Thursday, April 28, 2011

Portal 2

I had this mental checklist going into Portal 2. I wanted it to be all the things I liked about the first game. Those being that it was: 

1.) funny
2.) disturbing
3.) fun and challenging
4. a tight, self-contained story
5.) and had female characters notable for their will, strength of character, and disregard for conventional roles. 

So...did it succeed? First of all let me say that it did.  I had a smile on my face when I finished it. (By the way, spoilers will be left out of this review until the end.) After the last scene I sortof felt like running around and jumping.  It wasn't better than the first one, but...let me move on to the above points. 

1.) Is it funny? Yes. And also yes. Mind you, the first section with GlaDOS disappointed me a little. I felt like somebody in the writers' room might have made a list of why GlaDOS was funny, put "she insults you" at the top, and just worked from there. I felt a little bit like I could see what strings they were pulling and what the writers' thought process had been. But then I played co-op and it was okay again, and there are some lines that are so quotable. 

2.) Is it creepy? Yes. One word. Frankencube.  All the austerity of the first game is still there, except now there's also things falling apart as you walk through them. The game pulls the floor out from under you (sometimes literally) many times, and each time felt inventive.

3.) Is it entertaining and challenging? Yes. I felt that the plot line was a vehicle for stuffing the game full of more puzzles, but that was fine. I wanted more puzzles. The different types of levels kept them from getting repetitive, and integrated various plot elements really well. And the zoom function was brilliant. I thought it was useless at first, but...no. I should have seen it as a promise of larger environments. In them, it was invaluable. 

4.) Is it tightly written? Yeeees. And that's a slightly hesitant inflection, as opposed to "yessss" which would indicate an enthusiastic inflection. I thought the first game was great partially because it was so short. It was like a finely crafted short story, referring only to itself. (And enough of Half-Life that people who got the references enjoyed them.)  This second game by nature had to be stretched. Unlike its predecessor, it was designed to take more than an hour to get through. Also unlike its predecessor, it was designed to be a hit. 

I still liked the story. It's not as tight as the first one. But it did what it was designed to do. 

Around the last few levels I thought the story got a bit wobbly, with the way a certain character who will remain unnamed for spoiler purposes becomes addicted to testing. Anybody else get this strange druggy vibe? I don't particularly want to be thinking of Aperture creating robots with addiction problems. It was just a "was this necessary and was it supposed to be funny" moment. 

5.) Was it feminist? Yes. Keep in mind that when I talk about "feminism" and "strong female characters" I don't mean raeg and girls with guns. I mean I want to see equality between the genders. I want to see female characters who are defined by more than their gender. They have strong opinions and aren't going to change them. They aren't necessarily good-- I love that GlaDOS is evil, or amoral. Because she's so consistently full of personality in her amoral....ness.  

GlaDOS is a great role model. No, I don't think we should all strive to distribute neurotoxin evenly throughout our places of work. But she's confident and brilliant and really makes an impression. I thought the conversations between her and Chell resulted from the most complex relationship in the game. And it's between two women. 

In Chell's case, she's silent. You can only see that she's female at all when you make an effort to arrange portals properly. She's got about as much characterization as Master Chief, except that where he's good at killing things she's good at solving puzzles. (All the killing she does, involves solving puzzles.)  The developers assume that it'll be just as easy for players to identify with her. Chell is almost less than her gender. And that's great. That's equality.  

We could talk about her costume change. Personally, I like it. The tank top is practical. It makes sense that she might have wanted the sweaty, moldy jumpsuit she'd been wearing for who knows how long in stasis off her skin. Yes, the elephant in the room is that the artists played around with a "sexier" look before settling on bared arms. (Link if you want it. It's on the wiki.) But the costume they settled on doesn't bother me. And this stuff bothers me. 

I have to say I was a little disappointed with GlaDOS at the end. Her dialogue just teetered on the edge of sentimental. Every time it teetered Valve tipped it straight again with a tiny bit of dialogue or something completely insane like the ascension cutscene. I really wanted GlaDOS to keep her evil edge, because it was funny and memorable. And partially she did. 

We actually get our first introduction of a male character in this game, unless you count the Companion Cube as male which I don't.  

And now I bring you into spoiler territory. Again, welcome....

~spoilers~

SPAAAAAAAACE!

"How are you doing? Because I'm  a potato."

Okay now that that's out of the way. The end was AWESOME. I just portal'ed the moon, guys.The moon. And it took me like a day to remember that the white paint is made out of moon dust, so it even makes sense. Awesome.

But we were talking about Wheatley.

So. Our first male character (disregarding disembodied voices, and ignoring the fact that turrets might in any way be gendered) is Wheatley. He is, I would argue, the third character to appear in the entire series. Other people such as Cave Johnson and Caroline are characters who might appear in stories of the past, but in the games they're set dressing. 

So we have Wheatley, who starts out as friendly. In pursuit of his (and Chell's) goal, he violently beheads and inhabits GlaDOS. Possession of what is referred to throughout as her "body" drives him mad with power and addiction. 

Intentional comment on gender roles? Almost positively no, or at least not in the ways I'm talking about here. Something a bored feminist commentator could write a paper on? Yes. 

But this is not that paper. I promise.  But Wheatley taking over GlaDOS was, I thought, the most frightening part of the game. 

