Friday, December 2, 2011

Forty Six - Portal 2

Well, with today's new entry, I have thirty days to beat four games. My last four are going to be doozies - games I really, really ought to have beaten years ago. Four super-critically-acclaimed gems. This one's also a gem, and it's named Portal 2.

Portal was the last game I played in my menu back in 2010. It's a huge cult sensation, and probably deserves most if not all of its acclaim - it's fun, innovative, thought-provoking, accessible, hilarious, and has probably reached legendary status by now. Portal 2 continues Portal's story essentially directly, and it expands and elaborates the Portal formula. Even better, it enriches Portal's background storyline in such a way that the game's three NPCs(two computers and a series of recordings from decades earlier) are extremely memorable and entertaining. This game does so much right it's embarrassing all of the other shooters.

Look, Portal 2 plays exactly like the first Portal. You navigate a large underground facility using a Portal Gun that allows you to open and close portals between two points. If you haven't played Portal, go and do that. Portal 2 adds nothing new to the basic gameplay of Portal, but includes new puzzle elements that allow for some interesting complications - I was a big fan what the new gravity fields gels brought to the puzzle table. You'll see what I mean if you play the game.

The original Portal's general plot setup wasn't very complicated, but got super-intense towards the end. Your character, a young woman named Chell, is a test subject in a lab run by Aperture Science, completing obstacle courses with a portal gun. The tests are overseen by GLaDOS, an artificial intelligence with a somewhat snarky personality, who promises cake as the prize for completing all the tests. Eventually, it becomes clear that few test subjects have survived the ordeal (Chell finds skeletons, deranged scribbling on the walls, and other hints) and that GLaDOS's goal over the years has become to kill her test subjects with deadly tests... for science. Chell defeats GLaDOS by throwing her personality core (her CPU, essentially) into a fire, but the ending to Portal reveals that GLaDOS has several cores stored as backups.

Portal 2 continues almost directly after the events of the first game. Chell is still testing, and the lab is under the leadership of new artificial intelligence(s). A somewhat bumbling AI core named Wheatley wakes up Chell from her sleep, and the player notices that the lab has fallen into severe disrepair. Early on during the escape attempt, Wheatley and Chell somehow manage to resurrect GLaDOS, and then the *real* fun begins....

Portal 2 has great new puzzles and a good new story, but better than the puzzles and story is the whole... spirit of the game. Keeping in Portal's tradition of third-person commentary of Chell's actions, Portal 2 brings back GLaDOS and introduces two new commentators for the puzzle rooms and facility underbelly, Wheatley (who I mentioned earlier) and Cave Johnson, the founder of Aperture Science (voiced to pitch perfection by J. K. Simmons). Even though these three characters are presented as commentary or even pre-recorded messages, the development that occurs on each of them is truly stunning. For barely even counting as even HAVING characters, Portal 2 has amazing characters and does nothing to rain on the original Portal's parade.

Really, the biggest (maybe only?) major improvement that Portal 2 makes is visually. This is no longer a small-team curiosity project, but a big-budget Valve extravaganza. The areas are gorgeously rendered and full of detail, and Portal 2's largest stages have a sense of scale that dwarf anything that its predecessor ever had. Size matters. The audio is also a little stronger, and I'm not even talking about the fantastic ending song (composed by Jonathan Coulton, just like Still Alive for Portal Uno). The cavernous echoes, sci-fi effects, and voice work are all top-notch.

Overall, Portal 2 is one of the worthiest sequels I've ever played. It produces a new spin on the Portal formula and stands strong on its own, increasing the universe of the original Portal without ever feeling like a sell-out or cash-in, which are two accusations that get lobbed around WAY too often by gaming fans. Portal 2 might not be as special as the original, because that would be impossible; it's plenty special on its own.

Games Beaten: 2011 Edition

1. Mario vs. Donkey Kong
2. Primal Rage
3. Torchlight Hat Trick
4. Ghost Trick
5. Flower
6. Batman: Arkham Asylum
7. Sly Cooper and the Thievius Raccoonus
8. Sly 2: Band of Thieves
9. Sly 3: Honor Among Thieves
10. Tales of Eternia
11. Marvel vs. Capcom 3: Fate of Two Worlds
12. Crisis Core: Final Fantasy VII
13. 999: 9 Hours, 9 Persons, 9 Doors
14. Dragon Quest VI: Realms of Revelation
15. Dragon Quest Heroes: Rocket Slime
16. Dragon Age: Origins
17. Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky
18. inFamous Evil Finish
20. inFamous 2 Good Finish
21. Big Bang Mini
22. Final Fight: Double Impact
23. Breath of Death VII: The Beginning
24. Cthulhu Saves the World
25. Ninja Gaiden: Dragon Sword
26. Dragon Age: Origins - Awakening
27. Disgaea Infinite
28. X-Men Legends II: Rise of Apocalypse
29. Jeanne d'Arc
30. Dragon Age II
31. Jade Empire
32. Cthulhu's Angels
33. DeathSpank: Orphans of Justice
34. Disgaea 4: A Promise Unforgotten
35. Marvel: Ultimate Alliance
36. Trine
37. Prince of Persia '08
38. Final Fantasy IV: Anniversary Edition
39. Professor Layton and the Last Specter
40. inFamous: Festival of Blood
41. Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception
42. Enslaved: Odyssey to the West
43. Bastion
44. On the Rain-Slick Precipice of Darkness - Episode 1
45. Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door
46. Portal 2


I have four games left, and I already know what four they'll be. The next two will be Half-Life on my desktop PC and BioShock on my PlayStation 3. Not sure which one I'll be finished with first, but I'm planning to close out the year hardcore nerd style~.

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