Friday, January 6, 2012

Games I Played in 2011: Portal 2

What's this!? A post!? Isn't this blog dead and been dead for like 2 years? Yes, yes it was. Now I'm writing again. I don't know how often I'll be writing, hopefully often, though I don't imagine doing much on weekends as I stare a computer screen all week and try to get away from that on weekends. Either way, DEAL WITH IT. I'm writing now, so read on if you like.

Since the new year just ended, I'll be doing a brief post on each of the significant games I played in 2011. This doesn't necessarily mean games that released in 2011, but just games I played through out the year. Anyway, I'm starting off with Portal 2, a game that DID come out in 2011, and in my opinion, one of the best games of the year.

Writing and voice acting is what separates this game from the pack, more so than anything else. I’m generally and old-school guy, who feels that text in games is superior to voices, as text allows you to imagine the character’s voice and intonations, and voice acting drowns out the music. However, with Portal 2, the voice acting is what makes the game.

GLaDOS, voiced by Ellen McLain, was remarkable again but the two new characters, Wheatley (Stephen Merchant) and Cave Johnson (J.K. Simmons, the psychologist from Law & Order) completely stole the show. Instead of trying to explain how hilarious their dialogue was throughout the game, I provided two videos below that really highlight their characters:

Cave Johnson:


In case you don’t already know, Portal 2 is a first-person puzzle game. Your gun has two portals that you can shoot almost anywhere and you can walk through one portal to get to the other one. This mechanic is great, and once you add in turrets trying to kill you, gels that make you bounce or run faster, and light bridges that can be manipulated by portals, you get a game that keeps you thinking for hours.

The one problem I had with Portal 2 though was that it was over all too quick… again. The first Portal was more of an add-on side game to Valve’s Orange Box and it was understandable that it was only a couple of hours long when you also had all of Half-Life 2 on the same disc. Portal 2‘s single-player campaign takes about 8 hours long, which I guess is now standard for first-person games. However, my problem was not with the length but with the lack of how much they used and combined all of their new ideas.

Each zone in Portal 2 focuses on a particular new feature, whether it is the light bridges or the mid-air floating conveyor belt energy thingies. Once you’re done with that section, Portal introduces a new cool idea and almost completely abandons the old mechanic. It was only until the final levels that I started to see a combination of these ideas and I thought “finally, now the game is really getting started.” And then, in a flash, you go face the final boss and that’s it. Yes, I know there are user levels that really combine all the new ideas well. That’s great. But those levels never have new voice acting or are any way weaved into the story. The user levels are nice but not a good enough substitute for me.

Two-player split-screen co-op though. That was sweet. I can’t imagine playing the co-op levels again with someone else as I’ll likely recall all the old solutions but, they were fun while it lasted. While there were some times where my partner and I might bark orders at each other because one of us figured out the solution while the other didn’t, every now and then  we had the eureka moment at the same time, which was a very rewarding experience.

All-in-all, Portal 2 was one of the most enjoyable games I played this year. And aside from the first Portal, there is no other experience like it on the market. Definitely an improvement from the first game and I hope Valve continues this series with the same great voice acting with more complexity in the level design.