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Dénouement 2011: Portal 2

By Shamus
on Thursday Dec 22, 2011
Filed under:
Video Games



Like this post, Portal 2 was just too dang short. The puzzles were probably too easy. People claim the multiplayer aspect fixes this. I don’t know. By the time I was ready for multiplayer, my friends had finished it already. There didn’t seem to be much point in running through these and having them watch me solve old puzzles, so I still haven’t played with anyone else. Let us set team play aside and focus on the single player experience.

This was a perfect game. From beginning to end, this game was a delight. I laughed at the jokes. I was charmed by the characters. I was surprised by the plot twist[s], and I reveled in the atmosphere. There was never a moment where I stopped having fun, or was annoyed by the game, or a joke fell flat, or the experience was ruined by some bug. Like I said: Perfect.

Portal 2 was cheaper than Skyrim, but both were priced as AAA games. Yet in the time I’ve spent getting to know Skyrim, I could have run through Portal 2 about 30 times. Which is better: The perfect snack, or a six-course dinner where the bread was stale, the waiter dumped your drink in your lap, and you find a chicken bone in the soup? I don’t know. I guess it depends on how hungry you are.

After the credits rolled, I was ready to give Portal 2 my Game of the Year. Now I don’t think I could give that honor to any single game. The trade-off between quantity and quality is a perilous one, and there is a right answer. As a consumer, I obviously always want my games to have both excellence and playtime. I want both, always, as much as possible. The only hard rule I have is that a game really ought to have one or the other.

Having said that: We could do with a few more perfect games.

Comments (113)

  1. aunshi says:

    Maybe it’s unfair to always compare things to their preprocessors but I didn’t find Portal 2 quite as perfect as Portal. Still a great game but just lacking in some of the charm and excitement of the first game.

    On the metaphor for Skyrim I’d be inclined to say the bread was divine but the dessert somewhat lacking, but then I have been consistently disappointed by the endings of games in the past few years.

    • Destrustor says:

      Skyrim is like a huge feast where everything is delicious but you’re told you’ll only get to eat from it once, so you try to sample a little of everything but there’s just too many dishes and you end up eating way too much and then you regret it.

      • SharpeRifle says:

        Heh on the PC The Elder Scroll games are like a banquet where halfway through someone says “That soup sucked be right back” and returns with their homemade soup from the kitchen….making you start the meal allll over again.

    • EwgB says:

      There is an ending? Actually, there is a story? “Can’t save world, must become guild leader of every guild evar!”
      I have played the last three Elder Scrolls games extensively and several times, without having finished even one of them, not even close. But I find it awesome that they actually let you play the game any way you want, not the way the developers want. It breaks immersion though, completely taking away any sense of urgency. But the only game I know that managed to pull off such a spread was Fallout (the original one). You had a slow timer running all the time (it was 108 in-game days I believe), but during that time you could do whatever the hell you wanted (getting killed by random encounters most of the time probably).

      • aunshi says:

        I had to get to the ending because the Thieves’ Guild, Companions and a few other quests bugged out and wouldn’t let me finish them.

        No I don’t play on the PC :(

      • swenson says:

        I’m quickly coming to realize that is the only way to play an Elder Scrolls game. Late to the party, I know, but I only just started playing Oblivion in the last year, and I must say that the guild storylines are a whole lot more compelling and interesting than the main storyline, Thieves’ Guild in particular.

        • Ringwraith says:

          Skyrim’s made quite a few leaps in the main plot department, as it’s significantly better than Oblivion’s, at least up to the point at where I’m at.
          Although not started any of the guilds as my first and current character doesn’t really fit into any of them.

        • Daimbert says:

          I’m in the same boat as you are (just starting Oblivion now) and I accidentally ended up on the main quest for a short time by looking for a shop to relieve some of my encumberance. But it let me get off, and now I’m wandering around ignoring anything that looks like the main plot to do a few other things. When I run out of things to do, then I’ll go back to the main plot. Right now I’m praying at the nine shrines; we’ll see how that goes.

          What’s nice about this that wasn’t so nice in Morrowind is that it’s more obvious what the quests are, so you spend less time simply wandering around hoping to stumble across something to do. So I’m actually enjoying it now.

          • tengokujin says:

            It took over 300 hours, but that’s exactly what I’ve done for Skyrim. I did every single “unique” side-quest (some of them multiple times) and then went on to defeat Alduin in Sovngarde. 240 hours in, I decided to mod my game… and added 80+ mods. I couldn’t believe how much prettiness I’d been missing. :p

            Anyway, now it’s burnout time. I can’t stand to look at this game for a few months now, at least. :p

        • modus0 says:

          They are, however, far shorter than they probably should be.

          I mean, it probably takes 1-2 weeks, in game time, to go progress to the head position of any guild.

          Why your character, a newbie to any guild ends up heading the guild when there are people who are more qualified for the position by a factor of years if not decades, doesn’t make much sense.

          Though one of the Thieves’ Guild quests is made rather hilarious if you’ve already completed the Mages’ Guild questline.

          • Ringwraith says:

            Although most guild questlines usually have explanations for the rising the ranks so quickly, especially starting from Oblivion, as the quests are much more tied together into a plot rather than lots and lots of unconnected missions and the main plot only coming in in the higher ranks.

    • Someone says:

      I also thought it wasn’t quite on par with the first one: the humor has gotten a bit formulaic (you go out of the elevator – joke, you partially solve a puzzle – joke, you get into the elevator – joke), the focus shifted from solving puzzles to wandering through elaborate environments, the puzzles never really seemed to progress past getting used to the newest setpiece and some of the story and characterization was a bit lax (for being designed to make bad decisions Wheatley seems to be handling himself quite well).

      Still one of the best games of the year though.

      • ps238principal says:

        People would complain if all the jokes were happening while you were concentrating on playing, don’t you think? Not to mention the jokes were woven into the narrative, for the most part. Besides, it took place at a facility run by a homicidal A.I. replaced by an idiot A.I. built by an unstable and immoral CEO. How could there NOT be jokes, or at least dark humor, around every corner?

