Number Four: Portal 2
Platforms: 360, PS3, PC
Reviews: Cleveland Examiner, Giant Bomb, Joystiq, Destructoid, IGN
Portal 2 is a digital, interactive poem; while brief, each aspect was crafted with precision and excellence on all fronts. There was not a moment within that game spent idle. Whether it’s appreciating the well-written Valvian humor, the simpler-than-they-appear tasks that lie before you, or just admiring the view, and catching just the smallest glimpse of someone they barely referenced years ago. I don’t believe that video games exist as art, but Portal 2 is the closest a game has been to matching Poe or Monet.
And if all of my nice adjectives and praise didn’t really hit home with you, try this: write a poem, and have it not suck. Harder than it looks, huh?
What makes Portal 2 stand out as a testament to game design is how incredibly difficult it is to craft a game that brief and nothing short of brilliant from start to finish. We’ve all played painfully brief games that were quite a bit less-than-par. Longer games can benefit from more prose and more gameplay, but have segments that are barely playable, aggravating, or simply out-of-place. But cutting those parts doesn’t make the game any better; those segments, bad or good, further the story in some way, whether minute or of extreme importance. And while it might appear that creating a shorter game is easier, it begs for a stronger presence everywhere else.
The game that immediately comes to mind is Shadow Complex. While brief, a lot of that game is spent backtracking through sections of the complex that have already been explored to their limit. You’re simply going through the motions of getting to the next objective because you’ve done all this before. Epic did stick a lot of collectible hidden upgrades to make the backtrack seem less superfluous, but that didn’t stop it from having unavoidable backtracking without anything exciting. Less than ten hours of gameplay, but maybe an hour or two less of enjoyable gameplay.
There was not a single moment during the six hours I spent playing through Portal 2 that I wasn’t glad I was there, doing what I was doing. This is part of the reason I finished it in two sittings. And even after slamming my head into a puzzle I couldn’t immediately solve over and over, I was happy to smack away.
The game has it’s issues (which I outline in my review, linked here and above), but none of those detract from the time actually spent playing the game. And I didn’t mention the multiplayer, but that’s because it leaps over the bar the campaign set. It’s a non-issue.
Then I could talk about the free DLC that came out this fall for all platforms. Then I could talk about sticking the disc back into my 360 in January to start making my own levels, and playing through the levels of others. And those peaces just add more under the Portal 2 umbrella. None of it feels as though it were missing. It’s just more.
Portal 2 is much more than what it is. It’s a firecracker; brief and majestic, and worth the short time it took up. I would be pained to find another game as solid.