Portal 2: Well-reviewed

This review of Portal 2 is pretty great. You should read it.

The money quote, as the kids say these days:

Playing Portal 2 made me feel good about myself, and good about the people who designed it. What’s more, I couldn’t shake the sense that the designers felt similarly about me, about the players for whom they designed the game. It’s odd that a videogame should earn special recognition just for respecting its players, but Portal 2 does exactly that.

  1. I felt the same way as that pull quote.

    There’s an editorial today on Ars Technica titled “Thinking on rails: why Portal 2 isn’t as good as the original” that nails the problem that people generally have with the game. The single player is a much tighter puzzle solving game than the first Portal. In Portal you looked at a room and had to decide which part of which wall needed a portal. In many cases there were many possible solutions outside of the more obvious ones. This is not true for Portal 2. In the sequel you tend to look at a room by taking inventory of the limited number of portal-able surfaces and forming your solution based on their placement. It’s a tighter design in that you are always presented with the puzzle pieces immediately. The result of this, for me at least, was the nagging feeling that I was finding the answers too easy. There’s a moment where Wheatley tells you that you must be doing this wrong because there must be other solutions and it felt like Valve admitting to it. I also just assumed that, because I had played the first Portal more than a few times, the portal mechanic itself was second nature. So many of the puzzles in the first act were knocked out so quickly, I honestly thought I’d finish the game in about two hours. Of course, that’s not the case.

    But, on balance, I loved the single player. Any minor disappointment with the difficulty level was smacked right down by the heart put into the script and the conversation I felt I was having with Valve’s designers. I finally got a chance to start the co-op today and it’s scratching the itch for harder puzzles. It’s also fun walking into a test with another newb and speaking in portals. Standing for a second, taking inventory and muttering what the? oh and hearing your partner saying the same thing. Then suddenly someone blurts out an answer and you’re off and running. <tangent>We’ve gotten to the third section and I can see that the momentum and timing puzzles that were so light in SP are abundant in co-op. So I’m satisfied with that version having the challenge I feel like I missed (and one expects the DLC to be a collection of the more difficult puzzles that didn’t make it into the story game.)</tangent> But the answers to each of those puzzles feels, again, like you’re communicating with the level designer, who is guiding you with an invisible hand and, many times, contrasting and comparing puzzles from the first game with the one you’re on. Speaking in portals becomes a multilevel, multi-headed conversation.

    And I’ve always felt that way about Valve games. Someone in some review described the Valve level design as “semi-conscious.” I like that. Valve level designs have a way of putting you on the run and making you feel like you found all the exits yourself. There’s always the feeling of a guardian angel or just plain luck. Sometimes I wonder if I’ve just accidentally found a way out. I mean, that can’t be the way I was supposed to go. There was none of the usual level clues, the giant, blinking arrows written in videogame-ese that you know from every other game. (The opposite of this is the on rails design of Dead Space that sometimes gets so bad that they had to include a little blue line on the floor to guide you. This is something Valve has never required.) You rarely find yourself spinning in a corner looking for exits. This design philosophy is displayed so well in Portal 2 that sometimes it made me giddy, laughing with stupid joy at how fun it all was.

    So, in short, the Paste article nails it.

    Also, Portal 2 is as good, and for more moments that I can count, better than the original. And if I was forced to pick, I’d pick the one that made me fall for GlaDOS all over again.

  2. eyeballkid said In many cases there were many possible solutions outside of the more obvious ones. This is not true for Portal 2.

    I don’t know that that’s necessarily true. I grant you there may have been more alternate solutions in the first one, but as the speedrun vids are starting to surface, I’m definitely seeing things I didn’t think to do.

  3. W/r/t that Ars Technica article, while I don’t disagree with him about Portal 1 feeling much more complicated by the end, there was one point that the writer makes that struck me as odd. After complaining that Portal 2 — by virtue of regularly including so many more non-portalable surfaces — telegraphs its puzzles solutions, he goes on, a page or so later, to refer to the Conversion Gel as “game breaking” precisely because “once you can get it somewhere, you can get it everywhere, and once you can get it everywhere, the puzzle is solved.” Really?

  4. That Ars article suffers from something I assume there’s a name for, but I don’t know what it is: defining something very narrowly (ie, in this case, the words ‘good’ or ‘great’) and then arguing that something isn’t. Well, duh.

    It’s intellectually dishonest.

  5. juv3nal said :

    I don’t know that that’s necessarily true. I grant you there may have been more alternate solutions in the first one, but as the speedrun vids are starting to surface, I’m definitely seeing things I didn’t think to do.  

    Yeah. That’s more or less what I meant. I just said it badly. In Portal there were a lot of rooms where I could immediately see more than one obvious solution during the first playthrough. With Portal 2, in single player specifically, I felt that a lot less.

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