        As for Wheatley, he wasn’t doing well at all. Left to his own devices, he’d have kept building more “walking cubes” that didn’t work until the facility’s reactor exploded. This all assumes the “testing itch” didn’t eventually drive him completely nuts.

        • Someone says:

          Perhaps, but I feel like the quantity overshadowed the quality. My issue is that there is a quip almost EVERY TIME you start or finish a room, and very often when you finish a part of the room. After a while it just becomes tiresome, really.

          Yes, Wheatley didn’t do a very good job of replacing Glados, but prior to that he was quite adequate at guiding you through the complex. It certainly didn’t seem to me like he ALWAYS made the worst possible decision in a situation, in fact he made quite a few good ones, which contradicts his alleged purpose.

          • Josh R says:

            I don’t think using one test subject to try to overthrow omnipotent AI is a very good strategy.

            Even if it does always seem to work in videogames.

          • Kyte says:

            Most of his “good decisions” during the second half of the game were subservient to the Grand Major Bad Decision that was not actually addressing the reactor problem. I believe his very competent at failing.

    • Wayoffbase says:

      I picked up the first portal when steam had it for free a few months ago. I liked it so much that I played through a second time with the developer commentary on, went back and tried to do a bunch of the achievements, then bought the sequel for $15 (I would have paid full price if it wasn’t on sale.) It may have lacked the originality and charm that comes from being new and mysterious that the first one had, but Portal 2 was the first and only game that ever made me think “This might be the best game I have ever played.”

      I picked up Skyrim on launch day for full price, and it was just so huge and detailed and… shiny. The feeling I got from Skyrim was “I can’t believe they only charged me $60 for this,” but I was never tempted to call it the best game ever.

      I’ve got 12 hours in Portal 2, and 200 in Skyrim. I have thought about it a lot, and it is like apples and oranges; there is no way compare the two.

  2. FryGuy says:

    While it’s a shame that your friends did co-op before you got to, skipping that part of Portal 2 is doing is disservice to yourself. Seriously, ask around on here if you have to, if someone hasn’t played it or if it’s been long enough they can’t remember anything. You really should try it.

    You’ll be glad you did!

    • Arjen says:

      Actaully, I haven’t played the multiplayer yet. Hmmm…

      • Erik says:

        Me neither :)

        same problem shamus had actually. By the time i got around to finishing the single player, everyone i know already finished the multiplayer.

        • Usually_Insane says:

          It seems you’ll have a lot of volunteers to choose from, and I agree with FryGuy, the cooperative experience is wonderful, I myself played all the courses with my brother :) we had a merry old time figuring them out (and teasing each other, light bridges over murky water and all that :) ).

          Anyway, although I’ve already experienced the game fully I’d happily do them again.

          Also, what does denoument mean?

          • Peter H. Coffin says:

            Literally? “Unraveling” I think. Conceptually? It’s the finishing part of dramatic structure in western storytelling. Like in Romeo and Juliet, at the end, R & J kill themselves in the tomb. Then after that, Father Whatsis shows up again to discover them, then there’s the big scene of wailing and gnashing of teeth between the Montagues and the Capulets and the Prince comes and yells at them both for being idiots. Everything after the actual suicides is denouement. The Lord of the Rings has like 20 minutes of denouement at the end of Return of the King.

        • Dev Null says:

          Yeah, ditto. Loved the single-player, but by the time I played it everyone I knew had digested the game and moved on, so I’ve never seen the multi-player. We need a Twentysided Slow Gamers Guild or something.

          I did consider looking for random partners on Steam briefly, but I didn’t see how that could work. It seemed like you’d spend the entire time trying to find someone who wanted to do the exact bit that you wanted to do, and given my somewhat eclectic playing schedule, meeting back up with a randomly-matched partner didn’t seem likely.

          • Soylent Dave says:

            I’m not exactly Captain Active on steam, but wouldn’t a steam group be ideal for connecting players?

            If there isn’t a 20sided (20siders?) group on steam, someone could probably start one easily enough (I imagine – I haven’t looked into starting groups on steam, but if it’s difficult, then someone deserves a slap), that would be a way to connect people who post on here.

            Ideal if someone connected with the site (Shamus, I’m not exactly looking at you, but yes actually I am looking at you) starts the group, if only to stop a dozen groups all being started up simultaneously with slightly different names.

            Unless there already is one. I haven’t looked.

            (okay I did now, and there doesn’t seem to be… but I’m not 100% confident with steam’s search thingy)

    • Trix says:

      When I finished the main single player game, I couldn’t help but think “I would have been fine spending $60 on this, but its just a tad too short to not feel guilty about it”. A couple months later a friend of mine suggested we do coop (since neither of us had) which we ran through completely.

      I suddenly got the feeling $60 wasn’t nearly enough.

  3. Vegedus says:

    I guess it depends on how hungry you are.
    I think this metaphor works. If you don’t have money for a lot of games, but do have a lot of free time that needs killing, then longer games are great. Like, if you’re a 15 year old kid. But I fundamentally agree with Yahtzee that part of the charm of the original Portal was that it didn’t overstay it’s welcome. Even if quality versus quantity wasn’t a trade-off, it still wouldn’t necessarily be a good idea to make games as long as possible. It’s an your-mileage-may-vary thing. I was definitely done with Portal 2 by the time it was definitely done, and while that doesn’t go for everyone, I don’t think anyone would have been better served by a 40-hour long Portal 2. Even if it had kept being ‘perfect’, the formula, the jokes, the puzzles, would have gotten boring.

    Personally, I’d rather play more games, than fewer, longer ones. It’s the same amount of quantity overall, and if you go for those games, more quality.

    • swenson says:

      I really can’t imagine a 40-hour Portal. I don’t think I want to. The style of game really doesn’t lend itself to lengthy games. So I definitely agree that I’m happy they ended it when it was done, they didn’t try to pad it or drag it out. They had a story to tell, they told it, and when they were done telling it, the game was over. Short and very sweet, as was appropriate.

