Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Video Games Are Art: Portal 2

Portal was the sleeper hit of 2007. Though it was short (you can beat it in 3 hours if you know the puzzles), it was brilliantly executed. It's sequel, Portal 2, had a lot to live up to.

Portal 2 starts with our heroine, Chell, waking up centuries after the event of the first game. Her new design is pretty awesome.
She still has her orange jumpsuit, but now she has it half down. It symbolizes her decision to take charge and beat this thing. She also sports 'High Fall Boots' which is a bit different from Portal where she had knee implants. All in all, she is looking pretty good for a couple hundred years old. Unfortunately, you don't get to see your character much, except through portal physics. 

After you wake you are greeted by Wheatley, a rogue personality core, who is trying to help you escape. Unfortunately, he is a bumbling idiot. 
(He is the sphere with the blue eye in the top right) Things get moving on and eventually you run into a dead GLaDOS. Well she doesn't stay dead for long.
OK, I'm not going to give any more of the story away. 

This game is amazing. It is still relatively short, about 12 hours for the first play through, but it is so well done. The puzzles are challenging, but not impossible, the environment is breathtaking, and the characters are lovable and well done.

The puzzles start easy, give you a taste of how things work, but then get very complicated. They definitely take a bit to figure out, but when you figure them out it feels satisfying. That little 'Aha!' moment is worth the frustration of problem solving. They are expertly put together, and they give them just the right amount of challenge. They even added new elements to the puzzles, such as Hard Light Bridges, Excursion Funnels (tractor beams), Ariel Faith Plates (launch pads), Discouragement Beams (lasers), and the Gels. The gels are perhaps the coolest new puzzle element. You have the blue Repulsion Gel, that bounces your character around. then there is the orange Propulsion Gel that makes you run wicked fast. And, of course, the Conversion Gel that makes it so you can place portals anywhere its touched. The physics they have for the gels are pretty fantastic and they definitely add a lot of challenge to the puzzles.
The environment is beautiful. They show the facility as it stands after a few centuries; run down, overgrown, and dirty. 
You also get to see a lot of the back scenes areas, which is cool. It's very refreshing to get out of the test chambers every once in a while. 
The environment is massive, you actually end up down at the bottom of the Enrichment Center, the parts that were built in the 1950's, and you get this feeling that this place is miles high. They do an amazing job making the older stuff seem like it was manufactured in the eras they were supposedly built in. Even the warning signs reflect the decades they were put up. They put a ton of detail into not only textures, but the little added items that make it seem like a real world. When you get to the 70's area the test chambers appear to made of plywood and other cheap materials, showing how much Aperture Science had gone down hill. Really, they did a masterful job.

The characters are what make this game truly enjoyable. The dialog between GLaDOS and Wheatley is hilarious and clever. GLaDOS is certainly bitter about you murdering her, but she never comes off as a bitch. Wheatley is a complete idiot, but his heart is in the right place, well, mostly. The most surprising character in this, though, is Cave Johnson, the old Aperture Science CEO and founder. You get to hear old pre-recorded messages he left for people doing the tests, and it is great! His character, though never interacted with, is amazingly well done, and incredibly clever.

All in all, Portal 2 is a beautiful piece of work. It is entertaining, challenging, beautiful, immersive, and massive. It is a bit short, but has a high replay value and a new co-op mode. I highly suggest this piece of interactive art.

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