Portal 2: Superior Core

Okay, I’ll be the first to admit it: while I thought the first Portal game had ingenious gameplay, funny voice acting, and a strangely addictive end credits song, I didn’t get the hype.

Unlike other phenomena that took me a while to warm up, it was not that I’d heard that this game was ah-maze-ing before I’d ever played it.  I think I might’ve played it shortly after it was released.  No one was talking about it, then.  And it was cute, and funny.  It was funnier later to see that Rock Band had the song “Still Alive” available as downloadable content, so of course I had to get that.  But somewhere in the midst of all that this game blew up to be huge!  And I didn’t really understand it.  Maybe I was biased, because the game gave me motion sickness.

So when I heard Portal 2 was coming out, I was only mildly interested.  A few days before the release, I learned about the Potato ARG that was going on, and that helped draw me in.  Honestly, that ARG did almost everything right.  It was interesting, it was a cute concept, it provided exposure to some other indie games.  The only thing that it failed at was the release time.  Nearly every single page on Steam had a giant banner that said “Help get Portal 2 released early!”  In reality, “early” was a few hours.  If they hadn’t billed the ARG as something that led to an early release, or if they really had released the game a day or more early, it would have been perfect.  Better luck next time, I suppose.

Now, with all that build-up, I finally had Portal 2.  Over the course of two days (maybe 4-5 hours of gameplay), it was finished.

I loved it.

Yes, I did still occasionally feel motion-sick – sometimes I had to take a break, sit across the room and read the internet, listening as it was played by a partner.  Luckily, this is one of those games where it really is as fun to watch as it is to play it yourself – at times it was more fun, because I could be helpful instead of going crazy trying to figure out a puzzle myself (yes, I’m lazy and impatient. Yes, my brain is good at many things, but puzzles aren’t my forte).

First and foremost, the voice acting on this game truly raises the bar.  Stephen Merchant and JK Simmons provide memorable, hilarious characters – Stephen Merchant, in particular, had me laughing constantly through the first hour of the game.  But man, Ellen McClain as GLaDOS deserves an award (cake?) or several.  Every line was pitch-perfect.

It’s even more amazing when you consider the arc of her character (this paragraph has major spoilers, skip it if you want).  We go from absolutely fearing GLaDOS – she might as well be Skynet – at the beginning, to laughing at her jaw-droppingly scathing one-liners, to mocking her fate as a potato, to feeling compassion for and camaraderie with her by the ending scenes.  Even if we never truly trust her at the back of our minds, we want to.  And yet, the sight of her, in control as we fade into unconsciousness, still fills us with unease.  It’s still a bit of a shock that we finally make it out alive.  All this, from a character who doesn’t really have a face.

The game has the required Jonathan Coulton song at the end of the game.  And, like the game itself, I like the new Portal song better than the old Portal song. I may have played the youtube video of it so many times I’ve lost count (note: the song has spoilers too).

I’m not as familiar with co-op mode, but what I’ve seen of it seems great: the chance to work together, or maybe work against, a friend while GLaDOS insults you.  Perfect. And the fact that you’re adorable ‘robots’ (core and turret) only adds to the fun.  Note: you can jump right into co-op mode without spoiling yourself.

In short, this is definitely my favorite game of the year thus far.  I’m not someone who normally walks around quoting movies, etc, but I totally have been over the last week.  If you haven’t given Portal 2 a try, you absolutely should – and I wish they’d piece together some sort of movie version for those who might be too dizzy to actually play the game, but deserve to experience this fabulous story.

How do you think Portal 2 compares to the first game?  And what platform do you think is best for it?


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