    • Dev Null says:

      I thought the main story in P2 lasted just about the right length of time… but about a week after I finished it I’d have been happy to start another one. Which maybe seems a little contradictory, but I think the plot would have felt stretched thin if it had gone on much longer, but I could keep going with the gameplay pretty much forever. I’m giving the mod level community a bit to sort out the really good stuff, and then I’m going to go hunting more.

  4. EwgB says:

    I have to agree with most of what you said about Portal 2. I paid almost full price for the game, something I seldom do (I have pirated most things as a teenager, and now I just wait and try to grab them on the cheap (thank you, Steam!)), and I didn’t regret it for a second, despite the game being shorter than some tutorials. Though I do think the original Portal was the better “snack” of the two.
    I haven’t played the multiplayer either, for different reasons (mainly that I don’t have any friends (on Steam), and I didn’t want to play with random strangers). So, if you want, I could offer some company.
    I haven’t the same feelings about Skyrim though. Most bugs I encountered were either hilarious or slightly annoying, but nothing as bad as some people seem to have. I have no problem alt-tabbing out of the game and back (though I have to try reopening the game twice), I only had about 3 to 4 total crashes and I saw no quest-breaking bugs. Let’s hope it stays that way…

    • swenson says:

      Portal 2 is the first game I’ve ever paid full price for so I could play it as soon as it came out. (well, technically I got it 10% off for pre-ordering through Steam, but nearly full price) And like you, I don’t regret it in the slightest. It was short, but completely worth the price of admission.

      • tengokujin says:

        I pre-ordered that baby on Amazon for the PS3, just so that I could play co-op with my housemate on his PS3 as soon as it came in. 12 hours of marathon co-op was fantastic :3

        Also, since PS3 shipped with a Steam code, I also have it on Steam :3

    • monkeyenterprises says:

      I am also looking for someone to play the Portal 2 coop with (I posted above). If you’re looking for a partner, I’m monkeyenterprises on Steam.

      I’m a CS grad student, so my schedule is…flexible.

      Unfortunately, the 20sided group on Steam doesn’t allow comments, so I can’t advertise there…

  5. Daemian Lucifer says:

    Seeing how short most modern games are,and crappy as well,I think portal 2 was of perfect length.And it mixed things up at the right moments,just before the thing you have been doing became stale and repetitive.And now,we can go to space.

  6. MichaelG says:

    Here’s what I wrote at the time on my blog:


    I would have liked more of the quirkiness of the original, and I wanted a tighter back story. Since I think critics should put up or shut up, here’s what I’d have done:

    Hundreds of years have passed while you were in suspended animation. The facility, without the control of GladOS, has run wild, and a kind of mechanical evolution has taken place.

    You are awakened by a dozen companion cubes, which now have eyes and legs. They sing a cute song and explain that they love you and wanted to let you sleep forever, but the facility is being overrun by turrets and they have to move you.

    They lead you past various scenes of the decayed facility, including brushes with the evolved turrets. They are now spider-like, large, mobile and deadly. Still very polite though. They string cables like webs and nest in the corners of the old test chambers. Not safe at all!

    The companion cubes take you to the original GladOS control room, where you find the portal gun and the last module of GladOS. She’s been lying on the floor with nothing to do but stare at the walls for hundreds of years. She’s not happy to see you…

    The companion cubes take her and lead you down into the original sealed-off facility, where they have their lair. Your way is blocked by turrets and you can’t get through. So they take you through the old testing chambers, with the retro 1950s style. This teaches you the game and portal gun, etc.

    The cubes cheer and oohh and ahh as you do the tests. The head of GladOS makes sarcastic remarks. Companion cubes keep dying right and left (with poetic little last words), but there’s an endless supply, since more keep coming out of odd corners as you go.

    As you move between chambers, you see the old offices and hear the recorded messages. GladOS remembers her old life as Cave Johnson’s secretary, and her unrequited love for him. She explains that when she woke up and discovered she was a machine, she took control of the facility and tried to kill everyone with neurotoxin. Failing at that, she rounded up the survivors and tested them all … to death! Except for you. The companion cubes are sympathetic and tell her that they love her. She’s not impressed.

    Finally you get to the lair of the companion cubes, where the manufacturing facility is turning out endless new cubes. GladOS tells you to hook her up to the console, so that she can order a new body built for herself, and then fight the turrets for control of the facility. You have your doubts, but the alternative is a frilly bed prepared by the companion cubes, where you can safely sleep forever.

    You hook up GladOS and the factory goes to work. Unfortunately, instead of some tank-like killer robot, the result is a big clumsy mess of companion cubes and legs, with GladOS on top somewhere. And she’s been partially reprogrammed as a companion cube. She alternates between threats and sappy love songs.

    You venture back out and up to the turret areas, where your portal skills make way for the new GladOS and cubes. Finally, you reach the facility control room, which is also the nest of the turret queen. GladOS and the queen fight each other, with polite little turrets and singing companion cubes dying left and right. Your challenge is to portal your way through the mayhem to the surface elevator without getting killed.

    The turret queen and GladOS reach a stalemate. Just as they realize they should be fighting their common enemy — the humans — you make your escape to the surface, followed by both sides. You get to the surface control room, where there’s a “Quarantine Facility” button. You push that and lock all the bots behind a huge door.

    You exit the facility to a beautiful sunset… and a large statue of some multiple-eyed thing that doesn’t look at all friendly.

    The end.

    • Zeta Kai says:

      That has a beautiful quirky charm to it. I kinda want to have happened. But I like Portal 2 the way it is. Oh, the quandary!

    • Zekiel says:

      I’m rather fond of this too – (though I didn’t see anything wrong with the actual Portal 2 storyline either)

    • noahpocalypse says:

      That would not be as friendly to non-shooter players. The climax of the game is one of the most important parts, and if you die in it, you feel like you suck. I would really enjoy running around in a battle with the Portal Gun, but most players new to the genre would hide somewhere and then wait, growing bored, as the fight goes on. Then, they would be too scared of the bullets and looking around everywhere like a Josh and seeing nothing but motion blur, and would die. The original ending was the safer way to go, and possibly even more fun. New characters in a story (Whetley) help keep it interesting, you don’t want to reuse the same ones.

