There are many games and franchises that I had not had the opportunity to experience due to random circumstances and have decided to finally try them during this season of video game silence. Last week, I hit up the Half life series, this week I tackle related games that apparently do not fall too far away in regards to the universe.
You are in a room. There is a blue portal before you and another orange one in the other room. Walk in and exit through the other. Repeat many times while looking at your self going in and out, smiling like an idiot. Stop and move on.
In what seems to be a Valve signature move, you are told little, if anything, of the setting and the you-get-what-you-see philosophy rings even louder than in the Half-Life games. As a simple exercise, here’s what I was able to corroborate from the game: You are a female test subject at Aperture Laboratories being tested by a computer OS and promised cake if you finish the tests. The events seem to take place in the Half-Life universe, made clear upon your discovery of a meeting room that has a running slide-show of company statistics in relation to Black Mesa. I’m also not sure if I came across the name GlaDOS anywhere, but here’s in retrospect what I found in the wikis:
Some time after GLaDOS’ takeover of [the] Enrichment Center and shortly after the Combine invasion of Earth, Chell is awakened from some sort of stasis pod in a Relaxation Vault by GLaDOS.
Let’s take a breather and collect our thoughts for a moment, shall we?
It’s fascinating, and ludicrous, how you are expected to do such back-handed research to fully involve yourself in the universe. Would it have been hard for your name to appear on a name tag somewhere? Even a small mention on a random case file would have been suffice and be labeled ‘awesome’ by those who uncover it. Throwing info otherwise unavailable in the game on wikis is unacceptable. Wikis are supposed to offer further explanations to what is already there, and not be an element of the overall experience.
Ranting aside, though, the game is a superb pleasure to go through and GlaDOS is easily one of the most memorable antagonists, if not the best that I had the pleasure of going against. Throughout the majority of the game, she or it is nothing but an idea that you find yourself instinctively forced to go against any time you are given the chance. For the longest while, you don’t even know if the messages you are hearing are pre-recorded to be played for each test subject, or if she’s actively talking to you as you progress. That need to defy her: is it being fueled by your curiosity towards the ‘other side’, or are you instinctively against predetermined control? Scarily subliminal and highly effective. In addition, Discovering ominous graffitis on your path that dealt with juvenile subjects such as the cake balanced beautifully with the situation you were placed in and proved to be haunting in juxtaposition with the sleek look and feel of the actual labs.
The idea behind the portal gun in itself is a work of genius that deserves to be given more than an honorable mention. Packaged with an awesome physics engine, the puzzles designed for it are truly a marvel to behold and even the simplest ones will inject you with a boost of satisfaction upon completion. Some of the chambers may apparently be solved in multiple ways, and some practicaly spoon feed you the solution. At times, also, I found myself throwing portals on available walls, reaching the solution even though I had not thought of what needs to be done. But regardless of the simplicity of the puzzles, the pace never slows down and Valve’s experiment on you with GlaDOS and your Weighted Companion Cube are note worthy and ones that make you take a long look at yourself not only as a gamer, but as a person.
If you’re a sad gamer like me who missed out on this juggernaut upon release, You’d be happy to know that it’s timeless, looks better than games being released today and plays like a charm. Instant win
Prior to the release of the sequel, Valve went ahead and briefly altered the ending of the first game by having Chell dragged away from the surface where she ended up after the first game (You won’t get any spoilers out of me) instead of just laying there. Not a smooth way to do it, specially that they could have just added that small part of the ending at the start of Portal 2 as a refresher of what happened and an update to Chell’s status. I digress, though.
Much like the first game, you start inside a personal chamber, this time modeled to look like a motel room, and are told to apply the basic look up/down/jump routines before you are asked to go to sleep. Countless years later, you wake up at a time when the laboratories are in ruin and find yourself accompanied by a robot called Wheatley who acts as your guide in the first part of the game. Why are you back at the labs, you say? Well look no further than Lab Rat, the promotional comic that Valve released to tie in the events between the two games. Unless you are indifferent to backstory and are happy with what you are receiving at face value, it is necessary reading and one that, again, transcends the idea of an additive or bonus content. I have covered my frustration regarding this earlier and will not go through that rant again.
The first thing that will be made clear to you is that unlike the first game where the labs were ultra-sleek, modern and impeccably white, this time they are overrun with vegetation and deteriorating due to the effect of time. You’ve obviously been asleep for a long time and getting the hang of your surroundings will be the first thing you adapt.
I can’t say I’m a big fan of Wheatley, and his constant chattering took away from what I was hoping was going to be another silent face-off with GlaDOS where she calmly proclaims your doom and eventual despair in your attempts to pass the test chambers. In fact, I loved him most a couple of hours in to the game after you encounter GlaDOS when he was constantly hiding from her behind the lab panels, scurrying away at the sight of either you or her.
The puzzles have been given a ‘roid boost with additional components to work with, including bouncing gel, speed gel, propulsion mechanisms, and vented pathways. I will not resort to the wikis to get their actual names as a needless and pointless act of defiance. The solutions to the chambers have become trickier and your mind will quickly warp in twists as you attempt to work your way around the steps required to move on. As opposed to simply mapping out where portals should be placed in regards to your position, you now find your self juggling multiple elements in order to get to the exit, with a myriad of possibilities available to you. In addition to all that, one certain puzzle had me experiencing a new sensation that was lacking in the first game: Rage. I’m not a fan of this kind of games, per se, but looking at one place for too long of a time would enrage anyone, wouldn’t it?
The aesthetic has been given a major face lift and everything looks that much sharper, but I found myself missing the first game’s simplicity and charm. Where there you were a test subject, secretly uncovering parts of the lab that you are not meant to be seeing, including that chilling wall etching of days gone by and the phrase “the cake is a lie”, here, you’re more of a rebel, intentionally going through the back door as a means of screwing with the system. Though the level design and art direction have been boosted, with many elements added to give the feeling of a still-functioning facility in each chamber, my eyes, at times, begged for it to all stop and disappear. There are chambers that have constantly moving panels, gels splashing on the ground, your portals making them splash elsewhere, a vented pathway in perpetual motion crossing the whole chamber, and turrets scanning your every move! Overkill!
The locations are more varied and induced with an abundant sense of vertigo due to fantastical Olympian high jumps and drops at terminal velocity, with the scope of each area having expanded exponentially to compliment that. From factory lines to a whole underground office complex, you are always granted new things to take note of and explore as you find your way to the exit. The story has also been fleshed out to include the history of Aperture Laboratories, their relation to Black Mesa and GlaDOS’ origin.
Don’t let my issues deter you from a classic experience as Portal 2 is a fine game that deserves all the merits it has received. If you haven’t done so already, strap on your death defying boots and jump in with both feet as any good lab-rat would do. The ending alone is a redefinition of epic and will you have you wondering how Portal 3 will pick up from there.