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This week, the Zero Punctuation you've been waiting for. Is Portal 2 better than Portal?

Transcript Edit

Early on in my overpaid sequence of lucky breaks that only the most bitterly sarcastic observer would call a career, I made a video about The Orange Box, a loose collection of gamelike objects bundled together as a sort of apology for Half-Life: Episode 2 being about as timely as a long-term Middle East peace solution. It included Team Fortress 2, a multiplayer experience matched only by competitive breast massage, and Portal, the earthly manifestation of Christ. Fucking hell, talk about overcompensation! Makes me wonder what Valve are going to do to make up for the considerably longer wait that it's been for Half-Life: Episode 3. They're either going to hand out hundred-dollar bills or all line up on the roof of the studio and commit seppuku.

Anyway, Portal is the only game I've been unable to fault in - it's like Ahab and Moby Dick, if Ahab regarded Moby Dick with asexual lust and Moby Dick's owners once invited Ahab to come visit their ivory tower and flick cashew nuts at poor people. In the time since then and the release of Portal 2, you'll be pleased to hear that I eventually did come up with a criticism for Portal 1: it's got the worst fucking fans in the world. Nothing ruins a good thing quite like knowing you share your opinions with mindless little tits who bray like mules if you so much as mention the word "cake," and the good thing in question can never be the same again. This is technically known as the "Knights Who Say 'Ni' Effect."

It was with some trepidation that I started Portal 2, then, but fortunately there's nary a mention of cake. And the Companion Cube appears in only a very conciliatory fashion, although I did notice it's undergone a slight design change. Hoping to cash in on a new range of plushies, are we, Valve? You crafty buggers. The thing is - and you can take this for either a good thing or a bad thing - Portal 2 doesn't have anything that's comparably memetic, if I might employ the vocabulary of a toss-pot for a moment.

Portal 1 was a big, delicious jam donut with cream on top and Portal 2 is a big Cornish pasty with chocolate in one half and shepherd's pie in the other and look at me dancing around the issue! Dancey dancey la de dah. All right, let's skip to the end. Is Portal 2 good? Yes! Is it better than Portal 1? No!

What you need to understand is that nobody expected Portal 1 to explode the way it did. Valve released it essentially as a stocking stuffer to mollify us into not coming around and breaking their windows. It was all of two hours long and developed by a small team within the company who had to cut corners like it was crunch time at the circle factory. And what I liked most about it was that it was as tight as a walnut corset. Not an inch of it was wasted. Everything was there that needed to be there for the game to work, and the humor was the icing on the, uh, the French Fancy.

But then Portal became twice as popular as a YouTube video of a laughing baby riding a startled cat, and now suddenly the sequel's getting a big roomy box all to itself and the whole studio's behind it. The game's full of spectacular environments and opens with a lengthy physics sequence where the chamber you're in gets picked up and hauled around, bits falling off the walls and revealing epic views of the ruined facility beyond. And yeah, it's impressive, but I can't help but feel that sinking feeling you get as something splashes warmly on your face and you know you're gonna have a reputation as the school's slut by tomorrow afternoon.

All right, perhaps that was too much.

The attitude of Portal 2 's single-player is best summarized by two separate occasions within it when a puzzle is interrupted by a story section. You see, Portal 1 was at heart a puzzle game with a really good framework. Portal 2 is a sight-seeing tour that begrudgingly has a puzzle game in it. The campaign is fit into three major puzzle sections broken up by connecting sequences, and by God do some of those connecting sequences drag on. I hope you like playing "hunt around this huge, detailed environment for the one solitary patch of portalable wall and move on to the next big fuck-off room."

And the actual puzzles are all rather straightforward. Maybe it's because there are so many gaps between them that they feel they have to have a new tutorial every five minutes in case we accidentally looked at a vibrant section of wall since the last few puzzles and part of our brains fell out. If the developer commentary indicates anything, it's that Valve focus test almost to a fault, and if a player so much as looked at a wall for too long they painted a big sign on it saying "STOP LOOKING AT THIS WALL."