    • Jeff says:

      That sounds nifty, shame about the cubes though.

    • Nick says:

      Meh, that sounds a lot worse than the storyline in Portal 2 to me – part of the charm was how much detail was hinted at so that you could feel like you’d worked things out, especially as regards the story of Chell/Caroline/Glados/Cave Johnson.

      I mean, it’s not exactly hidden but using the inferences to get there early was satisfying for me.

      I didn’t think Portal 2 was short, as I was used to the length of the first one. Maybe it’s just because I’m a working person with only a limited amount of time for gaming anymore, but I wouldn’t have welcomed it being any longer.

      But then, I’m one of the weird people who doesn’t actually like the Elder Scrolls games (mainly because I hate close combat from a first person perspective in games and the interface is overly clunky), though I haven’t seen enough of Skyrim to make a judgement on it. my GOTY would be a toss-up between Bastion and Portal 2.

  7. Phoenix says:

    Ended the single player mode in 3 hours and I was playing slowly. :P I still smile thinking about those absurds comments on metacritic.

  8. Amnestic says:

    I didn’t play much of the Multiplayer due to my internet being screwy, but I did play it with a friend. We did some of the first and some of the very last test chambers (she was on her boyfriend’s account, and he’d already done it all) and…honestly? The ones I did play were really not that hard. I never found any of them harder than the single player ones anyway. I’m not some sort of puzzle genius by any stretch of the imagination, but I didn’t see any real difficulty difference between singleplayer and multiplayer. Perhaps others had a different experience to me, and I reiterate that I didn’t do all of the multiplayer test chambers, but…yeah.

    On a complete sidenote, I’m having a blast with Sonic Generations. Perfect? Well, no, but it’s definitely got the “Quality” aspect down for me. I’ve not finished it yet, so I don’t know how much “Quantity” I can expect from it.

  9. SubmarineBells says:

    I wouldn’t know. I got it for xmas, just tried to install it just now, and it barfed on the activation code. :-((( I was trying to install it on my PC, from a retail DVD, and it said it needed to be played on a PS3 before I could activate the PC version. I’ve never owned a PS3 so that’s a little hard to achieve.

    I just submitted a support ticket to Steam, but it did rather put a damper on my enthusiasm. I guess I won’t have it to play over the xmas weekend after all. ::sad look:: And earlier this evening I’d just been rhapsodising to a friend about how awesome Valve are, and how their software works so well and isn’t a buggy mess all the time (unlike Bethesda, say.) The irony, it bites.

  10. X2Eliah says:

    Hmm. Portal 2.. Yeah, I liked it.

    For the 7 hours it took to beat, that is.

    Problem being, the tight level design and puzzle-based concept means that there is very little value in a second replay and nearly none a all in consecutive ones. And – I’m sorry, but – for 7 hours i CANNOT say that a full price (50 euros, let’s say) is justified in any way. Yeah, I liked it for that time. But for the same price, I bloody well liked Deus Ex three times as long. For the same price, I liked Skyrim TWENTY-SIX TIMES more. I know that the fps-generation with their modern warfares and calls of duty are used to 5-6 hour singleplayer campaigns as being the norm, I just want to say that it’s utter bollocks. And, as Yahtzee also said, “Screw multiplayer, a game should stand on it’s singleplayer unless it’s an MMO, so I’m going to judge singleplayer”. What good is multiplayer if you don’t play it / don’t exactly have people to play it with (As Shamus said, e.g.)?

    Portal 1 was, what – 5 hours? And it was far cheaper, even at release. Portal two charged the same price as any new AAA game…

    That said, yes, for those 7 hours, I quite liked the game, however.. It was not perfect, for me, even i ignoring the length entirely. For one, the puzzle design itself seemed, well, really railroaded. In Portal 1, it felt like you genuinely discovered the solution on your own – either by trying things or planning stuff. In portal 2, you look at the level, try something, and unless it is the EXACT way the designers meant for the puzzle to be solved, you won’t make it – either the distances, or the speeds won’t match, and so on. It either ends up being too frustrating, as you are groping for the “right” solution out of several seemingly viable ones, or it’s telegraphed far too explicitly, and it feels like you are only doing the motions without having to think yourself. For how much Valve boasted about playtesting everything, imo they dropped the ball and cut out far too much freedom on the player’s part. Like the age-old axiom of game developers wanting to force the player to see everything.

    Also.. Looking at the end result, I cannot see where Valve justifies all the expenses. Yeah, there’s good stuff, yeah, there’s a bahjillion layers of polish, but the actual core stuff is tiny and a little bit rancid.

    Mind that after the first run through, I thought this game was pretty brilliant. During the second runthrough, I was already annoyed. And that’s pretty bad, when a new game annoys you literally the day after you buy it – especially if it’s because you’ve “finished it” and already seen most of what it has to offer. If this is any indication of what Valve is going towards, I’m certainly looking forward to Half-Life 3 with it’s glorious whole 3 hours of gameplay. I bet it’s going to shine so much from all the years of polish that a living human won’t be able to look at it without sunglasses.

    So, yeah. I see Portal 2 as a very dangerous game – because it is pushing, imo, in the wrong direction. It’s not compromising quantity for quality, it’s abandoning any quantity entirely. If this continues, in 10 years the length of a Valve game will be no longer than the length of a movie.

    • Amnestic says:

      Did you really expect Portal 2 to be drastically longer than Portal 1? I’m guessing “No” so…why are you now complaining about paying a certain price for a game when you all but knew it wouldn’t deliver your desired Price:Time Spent Playing ratio?

      Vote with your wallet. I knew that Portal 2 wouldn’t be that much longer than Portal 1, so I waited for a sale. It hit £25 and I decided that £25 was a reasonable price to pay for the time I invested into it.

      This isn’t even me defending Portal 2. It’s me picking holes at your purchasing habits – though obviously you’re not the only person, you just happened to make this post. Some games I will simply not buy as they are because I don’t think they’ll offer the desired Price-Time Spent Playing-Quality of Time balance. They may be great games, but until I can reasonably expect the desired balance to be given, I won’t pay money for them. Sometimes I make a mistake as we all do, but with a game like Portal 2…you don’t really have a leg to stand on when complaining about length.

