by Matthew Thompson
(I am counting down my 25 favorite games of the last console generation. I explain a little about how I put the list together in this introduction. And you can see a collection of all my articles on the Best of 7th Gen compiled here.)
Puzzle-focused adventure games have become rarer over the years. In general, the 7th generation of consoles pushed games in a more action-oriented direction. Even the revival of old-school point-and-click adventure games headed away from puzzles in favor of a greater focus on narrative and choice. So it is with wide-open arms I welcomed Portal to the gaming world.
I think most gamers are familiar with Portal at this point. As silent protagonist Chell you are tasked with finding your way out of various test rooms at the Aperture Science Laboratories with the help of your handy Portal gun, all the while guided by the now infamous GlaDOS. The puzzles are genuinely brainteasing. They made me think in ways a game hadn’t before through its clever use of physics and the way it had you manipulating the portals in ingenious ways. The game slowly builds up to an eventual escape attempt with GlaDOS growing increasingly antagonistic throughout and a sense of humor that is as smart as its mind-bending gameplay. It was excellent and I wouldn’t blame anyone for preferring this brief original adventure to its sequel, but for me Portal 2 ups the ante giving me more of what I loved about the first game while adding things I didn’t even know I wanted.
Many sequels set out to be bigger and better than their predecessors and Portal 2 largely succeeds in this goal. It dwarfs the original from a content standpoint. That means more headscratching puzzles. Portal 2 builds on the tools you had access to in the original with a host of new additions. Take the gels for instance. Cover a surface with these and you’ll be able run at high speeds or bounce your way through areas. These add more depth to some of gaming’s most intelligent puzzles. A bigger game means more laughs too. GlaDOS is back of course, but is joined this go around by the uproarious Wheatley and Cave Johnson played perfectly by Stephen Merchant and J.K. Simmons respectively. The result is one of the funniest games you will ever have the pleasure of playing through.
Perhaps what separates Portal 2 from the first game the most is the game’s separate co-op campaign. It is astounding how much trickier things get when you throw a second set of portals into the mix. It really amplifies the amount of critical thinking involved. Combine this with coordinating your actions with another player and it really takes things to a whole new level. There really isn’t anything quite like Portal 2’s co-op mode and the result is one of my all-time favorite cooperative gaming experiences.
Whether you are after a game that will make you use your noggin or a quality narrative, the Portal series delivers. While the second game may not have had the same splashy impact the first did, I think it largely bests it in most areas that matter landing it a coveted spot on my list of last gen’s top games at number nine.
A couple more things:
- If the second game didn’t exist, the first would be on this list but somewhere lower. Both are must-plays though.
- “BECAUSE I’M A POTATO.” An endlessly quotable series. Here is a link to a ton of GlaDOS lines.
- I guess this is as good a place as any to mention that The Orange Box was amazing! I had never played Half-Life 2 and it is now one of my favorite FPS games ever. Also really enjoyed the two episodes. Never got into Team Fortress 2, but the package overdelivered already with the Half-Life stuff and Portal.