are credible and well-delivered. Voice-acting is dripping in quality and the overall level of polish is hard to beat. Puzzles start in familiar territory yet soon evolve to new and unexpected grounds – particularly when you find yourself jettisoned to the bowels of the facility to explore the very first testing rooms.
There’s a strangely strong sense of narrative, then, for a puzzle-game, but it’s a puzzle nonetheless. Some rooms are deeply frustrating with only mensa-like individuals being able to eye a solution at the first glance. An element of trial and error invariably creeps in with the eventual conclusion to a puzzle feeling strangely unsatisfying – a new experience for me in what’s an otherwise polished pseudo-FPS experience. Perhaps this sense of disillusionment is part of the lore of the game and an intentional element, but it left me feeling like a hamster on a wheel more often than it did an empowered entity.
And therein lay the rub: Portal 2 is so masterful at crafting the illusion of its world, you soon realise that it would be a pretty awful place to be stuck in – however clever and funny it may be.