Portal 2 is going to be amazing. Do you know how I know this? Because a mere fifteen-minute presentation of the game had a room full of cynical, jaded, miserable game “journalists” laughing out loud. That’s what Portal is all about, as far as I’m concerned. Yes, the puzzles are fantastic and the central gimmick is unique, but it’s the comedy that really sets Portal apart.
Portal 2 is bloody funny, and that’s what will make a difference.
I had the distinct pleasure of getting a cheeky glimpse of Portal 2 behind closed doors, and I liked what I saw. However, I was also aware that much of what I liked had very little to do with the gameplay, and more to do with everything else. Further along that train of thought, I wondered why I liked the non-gameplay so much, and then it hit me — this game is a work of nefarious genius.
“Look, we both said things that you’re going to regret, but I’m sure we can put our differences behind us… for science… you monster.”
It speaks volumes about the success of the GLaDOS character that seeing her come back online actually makes your hair stand on end. As we’re introduced to the character of Wheatley, an active Personality Core who reawakened the static Chell due to concern for Aperture Science’s rapidly decaying state, it becomes clear that Portal 2 is going to be a far more story-driven affair than the last game. Last time around, the story was hidden in the background, and didn’t really affect the game until the end. More characters, dialog and plot appear to be the big part of Portal 2, and strangely, I don’t have a problem with this.
It was explained during the demo that, after GLaDOS reawakens, she wishes to pursue her tests with Chell because scientific testing is the only form of interaction that she can understand. It’s the only thing she knows how to do. That said, however, it is clear in the tone of GLaDOS’ voice that she is also looking for revenge after being “murdered” by her test subject. While she rebuilds the laboratory around the player, GLaDOS hints very strongly that she wishes to see Chell dead.
“We’re a lot alike, you and I. You tested me, I tested you. You killed me, I… oh no, wait… I guess I haven’t killed you yet. Food for thought.”
I could talk about the awesome new gameplay mechanics and ingenious new items like the Thermal Discouragement Beam, the Excursion Funnel, and the Repulsion Gel. However, this was all revealed during E3 week, and I’m sure you’ve heard all about it. However, it’s the relationship between GLaDOS and Chell, alongside the absurd wit of the entire game, that truly fascinates my brain. The original Portal was a short game, a few hours at the very most, yet it resonated with players on an astounding level. Watching the demo, seeing Aperture Science get dragged kicking and screaming back into life, ought to give any fan of the original a tingly feeling.
In truth, part of this can be attributed to just how manipulative Valve is. By crafting some meme-friendly quotes and characters, Valve ensured that Portal would be integrated into the collective gamer consciousness with ease, and that’s why the sequel to a three-hour game feels so stunning and inspiring. It’s why, naturally, the Weighted Companion Cube became so beloved. It wasn’t a good character; it wasn’t even part of the game for very long. It was the power of suggestion, base manipulation of the shadiest order, and it worked. Valve told us we loved the Companion Cube. So we loved it.
“It’s been a looooong time.”
Now Valve is telling us to get a shiver down our spine as we watch GLaDOS come back online, and for this particular writer, the power of suggestion is working all over again. The trailers, which show Aperture rebuilding itself at the behest of its AI master, have specifically been designed to get that hair standing on end, fooling us into thinking the original Portal was more epic and life-changing than it perhaps was, and that’s just fine. Even if the experience is manufactured or even forced, so long as the feeling of resonance and amazement is real, that’s all that matters.
That is certainly what I took away from Portal 2. I left with a feeling that the game had gotten under my skin. I felt that, with a charming antagonist and a collection of Internet-fodder ideas, Valve had suckered me into child-like awe, and it did so without having to craft a seventy-hour narrative full of “deep” characters and plot twists. It simply gave us a funny computer voice, a silly fake laboratory, and a handful of forced memes.
This is why Portal 2 is cleverness on an almost villainous level. Valve will play us like a Casio Songbank, and for most of us, it will work.
I am fine with that.