      Waiting for price reduction/sales can only take you so far of course, but in this case it seems like you’d have been far happier with your purchase if you’d simply chosen to wait until the pricetag dropped (which of course you knew it would and which it did) before buying.

      I apologise if I seem like I’m lecturing you, it’s not my intention, but I think it’s something people should take note of more often, especially with the recent trend to bump up game prices. If people stop buying them at these prices and wait for them to drop instead, it’d send a clear message to the publishers.

      • Zekiel says:

        I do agree, although I have a lot of sympathy with X2Eliah; when Portal 2 was released and the whole internet was squeeing over how amazing it was and how funny it was and how brilliant the plot twists were… it was a little hard to resist the temptation to put down the money for it, even knowing it was 7 hours long (or whatever it ended up being).

        I ended up getting it as a birthday present a couple of months after release, by which time it was old news and everyone was harping on about (iirc) Deux Ex instead. I loved it anyway.

        I think the issue of length versus quality is a really difficult one. As someone with a full-time job and a wife (but no kids… yet) I have far less time to play PC games than I used to. So where once I regarded games like Baldur’s Gate 2 as the epitome of brilliant games (over 100 hours per play-through – amazing value for £30), I’m now gravitating towards the idea that 20-30 hours is a better length – otherwise I’m playing the same game for weeks and weeks and I get bored. (Case in point: Assassin’s Creed 2, which took me over 40 hours to complete and I loved, but got bored towards the end.)

        I’m inclined to say that for me the perfect game is awesome quality, 20-25 hours long and has plenty of potential for replaying if I shoud ever find the time to do so. And on that scale, Portal 2 (which is a third of that length and I can’t imagine warrants replaying) doesn’t actually score that well.

        • noahpocalypse says:

          I replayed Portal 2 s everal times simply for the story and the humor; it’s amazing how enjoyable a good story is. I think I had totally forgotten. Reminds me of the good ol’ days of Ratchet and Clank and Kingdom Hearts on the PS2.

          Single player took me about 8 hours (estimate, I did not record.) I took my time in every puzzle and checked out most of the stuff. Coop was, I dunno, maybe five through seven hours. It was a lot more challenging, but a little bit shorter and I had a friend next to me to help me figure it out.

          • Zekiel says:

            Ah well maybe I’m underestimating the replayability then… I do hear there’s a fair few secret areas to discover (I found exactly one of these on my first time through).

            • Matt says:

              There are other reasons to replay something than novelty value. I replay my favourite games because of the atmosphere, for the same reasons I rewatch films and reread books. “What happens next” is one element, but there are films I’ve seen 10+ times and I still enjoy them because of the acting, direction, visuals etc. The best games out there are no different to me.

      • X2Eliah says:

        when Portal 2 was released and the whole internet was squeeing over how amazing it was and how funny it was and how brilliant the plot twists were… it was a little hard to resist the temptation to put down the money for it

        That’s exactly the reason for why I even bought that game at all. On every channel of the internet, people were gushing about just how great it was. It was, effectively a literal bombardment of unabridged praise all round.

        And no, while I don’t “have a leg to stand on”, you can’t deny that Portal 2’s length, in the end, is what it is and it’s replayability likewise is what it is, regardless of whether I bought it or not. Likewise, you can’t deny that Valve priced it as an AAA game. My buying habits don’t make an inch of a difference in how Portal 2 was developed, marketed, priced and sold.

        I guess that game served, for me, to drive the lesson of not caving in to other people’s (wrong/misleading) opinions even for widely-accepted titles. Far more memorable, in fact, than just buying an all round bad game. Basically, this is why I’ve been – and still am, and very likely will be – holding off of buying SR3. Nearly everyone keeps praising it, and I feel it wouldn’t be right for me – so I’m voting with my wallet now, as the saying goes.

  11. Sumanai says:

    I would imagine Skyrim as more of a buffet. Haven’t played it yet, though.

  12. Amarsir says:

    I got tired of Dragon Age 2 after about 8 hours and every Civ 5 game I started ended with me “saving for later” after about an hour of play. So Portal 2 felt about par.

  13. SolkaTruesilver says:

    The thing with shorter game, they have a better chance to avoid becoming stale. Just think Indigo Prophecy, or even Half-Life. These games would have been a lot better if they had been shorter, more condense.

    Half Life Episodes really show what can be done when you shorten and condense the play experience. Portal was the perfect example: short and rich.

    I believe this is why Firefly is so highly regarded. It never had “this one bad episode” that WOULD have happened eventually if it had kept going (although one bad episode is a cheap price to pay to have more seasons).

  14. bit says:

    Personally, I am ALWAYS a quality over quantity person. Have I, will I ever, pump the same 100+ hours into Portal 2 that I have New Vegas? No. Did I pay the same price for both? Yes. (Well, I think that I payed $10 less for Portal, but shmeh.)

    But to be honest, I think that Portal 2 may have been MORE worth it. At the end of the game, I literally just sat there, for five minutes, because WOW. That was like a pure, undiluted blast of artistic achievement. And I’d rather have that, than spending 50+ hours fighting bandits to get to 50+ hours of far less.

    I understand that people want to sink their teeth into big games, including me on occasion, but personally, games aren’t my hobby, they’re an art form I partake in. “Long,” Is not unimportant, but “Good,” Is so much more.

    • Grey_Cap says:

      Portal and Portal 2 (short and concentrated) left a lasting impression on me, in a way that Skyrim or SMAC (long) don’t. I’d say that the fact that I’m still enjoying these games even long after I’ve played them is what makes me consider them ‘better’ than long games with more filler.

    • Trix says:

      I think I like to have both kinds. Short quality titles for the amazing stories and such, and long expansive titles (may or may not be sandbox) to fill larger amounts of time I want to relax and play games in. Of course, in both cases it needs to be FUN.

