This month, I finally played through and finished for the first time, the delectable Portal 2, only five years after its original release in 2011. Why did this take so fucking long, and have I no shame or regret? Well, strawman question a, the reason it took forever for me to play this game was… I simply must have been playing other shit. Video games are really in style these days, they just keep making more and more, and the back catalog, it does a-pile up. This one’s been on the back burner for a long time, and I guess if I was to speculatively honest, I was probably just waiting for it to go down in price.
What’s hilariously tragic is that I’ve actually had this game for over a year – on Steam – but my Macbook’s not the spry devil it used to be. The machine would threaten to burn a hole through the crust of the earth itself whenever it ran the game at its aggravatingly slow speed, and our first attempts concluded before the end of the first chapter. Then when I saw the game’s been $20 on PSN forever, I did what I so often do when under the influence of the alcohol gnomes and made myself a nice little impulse purchase. Now you’re probably saying, $20! You call that an impulse purchase? And I say fuck you, rich tits.
Because the miracle of this whole thing was how I not only put off playing this game for five years, but was able to play it completely unspoiled, meaning every piece of dialogue, every new scientific contrivance introduced in the game, every plot twist and even the ending song were complete surprises. And even more incredible than that (and yes, such a thing is possible) is that I was able to play it with my son, now eight years old and there’s no better age for a test subject.
He and I have played through countless games together. The day he was born, I swore that when he turned five we would play through Kingdom Hearts as father and son – and we did. It was one of the most beautiful and rewarding moments of my dadhood. However, that one was planned, and this one was so serendipitous in its timing that he played not only as my gaming buddy, but fellow puzzle-solver and spare brain. The little guy was on over a dozen occasions able to notice features of the rooms and work out the solutions to puzzles while I bashed my head and randomly flung portals at the walls trying to advance the game. He even lit upon several procedures necessary for the final encounter, and I might still be fighting that little [REDACTED] if not for my clever lab assistant. So regrets at waiting this long to play it? Hell fucking no. Shame? Only the slight embarrassment that my brain, like my Macbook is an aging and polluted machine which will one day be replaced by a newer, fresher model. But I’m mostly beaming with pride.
So now that I’ve illustrated just why my playing of this game reached such colossally epic levels, can we talk about the game itself? I’m going spoileradical on that ass so if you haven’t played the game, DON’T FUCKING READ THE NEXT PART AND GO PLAY PORTAL 2 RIGHT NOW.
Did you play it? Yeah? It was good, huh? See, I told you it was good and I was right.
I have no plan for how to proceed so I’m just going to begin rambling about various features of the game starting with its characters.
Wheatley: this little bastard was amazing in his role as supreme tool and chief antagonist of Portal 2. Of course I find out later he’s voiced by Stephen Merchant, the guy who co-wrote the British (original and superior) version of The Office. Much like Ricky Gervais’s character in that show, Wheatley is a highly potent combination of charm and cringe that leaves one torn about whether you grudingly despise him or just want to merrily kill him. On a side note, I love listening to just about anything spoken in a British accent (I just do) but I have to say, I find his particular accent the most annoying of all of them – even moreso than Threepian Welsh. I’m sure it has something to do with Wheatley sounding nearly identical to a certain intolerable twat (rhymes with “hat”) I happen to actually know. The little orb’s passive antagonism really hit home when I noticed the resemblance there.
GlaDOS: What can one say about GlaDOS without worrying that her AI will destroy the file on which you’re writing shit about her? She was such an intriguing and dark character in the first Portal game that it would be hard for her to outshine her own role the second time around. I was a little bit disappointed by how humanized she became, but mostly just because her voice acting sounded much less like a robot this time, and more like a human playing the role of a robot. As a character, I think discovering her human (and nightshade!) roots was very satisfying, and making her so vulnerable and helpless was some killer storytelling. For me, though, the most interesting part of GlaDOS’s role this time is how you must form a grudging alliance with her once she loses her seat of power. Ever since I was a kid, my favorite episodes of any show were the ones where the heroes and villains have to team up and declare a partial truce – it happened in He-Man, it happened in Ninja Turtles, and it even happened in Salute Your Shorts. Perhaps it’s the peacenik in me, but I love when bitter enemies can see eye to (potato!) eye and temporarily put aside their differences to focus on the shared aim of defeating something they both can’t stand.
Cave Johnson: So since you played the game, you know there’s a part where you’re sent miles beneath the earth and get to work your way up through the old sealed-off testing laboratories of Aperture Science’s past, right? That was an unexpected birthday cake. Unlikely that those places would still be in tact or have working lights and pump systems, but hey – we’re talking about a game where you send energy to the goddamn moon faster than the speed of light, and I’m more than willing to suspend disbelief in the name of science. The people who wrote this game are so fucking clever that I want to throw up and tear what’s left of my hair out. Aperture Science’s founder, Cave Johnson is perhaps the greatest character who you never meet. In a way, he is Chell’s opposite in that she plays the lunatic mute, while he is nothing but a voice on a tape recording: “I pay the bills around here and I’ll talk about the control group all damn day!”
Seriously, that whole section of the game where you learn the history and fate of Aperture Science was just like going through one of the Bioshock games and letting the environment tell the story. When it’s done right, it is one of the most memorable and enjoyable gaming experiences you’ll ever have. I say they did pretty goddamn well. Introducing the bounce and speed gels was great, too, and I’m still haunted by the arpeggios that augment the soundtrack when you’re trying them out for the first times.
That fucking soundtrack, man. Or should I say, “This fucking soundtrack, man,” since I’m listening to it right now and can’t stop. It’s three compact discs long, and completely free to download from the game’s official website. That is an unbelievably kind offering and I suggest that everyone acquire a copy ere they decide that five years is long enough to GIVE SOMETHING PRICELESS AWAY FOR FREE.
I’m so taken with this game right at the moment I almost want to skip my weekly Game of Thrones viewing event tonight and play through Portal 2 again. Hell, I don’t even want to be at work right now! La la love this game and there’s never been a better time to be into it (even if you got to play that ARG in the weeks leading up to its release). There’s still the commentary-laced version of the game to enjoy, plus a whole cooperative mode for which I’m going to need to get my second PS3 controller working again. I know just who I’m going to play it with, too.