My first experience with Portal occurred in the fall of 2010, a time of year when the flu and my bartending job gang up on me and restrict me to my bed for an average of 4 days every month (on average). On these sneezy, sniffly days, my xbox is my beloved companion cube and I kill time between nose-blowings by fighting the Covenant or the Locust Horde. I was in the market for a new puzzler and I had some Microsoft credits to spend so I did some research on clever games and decided to check out Portal: Still Alive from the Xbox Live Arcade.
Before long I was “thinking in portals” as they say, familiar with every Portal meme out there (there are a lot!) and listening to the closing credits song on my iPod. I LOVED it, and the discovery that a sequel was coming soon was terribly exciting to me. The bonus challenge maps and tricky achievements for the original game kept me busy in the interim, but I was so stoked to pick up Portal 2 on the day of it’s release, April 18th. Sanctimonious gamer that I am, I waited for a completely free evening to turn off my phone, dim the lights and dive back into Aperture Labs to test for my life.
Right off the bat, I wasn’t disappointed. The story deftly picked up where it left off while incorporating a time lapse, so it felt like a legitimate narrative break between storylines. Initially, I was put off by the fact that some of the controls had changed for what seemed like no good reason; zoom and crouch were assigned to different buttons, and you now had to hold down crouch for the duration you wanted to be squatting. This proved to be unproblematic though, as in the sequel you spent a lot less time crouching behind blocks while turrets pelt you with bullets. Most of the turrets encountered in the second game can be thwarted with crafty use of portals and other devices, and I didn’t really like all the bullet-dodging in a first game, so that was a significant improvement for me. The second big improvement was easier landings at the end of huge leaps. Often, the solution to a puzzle has Chell propelling herself across the room to land on a tiny railing or ledge. In the original, these landings could be very challenging and easy to slip off of, even if you executed the leap perfectly. The sequel featured solid landings to these leaps which eliminated a lot of frustration and unnecessary do-overs. I was also happy with the new devices introduced to solve puzzles, like the different-colored goo and the lasers and traction beams. They provided a refreshingly effective twist to the game, which could have easily gone the other way.
The only thing I can really complain about is that I found the single-player campaign to be too brief. I sped through the first dozen rooms very quickly; not because I’m a genius but because they were very simple. I figured this was to introduce the game logic to new Portal players, so I didn’t think much of it. I continued on at a reasonable pace (never more than 2 hrs sustained game time) and when I reached sufficiently difficult puzzles in Chapter 8, I started to wonder how many were left. I looked it up online and was dismayed to discover there were only 10! I was just getting started and the game was almost over. I tore through the last few chapters last night, which were exciting and enjoyable, but only moderately challenging. It’s hard to imagine wishing that the game gave me fits of frustrated swearing or sleepless nights of bewilderment, but I do. There were puzzles in the original game that stumped me for hours and the satisfaction of solving these were a large part of my overall enjoyment of the game. I have to say, I don’t think I ever turned off my Xbox with a puzzle unsolved this time.
Today I scoured the internet for buzzings of upcoming downloadable bonus levels or challenge maps but I’ve come to realize that part of the reason I am unsatisfied is because Portal 2 is really pushing the multiplayer campaign. If you’re not familiar, the multiplayer platform offers a fully unique campaign story where you play co-operatively with another test subject, either remotely or locally. There are clever mechanisms in place for your characters to communicate to one another using gestures (some practical, some just for fun) in case players don’t have headseats with which to speak. Most of the pre-release buzz revolved around the genius of the co-op play, and about half of the achievements for the game are unique to that modality.
This realization that there is a whole other game to explore and discover should have made me happy but it doesn’t. Pathetic, I know, but seriously… I have only one Xbox Live “friend” playing the game, and he’s gone through the multiplayer story with his fiancée already. I’m sure if I asked him to, he’d play through it again with me so I could see everything and get my achievements, but he’s played it! He won’t have memorized every puzzle and map, but he also won’t share in the feelings that accompany a fresh pair of eyes on a tough new puzzle. Cheesy though it is, I want my first time to be with somebody else’s first time, and it’s going to be hard to find another Portal 2 co-op virgin a whole month after its release. It’s annoying because in my life, gamer-time is ME-time and I kind of resent depending on another player to complete my Portal 2 experience.
If you’re out there and you want to play with me, add “andreanomicon13” to your friends list and let me know who you are! I am often available to play between 10pm and midnight EST most weeknights.