~My Opinion, The Short Version~

I give it a nine out of ten. Tons of fun. The puzzles have high replay value. The co-op is hilarious. Some of the dialogue seems just as fated to go down in meme history as those from Portal 1.

Making a note here...

Do I even have to say it? 

Huge success. 


7 comments:

  1. Oh yes something I can comment on. *derp*

    I disagree. I disagree, entirely. About everything.

    No, just kidding.

    I had chocolate so I'm in high spirits.

    The less-than-perfect writing didn't bother me so much. I feel like what was lacking in GLaDOS in the first part was more than made up for by Wheatley's dialogue, which I feel was brilliant. I do think the sort-of strained writing for GLaD could maybe be interpreted as representative of how strained she herself might have been feeling, having been suddenly woken up from a long period of deactivation and with nothing but thoughts of vengeance and malice on her mind, she begins to grasp at straws, pulling out all the stops to try to heap as much cumulative hurt on you-Chell as possible, sacrificing quality for quantity. In the first game she felt like she was in control up until the end; she was arrogant and refused to believe that she could be stopped by a mere human. In the second game, she knows who she's dealing with, knows it's the person who's defeated her before, and she's insecure about it, and that insecurity manifests as heaps of childish insults and taunting, instead of beating around the bush with her usual subtlety and sophisticated mind games. That's just my theory, anyway. I like to try to justify things when I like them.

    You know, I didn't use the zoom function as much as I should have. For me, larger areas meant "walk around and explore everything and end up inadvertently falling off of something", not "stay in one place and look around with the zoom function with an intelligent individual". But, that's just how I roll. *derp*

    The addiction thing didn't really bother me as much as I guess it should have. At the time I just thought it was a reasonable explanation for GLaDOS's obsession with testing...and an example of how the games don't take themselves all that seriously at times. Besides, if Aperture can create robots who flood the Enrichment Center with neurotoxin, I don't think it's too far-fetched that they could create robots with addiction problems.

    I do really love the relationship between Chell and GLaDOS. I know I mentioned this before but I liked seeing them come to reconciliation and closure. They're both such strong people, and it felt to me like their antagonism from the first game matured into an almost friendly rivalry by the time you face her in the second game, and by the time the second act is over, if you don't empathize and connect with her to some degree, maybe you really are a monster. *derp* I mean, I don't know if their relationship could have as much dynamism (or entertainment value) as a friendship than as a rivalry, but I like to think that what Chell and GLaD went through together in the second game gave them at least a little bit of camaraderie.

    Wheatley's takeover and subsequent megalomania was definitely the most disturbing part of the game. And the most heartbreaking. *sniff* On the other hand, it forced Chell and GLaDOS to develop what I like to think was a fulfilling relationship, so...it all worked out in the end.

    Fun fact: A friend of mine ran some numbers and figured out that, if the automated voice at the beginning of the game when you wake up from stasis the second time was accurate, Chell had been asleep for at least 274 years. But, Valve has suggested that they plan to bring Chell into the events of Half-Life 2, which would apparently require her to only have been in stasis for somewhere near twenty years (I wouldn't know, I'm not at all familiar with that franchise). Just something to chew on.

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  2. Nah, you have a right to disagree. I found myself pointing out way too many flaws as I put on my Serious Blogger Hat. GlaDOS being rusty after she wakes up makes sense, as does the fact that...it's Portal, what Aperture makes out of its robots doesn't really need to make sense. XD

    It was a great friendship/rivalry. I found it striking that at the end when the elevator doors open on the turrets I was scared, thinking that maybe she'd betrayed me after all.

    Huh. Interesting. I've heard that Chell might have a part in Half-Life as well, but know very little about the Half-Life universe.

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  3. That part where the elevator doors open on the turrets was absolutely brilliant. I definitely got an adrenaline rush then, too.

    (Also: Animal King turret! I rofl'd. That entire sequence was beautiful. It makes me wonder what the Enrichment Center would look like after Chell leaves, what GLaDOS would construct and program to amuse herself, assuming that's what she did with the "concert". Or maybe you were just passing through a level of the complex where the turrets had created their own autonomous society? Maybe the Enrichment Facility is now just a huge underground city inhabited by sentient robotics? Maybe I'm overthinking this?)

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  4. I watched the end sequence again recently and just, it was wonderful. The music makes me so happy. And I couldn't believe they put the Animal King in there. XD

    I honestly don't know! It sounds equally plausible that GlaDOS would make a giant orchestra for herself and that the turrets got autonomous and did it themselves. Anyway it'd be great fanfic material.

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  5. I should re-watch the end sequence. I should replay the game. But we've already discussed this. (I don't like repeating myself, is it obvious?) I'll do it when I'm not so bogged down with work.

    It's really making me think, now. I mean, considering how much of that place was abandoned, and how immensely large it is, it's not entirely out of the question that the testing area is just one small self-contained part of an immense subterranean labyrinth, and elsewhere Aperture's other creations have run amok creating their own pocket civilizations. Who knows, there could be an entire sector inhabited by Companion Cubes. *derp* It would be awesome fanfic fodder. Or at least a fun brain exercise.

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  6. Yeah, I'm not sure when I'm going to replay it either. But the end sequence is on YouTube.

    Huh. Those "pocket civilizations" would be really interesting. lol a group of companion cubes would be...very, very quiet.

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  7. I want a group of corrupted cores with Wheatley as their supreme overlord. *derp*

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