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Portal 2: A Sequel Done Right

In 2007, a company called Irrational Games made Bioshock, a first person shooter with a dash of RPG elements. It had a unique setting, an interesting story, and solid atmosphere, and it ended up being a big hit.

Fast-forward three years later and 2K Games, the company that published Bioshock, developed Bioshock 2. Its gameplay was largely unchanged from the original Bioshock formula with only a few minor alterations, and it made a bit of a hash out of the story of Bioshock 1. Bioshock 1 didn’t really allow for a sequel, and so they had to squeeze in retcons and contrivances in order to make it all work, and Bioshock 2 ultimately failed to make the lightning strike again.

This happens quite commonly in the gaming industry.  The publishers see a game succeed and decide to churn out more and more installments of the same game until it stops making them money, and the franchise inevitably loses its appeal.

I’m not saying all sequels are inherently bad though. If you do a sequel properly, it won’t diminish the effect of the first game, and will instead bring it to new levels of entertainment and depth. And luckily for me, Valve just gave me a perfect example of this: Portal 2.

You probably already know all about Portal 1 if you’re even remotely connected to the gaming community. It was a small game, but it got awards hurled at it from every direction and deserved every single one of them. And after beating its new sequel, I’m very happy to announce that Valve really has managed to make the Portal lightning strike twice, which doesn’t surprise me because they already succeeded years ago in making the Half-Life lightning strike twice.

And I’m gonna go ahead and clue you in on how Valve does it. When they decide to make a sequel, they don’t treat the first game as a template with which to base the sequel around entirely. They treat the original game as a sort of jumping-off point for a whole new game with new concepts, a new story, and new technology. They expand on the scope of the previous game in order to make it feel like a brand new experience, rather than just “more of the same.”

(Okay, maybe that’s not so much the case with Left 4 Dead 2, but hey, no one is perfect, right?)

Anyway, I have a feeling a lot of people were probably worried that Portal 2 wouldn’t live up to the glory of its predecessor. After all, Portal 1 is considered by many to be one of the best games ever, and not just by the people who call everything either the best game ever or the worst game ever.

But while I wouldn’t really put Portal 1 on that high of a pedestal, I wouldn’t hesitate for a moment to do so for Portal 2. This game is easily one of my top 5 favorite games now. It charmed and delighted me from start to finish, and I can recall at least one sequence in the first half that was the most thrilling gaming experience I’ve had in a long time.

Some people are saying that Portal 2 is good but not as good as its predecessor. I guess that’s inevitable. Whenever you have a popular game, movie, book, album, or whatever, and its creators make a sequel (or in the case of music, I guess just another album) there will always, always be fans that say the first one was better, no matter what. That’s the first lesson they teach you at Hipster 101. But from my own personal experience, I found Portal 2 to be superior to Portal 1 in every conceivable way, and I know I’m not the only one.

I was about to go on a list of ways in which the sequel is better, but it probably would have sounded just like what Shamus said in the link I just posted, so I’m going to mention something he didn’t: music. If I recall correctly, Portal 1 didn’t utilize music very much. It had a little bit of background music that played throughout a few parts of the game, but it wasn’t used as thoroughly or as effectively as in Portal 2. They used music all the time in this new game to make suspenseful moments more suspenseful, exciting moments more exciting, and spectacular moments more spectacular.

I know that complimenting the music in a game normally means the reviewer is desperately trying to think of positive things to say about a crappy game, but in this case it pretty much just adds more entertainment to an already fantastic game.

Anyway, as if you needed to hear it from me, this game is awesome. If you’re into puzzles and narrative in games, then you owe it to yourself to get it. And I’d recommend you get it for the PS3 or the PC, since the two platforms are compatible with one another. It’s fine on the 360 too, of course.

And if I could give one tip to help you enjoy Portal 2: DO NOT READ OR WATCH ANY REVIEWS FOR THE GAME UNTIL AFTER YOU’VE BEATEN IT. Excluding this one, of course.

I watched the Gamespot and Escapist reviews for Portal 2 after I beat it, and both of them contained spoilers. This is not the kind of game you want spoiled for you. Seriously.

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4 responses

  1. Kevin

    PORTAL 2 has what i would consider some of the best characterization of all time! i mean you only get to here onesided conversations for each character but Valve found a way to define great character just by that! there are no stupid backstory sequences or any HEY YOU SHOULD TOTALLY EMPHASIZE WITH THIS CHARACTER BECAUSE WE TOLD YOU TOO. there is only creative dialogue that tells you everything you need to know (with a few wall messages here and there) but oh my fucking god do you really get into the characters personalities! WHEATLY has to be one of my favorite characters of all time (right up there with Fenris form DA2)it is easy to make a moron character that is funny, but it is near impossible to do a chraming moron that isnt funny because hes a moron. i have to give credit to valve for the writing but my god did Stephen Merchant do some amazing voice acting! anyway if you havent already go get portal 2! like right now! seriously!……..have you got it yet?

    April 23, 2011 at 2:43 PM

    • JPH

      I’m not sure if you’re talking to me or to people who read the comment in general, but if you are talking to me, then yeah, of course I’ve gotten it…

      April 24, 2011 at 12:00 AM

  2. Pingback: Fantasy Fulfillment « Ninja Game Den

  3. Fang

    My only problem with Portal 2 is that while the first game had a few set-routes that the developer knew the average player had to follow it didn’t show them. All the walls(save for a few) had Portal surfaces on them. While in Portal 2 it became more of a “Find the white squares, look at what tools they gave you, reach entrance following the path the developer showed you”.

    Now that being said I loved Portal 1 and 2. Easily in my top 10.

    May 16, 2011 at 7:49 PM

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