Happy ten year anniversary, Portal 2

Who I am
Philippe Gloaguen
@philippegloaguen
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How has it been a decade already?

The year is 2022, and the haunting distant sounds of the Aperture installation echo through our unfinished basement. My brother is at basketball practice, I have Xbox free reign. I've spent the last half hour trying to solve this puzzle, but I don't get up until I solve it. “Hello, who is there? the turrets chirp at me.



They always scared me a bit, but I put it aside and… aha! I climb to the highest platform in the room, throw myself down with reckless abandon, and drop my portal at the last second. Now I soar through the air and gracefully land in front of the exit. I pump my fist, celebrating my victory and feeling like the smartest kid alive.

Back when Portal 2 was first released, you couldn't escape it. Much like Minecraft or Fortnite, it was one of those games that was everywhere. T-shirts, stuffed animals, LEGO, stuff like that. My ninth-grade science teacher even had the Aperture Science safety posters on her classroom wall, which always gave me a fun read when I was bored in class.

Even as someone who was only tangentially familiar with games at the time, I knew what Portal 2 was. co-op was all over YouTube. Portal 2 wasn't just a game, it was a cultural touchstone and has become as important a part of gaming history as Call of Duty or GTA.


Of course, that could be said of almost every Valve game. Their catalog is one of the most impressive: Team Fortress, Half-Life, Dota, Left 4 Dead, Counter-Strike. Basically, everything they touch turns to gold – especially Steam, but more on that later.


That being said, all these years later, when I went to replay Portal 2, I was like, "This sure can't be as good as I remember." I was so, so wrong.

After learning that a close friend of mine had never played it before, a small group of us decided it was worth watching him struggle through the puzzles as we came face to face back -plan. Plus, nothing says quarantine like a game where you're trapped in a science facility, right?

I was so impressed with how the game held up, I decided to look up when it came out. April 18, 2022. Shit, ten whole years? It's pretty hard to believe, to the point that if someone erased my memory and told me she was coming out today, I'd probably fall for it.

When I first picked up Portal 2 upon release, I had never heard of the series before. I really didn't play much either, as it was published when I was too busy with my nose in young adult books.

But I saw an ad for Portal 2 on TV, and I knew right away that it was something I wanted to try. So I saved my money and bought a copy to play on my brother's xbox 360 I don't remember much about this game other than I couldn't play it while I was home alone , because they nailed the strange, liminal feeling of the environments that frightened me if no one else was around. It was crazy to feel this feeling rushing back to me, now sitting in my own apartment.



So when we decided to play again, I was super excited about it. There's nothing better than a game that you really remember loving, but that's all you remember. It's like having a clean slate to be able to enjoy it again for the first time.

And enjoy, I did. Within the first minute or so we were already laughing and I can't stress enough how much I love the work of writers Erik Wolpaw and Jay Pinkerton. There's this quick, witty humor that I never get tired of. The volume of jokes is already incredible, but the number of jokes that land is even more (that's all).

One of my favorite jokes happens as the game teaches you the controls early on, but I won't spoil it for anyone who hasn't had the privilege of playing it yet. I just appreciate that Portal 2 uses everything at its disposal to make you laugh, from the tutorial to the chapter titles to the achievements.

For me though, I think my favorite part of the game is Stephen Merchant's performance as the silly AI Wheatley, the sequel's newest addition to the series' minimal cast. Merchant is a prominent British comedian, best known for his appearance in the English (and original) version of The Office.

Valve designed and wrote the Wheatley character specifically with Merchant in mind, as he was just too perfect for the job, which is obvious to anyone who's played him. In an interview with IGN, Merchant said he accepted the role without giving it much thought, but when he started talking to his friends about the role, he began to understand the kind of pressure he was under. “I was petrified,” he tells the interviewer, “what if I blow it? »



As I'm sure you can assume from what you've read so far, it actually didn't blow. His comedic timing and delivery are always perfect, plus the fact that every time he launches into off-the-cuff monologues (which is often) they're still just as random and hilarious yet perfectly in character.

The real dramatic challenge of Wheatley's arc, however, is being both wacky and silly while being manic, which Merchant nails once again. Being a lovable villain is a fine line to walk, but Wheatley pulls it off, just like GlaDOS before him.

As much as I could go on and on about Merchant's brilliance, I also have to give props to Ellen McLain's return as GlaDOS, as well as Cave Johnson's JK Simmons portrayal. The perfect cast is a theme with Valve (especially since they have enough money to get whoever they want for a role), and the writing always allows the actors' undeniable talent to shine.

The introduction of the Cave and Caroline characters, and the deep dive into Aperture's story, was such an interesting way to give the game a new flavor while still staying true to the feel of the original and expanding the lore of the world. time.

[Image Credit: YouTube user AmbiAnts]

The engagement, humor and ease of these performances are truly impressive and enough to cement the game's place as one of the best ever in my book. But voice acting is just one aspect of what makes Portal 2 so amazing.

The visuals also hold up well, which is partly due to the fact that there isn't really anyone on screen at any point. Attempts at photorealistic human faces seem to age the fastest in my opinion, so avoiding them all together certainly helps.