  15. Joshua says:

    I liked Portal 2, but despite its relatively short length, I still felt the middle sequences in the retro testing areas kind of dragged, so the pacing felt off. Portal 1 was the perfect size for me, and a good price point for that.

    It reminded me of the developer commentaries for the Half-Life series where they talk about switching things up so you didn’t get overly worn-out with combat, or too frustrated or bored with repeated puzzles. To me, Portal 2 was inherently limited in that you only had the puzzles, so if you got tired of that, there was little else.

    And I would also agree with the others that a good bit of the puzzles felt more railroaded this time around, but that’s likely due to all of the additional mechanics they used.

  16. burningdragoon says:

    “Having said that: We could do with a few more perfect games.”

    It’s called Dark Souls. justkiddingnotreallyilikedarksouls

    Overall I didn’t actually think Portal 2 was too short (compared to anything other than Skyrim anyway). I probably spent at least 15+ hours with singleplayer + finding secrets I missed and co-op. Really what hurts it from being the best thing ever is that, like others have said, is that it lacks a lot replay value. It was a great experience, but the best experiences should be able to be re-experienced multiple times even if you know it by heart and it doesn’t sound like Portal 2 can do that for that many people. Me included.

    So… Portal 2 was so good that it was too good, thus making it not quite as good.

  17. Steven says:

    The puzzles in Portal 2 were only easier if you’ve played Portal 1. You’ve already had the training that made Portal 1 seem difficult. My girlfriend played Portal 2 first and had many brain scratching moments, but complained how simple Portal 1 was.

  18. Mortuorum says:

    Portal 2 is a game you play. It is linear; tells one story (very well!); and has a beginning, a middle and an end. You can come back to it later and have essentially the same experience. Sure, you may pick up on a reference you missed the first time or figure out an alternate way through the level, but the story arc is essentially unchanged.

    Skyrim is a game you must inhabit. Thinking of it as something to “get through” so you can move onto the next game in your queue is simply going to be an exercise in frustration. Even if you were to power through the main quest in the course of several hours, you would be missing so much of the meat of the experience that you might as well not have played at all.

    I guess what I’m trying to say (badly) is that the two games require an entirely different mindset going into them. So day (say) Call of Duty, Silent Hill, Madden NFL, Ikaruga and Gran Turismo.

  19. MrGamer says:

    I loved the humor in Portal 2 as well. The “because we can” aspect to Aperture was so entertaining that all my friends and I indulge in Aperture jokes during Physics and Chemistry classes.

  20. Robyrt says:

    Portal 2 was lots of fun, and very accessible, and it doesn’t involve shooting bad guys in the face, which means I like it already. I’m not particularly bothered by a bad dollars-to-hours ratio, either.

    But I played it through once, watched my roommate do about half of it, then put it back on the shelf, never to be heard from again. The middle section dragged, just like every video game, even though this one was supposed to be short and snappy. Which it was, until they added the middle half of the game starring an entirely different character who I grew to hate because I heard his jokes too many times. There were a lot of mechanics which were never really tied into anything else – either they were saving the best parts for multiplayer (which I didn’t play) or they just didn’t develop everything out to the fullest. (Unlike, say, Braid, where you end the game feeling like there are no more possible wedding-ring puzzles to solve.)

    In fact, I’d say the worst thing about Portal 2 was the placement of the dialogue triggers. “Lookit all that juice” moments abound, which is something that Portal 1 never had a problem with. There is definitely an expiration date on broad comedy, which is what Portal 2 relies on.

    • Klay F. says:

      This. I am so fucking tired of killing mook after mook after mook endlessly in every game ever. I’ll do pretty much anything to get away from it. Can some developers please come up with a new mechanic?

  21. Adam P says:

    Co-op is best when you’re playing with someone else who hasn’t played it yet, but not for the obvious reasons:

    My friends had already finished the co-op by the time I had bought the game. When I was ready to give it a go, I hosted the session. The game decided that because my partner had already finished the co-op, that every testing course should be unlocked from the get-go for me. There is a portion of story told in co-op, and I missed out on all of it. Not only that, but I can’t even go through with someone who hasn’t played co-op to experience the story, because then I’ll be putting them in the exact same position I’m currently in.

  22. Entropy says:

    I have had the same problem with multiplayer. All my friends either have it, and have beaten it, or don’t have it. It’s rather frustrating. I want to plaay.

  23. Meredith says:

    Finally, you review a game I’ve played. :) Portal 2 was just really really satisfying. That’s the best way I can describe it. The puzzles were just tricky enough to make me feel good when I solved them and just easy enough that I never got frustrated. The story and characters were entertaining and well written. Everything just worked. It’s certainly the best game I played this year, but also the only 2011 game I played.

    That said, I never got to try the multiplayer either. The friend I was supposed to play with could never work out a time and I don’t know anyone else IRL who’s played it. I would be up for some P2 co-op goodness if anyone’s interested.

    Edit (having read a few other comments): People didn’t like the Cave Johnson segments? I’m honestly surprised. I found the “back in time” bits highly enjoyable.

  24. ninepepper says:

    Is there not a Twenty Sided Steam Community group where we could all get together and find a partner to complete the multi-player with?

  25. Irridium says:

    I love Portal 2. So much.

    Hell, I’ve gone through it seven times. I don’t care if there’s nothing “new” to experience; the one story that’s there is so good I love experiencing it over and over and over again.

    It doesn’t stop being funny, doesn’t stop being fun, doesn’t stop being just a complete delight.

    And I hope you can find someone to co-op with. I did it with my brother, and it really is great. Reading the comments, seems you, and others, have quite a bit of volunteers!

  26. TechDan says:

    I haven’t played the co-op either for the same reason. I ended up doing the first few puzzles with a friend on his Xbox, but I haven’t even booted the multiplayer on my Steam version.

    Hey, if you’re interested in finishing it, let me know.

  27. Zukhramm says:

    I don’t mind it being short. I like short. I never finished Human Revolution, I’m not sure I shouöd blame the length, the story just didn’t grab me, bjt maybe it had if it was told at a slightly higher pace. (The bosses had a hand in making me quit too.)

