This week, Morgan reviews Portal 2, mainly as motivation to get out of bed in the morning

You know me, I consider the day wasted if I haven’t discovered three plots to kill me by lunchtime. At worst, the whole week is a bust if I can’t play a game that involves obliterating fifteen terrorists or aliens or mutant goat people or whatever per half-hour. 

This instalment of Time Well Wasted serves as a historical landmark; the one and only puzzle game I’ve ever played all the way through. 

When hearing this startling revelation, chances are many of my associates quickly checked out of their windows to make sure we weren’t also about to crash into the sun. Puzzle games require patience and I’m not exactly known for it; it’s one of my biggest weaknesses after my inability to stop sending junk mail ads for psychic mediums to the widow of Derek Acorah. Ergo, having me play a puzzle game would presumably be like walking into the lion pen wearing a suit made of lamb chops after shampooing my hair with barbecue sauce. 

But surprisingly enough, Portal 2 left me in a relaxed state of borderline zen-like calm: I didn’t lose my temper once whilst playing and when I spotted that cat traipsing across my lawn with that smug look on its face, I could barely summon the rage required to kick it to death. Granted, I doubt the developer, Valve, set out to make something that can be used to determine whether I’ll end up as a domestic abuser or not, but my gut tells me that as a puzzle game, this will be a tough one to write a coherent opening statement for.

I enjoyed Portal 2, but you’re going to be disappointed if you’re expecting good puzzles.  

“…does your gut want to be a bit clearer on that, Morgan?”

Well, I don’t want to push it, we had Iceland-brand tofu enchiladas last night. 

It would seem rather obvious that good puzzles are what a puzzle game lives or dies on. I’ve played this game once before at the age of twelve, my worldly outlook not yet tainted by the knowledge of constant war in the Middle East or that I’d be doing an English Language A-Level five years from then. 

The plot is, you are the classic Valve-brand gormless mute (see Half-Life 2, a sign that in six years, Valve moved precisely nowhere in this department), who’s spent thousands of years in suspended animation after hitting the snooze button one too many times. Naturally, the abandoned science facility around you, given your scientifically-induced coma and a lay-off of good cleaning staff, has been seriously screwed. Woken up hundreds of years later by a small robot that resembles an alternate universe where Apple had a crack at making one of those puzzle ball things, you escape your chambers and thus puzzles and hilarity ensue.

And I mean that seriously; Portal 2 does indeed have a good sense of humour. Perhaps I feel the need to clarify this, mainly due to the condition I have that’s medically named “resting bitch prose”, but you know the dialogue is good when an in-game character becomes one of your favourites of all time despite having no physical appearance whatsoever (see Cave Johnson, played by one and only JK “voice-like-a-dark-chocolate-Darth Vader” Simmons). 

The main gameplay loop is far from complex; the aim of each puzzle is to use your “portal gun” on white, flat surfaces to get to the next one. They occasionally toss in a new feature such as a laser bridge, reflective cubes and some sort of rays that can beam you up 60s UFO-style, but the objective in that regard is just to increase the difficulty. Or at least supposed to. 

(Slightly ominous cliff-hanger sentence established, now onto the explanation.)

My biggest problem is that it’s all just a bit too easy. It takes a monumental bound over the line between “familiarity from the first playthrough” and “just pissing about”, to the extent that I only died twice in a roughly seven-hour story mode. And one of those deaths was just me getting desperate on one of the few difficult puzzles towards the end. Most of the time, any semblance of challenge only rears its head when you’ve entered a cavernous room or massive landscape that are supposed to be parts of the facility beyond the standard test chambers. Again, everything is beautifully designed, but they feel the need to have you appreciate the effort by forcing an in-depth search of every wall and ceiling for the single three-foot-wide patch you can stick a portal on. 

There’s an online multiplayer as well, but it doesn’t have much replay value. You can use toggled keys to point out certain areas or give commands to the other player, in the event you aren’t on a voice chat together. But the fact that you only get a specific few chambers for two players and that’s it has the potential to easily make things unbearable. Anyone who’s played before will be annoyed at the other taking too long to solve the puzzle, and anyone who’s new won’t appreciate not being given any time to work it out for themselves. The community’s trying its best by offering out custom maps as downloadable mods, bless them, but the pool will dry up eventually. Then it’s either playing the story mode again or fucking off back to Team Fortress 2

The age rating of “12” informs the consumer that there’s nothing in there likely to offend the conservative Christian nutcases out there, Portal; it’s not a recommendation of skill level like those on Lego sets. Make the puzzles harder if you want, so what if thirteen-year-old me wouldn’t be able to do it? I only bought it in the first place because it had a picture of some robots on the front, for God’s sake. I’d just find something else to do at that age, like weep silently into my math homework until the ink runs.