Even so, Valve seemed to be opting for a stylized version of reality that feels immersive and realistic, but doesn't look so cartoony that it takes you away from it. In our playthrough, I think the only sign of aging we saw was some textures showing up, but that was pretty minor.

Like the performance, another aspect that will always age like fine wine is the base game design itself. The puzzles are ridiculously, incredibly fun. I'm so glad I don't remember any of them, because I had so much fun trying to solve them again.

I remember thinking that I wish we had more momentum-based puzzle games, because there's a certain thrill to throwing yourself off a high platform to be catapulted out. The fact that the game's field of view is first-person makes it all the more exciting.

Not only did the designers intuitively use the core portal mechanics, there are so many other mechanics added, including some from the original game like cubes, emancipation grids, and turrets, as well as new ones like plates. of faith, the different types of gel, light bridges, excursion funnels, lasers, etc.

The thing about all of these different elements that impressed me so much is how they are organically introduced and used as the puzzles increase in difficulty. When we got to the final puzzles, I was quite shocked at how many different pieces we were using to solve and how they all fit together so well. Valve, the color impressed me, even after all these years.

Even when everything else fades and what looked shiny and new feels dated, this game design will still be fun and exciting, which to me is what sets a good game apart from a really great game.

The craziest part of this is that early in development, Valve was exploring other types of puzzle mechanics other than portals. In an interview with Fast Company right after the game's release, Wolpaw revealed that he thought there might be more to explore in the Portal franchise, but they "discovered through playtesting that people wanted portals in their Portal 2 – and GlaDOS, and all the vibe. of the first game. Thanks to the testers, whoever you are.

I know I've spent all this time talking about Portal 2's impeccable single-player game design, but I also have to give a shout out for the co-op mode. There was no greater joy than dropping your buddy to his doom or crushing him in this puzzle of a maze (you know that one) and I'll always be chasing that level.

[Image Credit: GameSpot]

The other thing I thought about was the length of Portal 2 – its runtime was around eight hours. I feel like recently there's this idea in the games industry that the bigger the game, the better. Just look at the hype surrounding game worlds like Cyberpunk, The Witcher or GTA V.

I think a good example of playtime inflation is Naughty Dog's Last of Us series: the first game would last you about twelve hours, while the sequel would last between 25 and 30 hours. Doubling the original's runtime thereafter was a selling point during Part II's marketing campaign last year, and touting a game's long runtime seems to be growing. common these days.

Now that's not to say these games are necessarily worse because they're bigger or longer, it's just that when I was playing Portal 2 I couldn't help but notice how much the experience was tight and refined. As a writer, I was so impressed because every line a character said was amazing — every joke landed, every emotional beat hit.

It was like if you took a sentence out of a character, you'd miss something big. Spending hundreds of hours into a game can truly be a blast, but sometimes I can't help but wish for shorter games that pack a hard punch in a smaller window.

I've played a lot of games, but I really can't think of a studio that has Valve's control over game design. The people who worked on Portal, and so many other titles, are truly the best in the business, and they have the success of their IPs to prove. That's why it's such a shame that Valve walked away from game development.

Steam, Valve's digital video game distribution service, was launched in September 2003. Initially, it served as a platform to distribute updates to their own games, and soon grew to also offer games from third-party publishers.

In the early years after Steam was created, only publishers could showcase their games, but that all changed in 2022 with the introduction of the Steamworks SDK. From then on, anyone could put their games on sale, which revolutionized the video game industry. Without Steam, the indie scene wouldn't be as successful and vibrant as it is today, thanks to the ingenuity of Valve.

By 2022, Valve had taken over 75% of the market space for the digital distribution of PC games, and by 2022 users purchasing games through Steam had soared to over $4,3 billion. Yeah, it's a billion with a "b".

When you think about it, it makes perfect sense that Valve isn't making games anymore. Developing games is incredibly expensive, risky, and takes a ton of work. Building something like Steam is basically every company's dream – it's low maintenance but generates maximum profit. This means they don't have to crack or worry about whether they're going to get a return on their investment during the development cycle.

But at the same time, it's an incredible shame that the studio has decided to turn away from games as its primary focus. Thanks to Valve's track record, the talent of their developers, and the fan's enthusiasm for the highly anticipated sequels, it seems impossible for them to fail. Bringing them out of the spotlight makes it look like Tony Stark decided against making the Iron Man suit because it wasn't profitable, but what can we do?

Sure, Valve has released a few games over the past few years, like Dota Underlords and Half-Life: Alyx. These more recent titles have had mixed results (looking at you Artifact), but it's hard to say Valve has lost touch when making games isn't its focus in the first place.

Players seem to be hoping with every new announcement, only to be disappointed when their next release isn't the full game we're all hoping for. Part of me wishes they would go all out or stop developing altogether, just to save us heartache.

Still, I don't think I'm alone in saying that Valve's games will forever be remembered as some of the greatest of all time. From Team Fortress to Half-Life to Left 4 Dead, these games lifted us up, in a way. Hell, Portal 2 is the game that taught me how to use two-stick controls.

I'll definitely be secretly hoping that Valve makes an epic comeback to game development, but even if it doesn't, I have a lot of fond memories to look back on, and I'm grateful. Happy birthday, Portal 2.

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