    Portal 2, I wouldn’t call it perfect, it has a sillier tone than the first game and I definetely prefer the oroginal in that regard.

    I could complain about the puzzles being too easy but they were in the original Portal too so I don’t really mind.

  28. Daimbert says:

    On the length thing:

    I played Fatal Frame, and finished it. I think that was about 10 hours. I didn’t feel that that was too short, mostly because the story seemed nicely wrapped up and finished in that time, and what I remembered about the game was the story and less of the mechanics.

    I have played Persona 3 and Persona 4 for something like 500 – 600 hours. Each run is about 40 hours or so, and I’ve played them both a number of times. I can see some things that could have been shortened, but beyond that their length doesn’t really bother me; it just means that I play it for a month or so instead of for a couple of weeks.

    I recently played Catherine. It took me about 10 or so hours to beat it. I found that game WAY too short, mostly because much of that time — or, at least, it seemed to me — was spent trying to solve the puzzles and not in enjoying the story, and thus it left me feeling that there could have been more story for me to enjoy, and less of the puzzles.

    Ultimately, the key is this: if the game is COMPLETE, then you won’t mind its length — short or long — unless you start analyzing it later in terms of, say, hours per dollar spent. If the game does not feel complete, then you’ll notice its length in bad ways. The best games are such that you don’t notice how long you’ve played it until you finish it, and then look to see what your save game says.

  29. N/A says:

    So, I’m curious Shamus. How many emails have you had of people offering to go through Portal 2’s Co-Op with you by now?

  30. Mumbles says:

    Portal 2 multi player is like taking your friends on a date. You learn things about them that you may not have been aware of. Sometimes you learn thy get jealous easily when you play a map without them. Sometimes you learn they don’t respond to dicking around or trick shots as well as you thought they would. And sometimes, sometimes you learn your friends are frustrating morons who don’t know crap about portals.

    • Irridium says:

      You also learn things about yourself.

      I learned that whenever I figure something out, it is impossible for me to express it coherently. It went something like this:

      Me: “Oh, oh! Me smart idea have! Brain… work good! IDEA! ME HAVE IDEA! ME MAKE SMART!!!”

      Then it just goes into my brother trying to figure out what I’m saying while I happily babble nonesense because I figured out a puzzle.

      So yeah. That’s something I never knew about myself.

  31. Alex says:

    Yeah, multiplayer Portal never really made sense to me. Unless they were consistently updating it with new maps every week or something, I don’t see the point in doing a puzzle you’ve already figured out just for the heck of it. It’s not like Bejeweled or some other Pop Cap type of puzzle game, where it’s one basic set of rules with constantly changing circumstances. Once you know how the trick is done, the magic is gone.

    The person who’s new to it wants to figure it out on their own, and the person who already knows what to do is just going through the motions. And playing it with friends depends entirely on all of you having the game and playing it at the same time, and at the same rate of progression. Some games just work better as single-player experiences.

    Also, as far as memes go, “SPACE!” is a lot more annoying than “The Cake Is A Lie!”.

  32. ngthagg says:

    I played the multiplayer maps with my brother, with both of us doing the entire set of maps (including the dlc) for the first time.

    As fun as the single player was, the multiplayer blew it out of the water. It helped, I’m sure, that my brother and I think in similar ways, and so neither of us lept ahead or fell behind. And we have a similar sense of humour, as well as a general dislike of griefing (except when it’s really funny, of course).

    If you haven’t played it yet, Shamus, you need to find someone who hasn’t played Portal yet, introduce them to it, and then do the multiplayer. Maybe your wife or one of your kids?

  33. Nic says:

    One bug:

    About halfway through the game, I tried to solve a puzzle and collided with an honest-to-goodness, straight-up invisible ceiling. This was absolutely infuriating. The first Portal had many opportunities to solve puzzles in clever ways unforseen by the developers, and I felt this was lacking in the sequel.

    Other than that, I agree with you wholeheartedly. Avoiding comparisons to its predecessor, I found the game thoroughly enjoyable. My favorite part might be the (free to download!) soundtrack, which I’ve been listening to for the past few weeks.

  34. Ragnar says:

    I never understood this obsession with the length of games. For certain types of games (i.e., linear, story-driven games) shorter is often preferable. Other games automatically becomes longer because they have so much replayability.

    How many people compare books and movies the same way? This book is 300 pages longer than this other book and they both cost the same, so I obviously get much more value for my money by buying the longer book.

    • Dev Null says:

      Case in point: Left Hand of Darkness is between two and three hundred pages, depending on your edition. The last Harry Potter book is approximately 12 million pages long.

  35. TGN says:

    All my friends who had the game finished the co-op before me and I didn’t want to play through it with random people on Xbox Live, so I ended up playing through on my own with two pads. For most of the game you can comfortably switch between characters and just leave the one you’re not controlling in place, giving the game kind of a Lost Vikings feel which can only be a good thing.

    At a guess, I’d say that about 10% of the game required me to use the two pads at the same time, but for the most part this meant that there was one “main” pad plus a single button press on the other one. There were only a few bits near the end which required significant usage of both pads at the same time; it was quite fun figuring out how to handle those bits, I ended up using my feet at one point.

  36. Paul Spooner says:

    There are several comments above which express the “Portal 1 was better than Portal 2” feeling. However, none of them have satisfactorily said why. Here’s my crack at it.
    When I played Portal 1, I had the exquisite growing fear that GlaDOS was just pretending to be impartial, and was actually out to get me. This was the central arc, the deadly revelation that carried me through the entire game from start to finish.
    When I played Portal 2, I knew for certain that GlaDOS was out to get me, and the character arc of Wheatly didn’t quite make up for it. The gameplay was as good as (or better than) the first game, but the story didn’t have the same grip.
    And that’s why I liked Portal 1 better.

    P.S. I agree with the article though, excellent game.

