Games. Culture.

Why Aren’t There More Portals in the World

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Hey so I finally played the Portal games…

So the Portal games are pretty damn good, eh? Someone asked me a few days ago why I don’t just write about games I love so I’m gonna do just that, if only for a second.

I was going to introduce Portal just now, but then remembered I’m the last person in my immediate group to get around to it. It probably doesn’t need an introduction but I’ll do it anyways. Alright so Portal is a super low budget puzzle game from Valve that came bundled into The Orange Box ten years ago. The Orange Box featured the console debut of Half Life 2 Episodes One and Two as well as Team Fortress 2 so it was already kind of a big deal back in 2007 and way worth the price of entry. In order to sweeten the deal though, Valve threw together a little game about a testing grounds for a portal gun made by Aperture Science, a rival to Half Life’s very own Black Mesa. This testing grounds was home to a sociopathic AI known as Glados(stylized as GLaDOS) who designed each one of those chambers to be a damn tomb.

I think that’s about all you need to know. Did I mention the portal gun? Yes, I did? Okay, yeah I covered my bases.

Okay so my only complaints regarding the original are just how janky it feels but to be fair, most of the game seems like a last minute idea that got cobbled together so I should be satisfied that it even works, which it does magnificently. Occasionally though you could have a wider jump, or fit through things easier. Besides that, the game explores literally every possible thing you could do with just portals in about three hours and is carried by the “banter” you have with GLaDOS who will occasionally backhandedly comment on your ability to prevail. For example, just as you solve a puzzle where you must jump into a portal below you to propel yourself forward through the other, she compliments your mastery of momentum and suggests you use it to fling yourself at a wall. It’s a hilarious romp that feels just challenging enough to grant satisfaction upon completion without beating you over the head with it. When all is said and done, Portal is a pretty solid puzzle game carried by it’s thoroughness and funny writing. As a one and done kind of deal, this was probably the peak.

Which brings me to Portal 2.

Damn, this game is fantastic.

As of the time of this writing, I’ve not completed it yet because it’s substantially longer and I only got around to the game the week of Wolfenstein II and Super Mario Odyssey but what I have played so far is very encouraging. First of all, it’s a full budget title, which means this time around they brought out the big guns. Yeah, that’s right they brought out the light bridges! And Stephen Merchant! And environments that betray the hint of an identity besides plain old science. That’s about as far as I got, but it’s great nonetheless. What especially works is GLaDOS as an AI actually hellbent on your destruction. While she may have seemed aggressive in the first game, she takes it up quite a few notches following her resuscitation at the start of the game, with the framing of the sequel basically being GLaDOS’ revenge story. It’s pretty fair though because yeah, you murdered her but in your defense, yes she did try to murder you. Look no one here’s objectively good, but also you don’t say things like, “This next test involves turrets. You remember them, right? They’re the pale spherical things that are full of bullets. Oh wait, that’s you in five seconds. Good luck.” It really just piles character on top of a character who already owned the stage and it feels good to have a lively character in a game again.

GLaDOS is a tyrant and it’s the best thing about the games.

No but seriously, considering how thoroughly they exploited the portals in the first, it was only natural that in order to throw obstacles our way, they had to introduce entirely new things. I know from footage that came out six years ago that there are also paints that make you jump higher or slide across quickly and can only imagine how difficult some of the endgame puzzles must be. It excites me to be genuinely challenged by a game, which brings to mind a question.

Am I just not looking or do games like this just not actually exist? More importantly if these games do exist, what are they? Last I heard, Portal was considered a classic and Portal 2, one of the best sequels and games ever made. I’m done waiting for Valve to make another, so why haven’t there been more “knockoffs” since?

Obviously the Portal series does exist and I recall playing a Portal-like that was very good called Quantum Conundrum many moons ago. The Witness is one that comes to mind, but that game often feels like it lacks the character to make me want to sit through Portal. When I say “games like this”, I don’t just mean a first person puzzler but a game filled to the brim with ideas ready to challenge and excite players while also delivering the top of the line characters that not only is this short series known for but have been part of the single player renaissance as of late. In other words, I want a game ass game.

Is it that they don’t look like Portal? I’ve heard many a person talk to me about this Danganronpa series which apparently is a murder mystery set in a school and you have to deduce who did it through conversations with your peers and close observation. Apparently there are some top of the line characters in these games and feature puzzle solving that bring out the best, but mostly the worst in them. However, it’s not a mechanics heavy game, it’s a visual novel. What I think we’re seeing is developers taking cues from Portal but taking them in their own direction, which is novel and great…but I’d also like to see another Portal game just to have fun with physics while being chastised by a homicidal robot. Isn’t that what we all want?

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