I didn’t buy Portal 2 when it came out for one simple reason: I’m boycotting Valve. Or at least I was.
I have no clue why Valve has slacked off on developing Half-Life 2: Episode Three in favor of a bunch of Left 4 Dead sequels and other multiplayer games I couldn’t care less about. I mean, Half-Life is only the franchise that Valve is best known for, and Episode Two ended with one of the biggest cliffhangers ever in gaming. At this rate, we’ll be seeing Duke Nukem Forever before we see another Half-Life game… oh wait, we did!
So I was protesting Valve’s silence on the Half-Life front by refusing to spend money on any of their games, including Portal 2, a game I really wanted to play. I finally cracked last September, when Portal 2 was on sale for $10 (or whatever the Philippine peso equivalent was; I can’t remember). Frankly, I think I should have just kept my boycott going, because Portal 2 is one of the most disappointing games I’ve played in months.
Portal 2 isn’t bad, mind you: it’s just the most masturbatory game I’ve ever played. The developers had an opportunity to truly expand on the game’s unique portal-creating mechanics and create an authentic sequel. Instead, they just recreated the first game, but with shinier wall textures and a little more plot. Portal 2 wallows in itself like a fat kid wallowing in his cum after a particularly satisfying jerk-off, rolling in bliss and wondering why the rest of us are gaping in disgust.
Meet The New Game, Same As The Old Game
I remember when I bought the Orange Box; it came out when I was a college sophomore. The first game I tackled was Portal, because one of my friends had been raving about how the game was “so fuckin’ cool.” I was working my way through the last test chamber when he swung by and made a comment about how hard the game was. I shot back to the effect of, “Are you serious? This game is fuckin’ easy! I’m almost at the end!”
Let’s just be honest: the first Portal was a glorified tech demo. It was about five hours long, had almost no plot and would have become enormously repetitive if it wasn’t so short. Valve cached it onto the Orange Box because they knew it had no chance of selling on its own. Portal deserved much of the praise it got, to be fair, but the main reason it got that praise was because nobody had any expectations of it.
The logical thing to do with Portal 2—and the easiest way to expand on its unique premise—would have been to combine the portal gun with the FPS gameplay of Half-Life 2. Indeed, given that Portal’s and Half-Life 2: Episode Two’s plots are tied in to each other, I figured that Episode Three would feature a cameo from Chell, or maybe a Gordon Freeman appearance in Portal 2. Imagine fighting Combine soldiers or headcrabs with the portal gun, using it to flank them, or maybe setting up traps where you ping-pong a hapless commando through the orange and blue portals like Wile E. Coyote.
Instead, Portal 2 is almost identical to the first game: you use the gun to complete bland, identical-looking test chambers. The only changes are environmental: jump pads you can use to leap into the air, or gels that you can use to bounce off the walls or run really fast. That’s not innovation, any more than spitting on a car counts as giving it a new paint job.
Not only that, it’s clear from Portal 2’s story that Valve has given up on the Half-Life series. Not only does the game completely ignore the first Portal’s connection to the Half-Life games, Valve even went so far as to retcon the connection out by changing the first game’s ending after the fact. Even the technology powering the game’s graphics is inferior: in contrast to Portal’s seamlessly-loading levels, Portal 2 forces you into a load screen every three minutes.
Your “The Cake Is A Lie” Jokes Are Lame
I don’t exactly hate Portal 2. Playing with the portal gun and the game’s physics is still pretty fun, and the addition of puzzles near the end of the game where you actually die if you screw up makes it more of a challenge than the first game. The writing is also pretty funny, though the game wears out its welcome about midway through as I found Wheatley’s comments to be increasingly dumb and grating.
Ultimately though, Portal 2 is a massively wasted opportunity. It’s an obvious retread of the first game designed to milk the franchise for maximum ducats and placate Half-Life fans still wondering why the hell Episode Three disappeared somewhere in the bowels of development hell. I’m glad I only paid $10 for it, and I wouldn’t recommend anyone buy it for anything more than that.