May 19

Emptyeye’s Excellent Portal Excursion, Part 4/Post-Mortem

While I was setting up to try my pretty-sure-it-was-not-at-all-what-the-developers-intended solution to my conundrum from last entry, I decided to head back into the actual chamber that was giving me an issue and see if maybe there was something I had been missing.

Naturally, there was, and the solution presented itself when I took a second look. Then I was disheartened to find another execution-based puzzle awaiting me right after it. I got through it, though, and actually managed to skip one of the platforms along the way. My solution involved getting up to the platform, then portaling back to the beginning of the chamber using that one portal, and basically doing this, one platform at a time, until my momentum allowed me to see and shoot at the “ramp” type platform to get me through.

Now at this point, please consider that I knew the storyline of the game going in, and I knew I would get to wreck GlaDOS at some point. Having this knowledge in advance, combined with just wanting to get the job done already, probably influenced my opinion on the end of the game.

Because the last test chamber (And here I’m referring to everything up to and including the destruction of GlaDOS) was, to me, not as fun as the rest of the game, but more on that in a bit. I kept playing it, and I ran into “LOADING….” three times. Nothing in it really stumped me for more than a minute or two…nothing in it came close to stumping me like chamber 18 did (The problem with the structure of the game is, again, that shock where you think the end isn’t really the end. While the last chamber was certainly creepy as you crawled around behind-the-scenes, the fact remains that chamber 18 was really the “final exam” chamber, and while the behind-the-scenes stuff introduced some action elements, there wasn’t anything new puzzle-wise. Once the creepiness wore off, I very much felt like “Okay do I get to wreck GlaDOS yet? How about now? How about now?”), which kept me from getting frustrated and all, but Portal is, to me, a puzzle game at its core. Having seen everything it could throw at me from that perspective, I kept waiting for the point where I got to wreck GlaDOS, and it kept not coming until I finally gave up and went to bed, three hours after I had started playing for the day (Part of this was spent in Chamber 18, yes).

Naturally, I picked the game up the next night to discover that I would have, in fact, found GlaDOS had I continued down the hallway I was in when I stopped. The endgame was here! I’ll admit that the final “battle” took me a couple tries, although I figured out what I had to do pretty quickly (One time I stupidly got missiled; another time, I stupidly stepped forward a bit too far and incinerated myself). I’ll also admit that I was nervous as I dropped the Anger Sphere into the incinerator, because I knew I didn’t have enough time to drop another piece in there. Luckily, that was the end of the game.

So what do I think? My opinion is honestly the exact opposite of pretty much everyone else who played the game. The game started out absolutely brilliant, and stayed that way until the post-test chambers, where it started to wear out its welcome with me (Who knows if I’d feel like this had I not stopped right before GlaDOS). Now, part of this was probably being semi-spoiled about what happens at the end, combined with everyone from the Skype chat I mentioned earlier to Ben “Yahtzee” Crenshaw Croshaw saying “The game is perfect, its only flaw is that it’s too short!”. But the other part is that the game set certain expectations for how long each level was going to be throughout it. They gradually ramp up the length, then in the “post” chamber section yank the knob off. I encountered three “LOADING…” screens just in the post-chamber part, after encountering them only in the elevator sections before that. So yes, that’s my sacrilegious opinion: Portal is not too short; if anything, its endgame is too long. And yes, the memes are irritating and the weakest part of the game. I went over the Companion Cube in a previous entry, but “The cake is a lie” had no impact on me whatsoever as well. For one, it may have been creepier had it been written in blood like the “HELP” in Chamber 16. For another, the cake was obviously a lie from the time GlaDOS flat out stated, “You will be baked, and then there will be cake.” You escape the baking, hence, no cake for you. You don’t need the message after that telling you such. I could go into various logical things here too, but I get the feeling the rebuttal is “GlaDOS really wanted you to get that far and destroy her”, which the lyrics of “Still Alive” seem to support.

Still, it’s a fun game, worth playing if you haven’t had the gameplay spoiled for you already. The gameplay is really really good, even brilliant. I can also appreciate the technical achievement of the gameplay, both in the “place portals that teleport you from one to the other” concept, as well as being able to see what’s on the other side of the portals. That goes double for when you can see both Portals and you get this infinity effect from looking at yourself through the portals.

Is it a great game? Yes. Do I understand why it’s as popular as it is? Honestly, not really. Yeah, its great, and quirky and different, but those things are usually the kiss of sales death for a game–the game I’m working on speedrunning right now, Magician, was the last game Taxan ever published, presumably due to poor sales (Although Eurocom, its developer, is still around). And yeah, it had a big company behind it, but even that isn’t enough sometimes–Nightshade had no less than Ultra Games, a subsidiary of Konami behind it, and had you ever heard of it before now?

In talking to some of the other people on Skype, the answer we arrived at was “It piggybacked off of the popularity of two established franchises.” See, Portal debuted in The Orange Box, which also heralded the debut of two highly-anticipated sequels: Half-Life 2 Episode 2, and Team Fortress 2. Portal is a fun game and all, but without that initial “Oh yeah here’s this other game in this big collection you may like it” push it got from that, it’s almost a guarantee that I’m not sitting here writing about it, my resistance to it, or my being flat-out wrong about how it is in relation to its reputation.

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