    • bit says:

      Here’s the thing, though; Portal 1 is a story where you are the star. It’s about you exploring your cage, and escaping from it. Portal 2, however, is GLaDOS GLaDOS GLaDOS all the way through. It’s about how this series of events, triggered by you, effects her as a character. It’s about watching, and influencing her emotional journey through the story. Some may not like that, which I understand. Personally, just because on a deeper-thinking level it was ultimately so much more INTERESTING, and GLaDOS is a fantastic character, I loved it.

  37. Kdansky says:

    While I enjoyed Skyrim a lot (and will probably come back to it in half a year), I must say I prefer Portal 2. I do not have oodles of time, and I would rather spend 10 hours being delighted than 20 hours being decently amused. As for food: I prefer a great single course to a mediocre menue. Because you know what? You can still order desert after the one course, or go to a bar and have a drink, while Skyrim leaves not enough time to enjoy the other pleasures. After Portal 2, I would have given it the GotY, aber there were so many great indie-games that I am not so sure. Together, they cost less, lasted a lot longer, and were just as entertaining.

    I might be the exception, but I don’t think Portal 1 was better.

  38. Tomulus says:

    In Australia, Portal 2 was half the cost of Skyrim at launch.

  39. Darkness says:

    You should take the time for multi-player. The fun is still there just watching the other person figure it out and helping. Of course, with your brother and your friends that might not be a solution. Try that lovely wife of yours. Or a nice friend.

    The price for me was two games for one. I got the PS3 version and got the Steam for free(?). It plays cross platform so two people in my office can play it and have a good time.

  40. Khizan says:

    The problem with Portal 2 was that, towards the end, if there was a place that you could possibly put a portal, that place was important to solving the puzzle.

    The complexity of the environments meant that I wasn’t going “Okay, how do I work this?” while I looked for ways to launch myself somewhere, but “Okay, where’s the portal spot, once I find that it should be pretty obvious.”

    For what it’s worth, my game of the year is Bastion.

  41. Josh R says:

    The comment thread on this post made me try to recall what my first time playing Portal was like, did I sense Glados would try and kill me? was it a shock? how fast did I solve the puzzles? did I belly laugh at every glados saying?

    It’s been a long while since I first played it, so I found a blind playthrough: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Uo3KoZLoEFc&feature=related

    They have regional British accents but if you can get over that it is interesting to see a blind playthrough of it (there’s two/three of them and none have played the game) The fact that there are three of them means far less time sitting on their bums with no idea what to do.

    Was quite enlightening. When I compare this with my Portal 2 playthrough, I do remember hurrying to finish a test chamber, just so I could hear the next Glados insult or wheatley comment, Which does make me think either the humour is more cutting, or the gameplay is less entertaining. Or both.

    Having played through portal 2 not too long ago, and watching these guys play through portal 1, I think the sequel is better. Whether this is because I’m so far gone from the point where I can remember the power of trying the entirely new experience of directing portals or because I prefer the more adventure-related style gameplay of the second is up for debate, but looking back on both games now, if I had to choose one to boot up and play, it would definitely be the second.

    Oh and my game of the year is Skyrim, even though in 17 hours of play I only got 11 hours of saves (yay for regular graphics card overheating) and then it made my power source explode. However, this has far more to do with me being a huge fan of the way bethesda make RPGs than anything relating to the quality/quantity aspect. The fact I bought a puzzle game at full price on a student budget, not knowing if it would run on the crappy pc I had with me (my main pc that would later blow up was not at my uni), says a huge amount about the anticipation I had for this game, and I was not in any way disappointed. The ending moved it from good game with excellent script to ZOMG AWESOME.
    I’d like it if either portal was the next spoiler warning. I’m sure this has been considered, but I think the damage of Josh knowing all the solutions would be combatted by you guys giving us step by step anecdotes and relaying valve commentary to us.

  42. glassdirigible says:

    I played the Co-op before most of the singleplayer mission. The stories are independent, so that worked out fine for me.

    My biggest issue with the game was actually more of an issue with cross-platform nonsense. I had longstanding plans to play co-op with one of my closest friends from when we heard the launch announcement, but because he got it for the XBox and I got it for the PC we couldn’t play together. I can understand why this would be the case with a competitive FPS, but this is a co-op puzzle game. I’m more apt to blame this on Microsoft than on Valve given the issue with TF2, but I am disappointed nevertheless.

  43. Cineris says:

    Personally I thought Portal 2 was too long. At least the singleplayer was. It just seemed to drag on, to the point that I lost interest. Probably doesn’t help that I thought the humor and story were just retreading the same ground.

    The multiplayer was a lot more interesting. The puzzles for the multiplayer were pretty neat, more enjoyable than the SP was for me. Need to give the DLC pack they released a few months ago a shot though.

  44. Packie says:

    I really like Portal 2 but I don’t love it as much the first Portal. Some of the puzzles in the middle section drag on for like forever. The pacing is way off compared to Portal. I also prefer the atmosphere of the first game, aperture science felt truly oppressive and un-comforting with a little bit of dark humor sprinkled on top. I also hate some of Glados’ jokes, it’s as if she’s expecting a “ba-dum-tish” sound cue every time she tells one. Glados’ jokes in Portal were far more effective because not only I found them clever and funny, they were also genuinely creepy.

    I’ll probably appreciate Portal 2 more with more subsequent playthrough(I only truly loved Half-Life 2 after I’ve played it for the third time).

    Despite my complaints, definitely one of the better games of the year. Oh, and the co-op is fantastic. Highly recommended.

  45. Rick says:

    Portal 2 was great, and the multiplayer is superb and has a lot more depth to the puzzles than single player. I enjoy playing through with people as they figure it out even though I already know the puzzles.

    My biggest gripe with Portal 2 is that it holds your hand the whole way through. As soon as it finishes teaching you a new concept (in a rather dumbed down manner) it’s on to the next one. You never get challenged by a puzzle element/concept before you’re off to learn the next one.

  46. I love a short game—it means I have a chance of finishing it.
    Portal 2 was awesome. Skyrim looks great but I will be lucky to see 10% of the game. Our hobby could use more short, perfect games. Or even just short, good games.

    I wish Valve had made it easy for me to find a buddy who has not yet done the multiplayer levels on Portal.

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