Fortunately, I eventually found where all the actual puzzles were hiding: they're in the co-op campaign, which I played through with one of my fat friends. With the addition of two extra portals to play around with, the puzzles are bigger and better and satisfying to solve through teamwork. If you need to swiftly make friends with someone, like a future father-in-law or armed burglar, then you couldn't find a better ice-breaker. I just don't think it has any replay value whatsoever. If you played it again with another fat friend, you'd just get sick of lugging the ball and chain around and they'd resent you for not letting them figure shit out on their own. So make doubly sure your armed burglar isn't an avid PC gamer.

The continued life of the co-op will depend on additional downloadable levels, not - let me make this totally clear - the unlockable hats and costumes that they currently have, presumably with the attitude of "it worked for Team Fortress 2". But did it really work for Team Fortress 2? I don't think so, because one of TF2 's strongest features was in the visual design, and to the fashion-unconscious masses Valve should just have said: "No, you can't wear whatever hat you like. Hands up everyone in this room who hires professional character designers. Oh, just me? Right. So shut up and wear your fucking Akubra!"

Whatever you take from this video, don't let it be that Portal 2 isn't worth your time, because it most certainly is. Were it in any other position it would accumulate enough of my saliva to run all its household plumbing for several days. Unfortunately, Portal 2 is in the uncomfortable position of necessarily having to be compared to Portal 1. And taking both games as wholes, it can't possibly have the same impact. Certainly there's more of it, but that just makes it flabbier. And it's still funny, but more in a broader, custard pie to the face sense than in a finer, snooker cue to the bollocks sense. It's a quantity over quality issue. It's the difference between having a punnet containing three nice, plump cherries or one containing five nice, plump cherries and a handful of sawdust. You're either left wanting more or left with a mouth tasting like a pigeon's been roosting in it.

AddendaEdit

Sure was a nice career I almost had there: Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw

Still if there's a Portal 3 there's now excellent justification for setting it in space, which is 100% guaranteed to improve a franchise

Now you're sinking with portholes


ScreenshotsEdit

Portal 2 1

It's like Ahab and Moby Dick, if Ahab regarded Moby Dick with asexual lust

Portal 2 2

Had to cut corners like it was crunch time at the circle factory

Portal 2 3

The chamber you're in gets picked up and hauled around, bits falling off the walls and revealing epic views of the ruined facility beyond

External LinksEdit

Episodes
2007 - 2010
2007
Q3 The Darkness Demo · Fable: The Lost Chapters · Zero Punctuation (Episode) · Heavenly Sword and Other Stuff · Psychonauts · Console Rundown · BioShock · Tomb Raider: Anniversary · Manhunt · Peggle
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2008
Q1 Super Mario Galaxy · Silent Hill: Origins · Crysis · The Witcher · Resident Evil: The Umbrella Chronicles · Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare · SimCity Societies · Yahtzee Goes to GDC · Uncharted: Drake's Fortune · Devil May Cry 4 · Burnout: Paradise · Turok · Zack & Wiki: Quest for Barbaros' Treasure
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2009
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Q2 X-Blades/Halo Wars · Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars · MadWorld · Tom Clancy's H.A.W.X · Siren: Blood Curse · The Chronicles of Riddick: Assault on Dark Athena · Valkyria Chronicles · Velvet Assassin · Duke Nukem Forever · Bionic Commando · InFamous · The Second Annual E3 Hype Massacre · Prototype
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2010
Q1 Awards for 2009 · Torchlight · Darksiders · Bayonetta · Dark Void · Borderlands · Mass Effect 2 · Dante's Inferno · BioShock 2 · Aliens vs Predator · Heavy Rain · Battlefield: Bad Company 2 · Final Fantasy XIII
Q2 April Fools 2010 · God of War III · Red Steel 2 · Just Cause 2 · Silent Hill: Shattered Memories · Splinter Cell: Conviction · Nier · Dead to Rights: Retribution · Monster Hunter Tri · Alan Wake · Red Dead Redemption · Alpha Protocol · Prince of Persia: The Forgotten Sands · E3 2010
Q3 No More Heroes 2: Desperate Struggle · Super Mario Galaxy 2 · Singularity · Crackdown 2 · DeathSpank & Limbo · Shadow of the Colossus · Split Second: Velocity · Transformers: War for Cybertron · Kane & Lynch 2: Dog Days · Mafia II · Metroid: Other M · Video Game Voters Network · Amnesia: The Dark Descent
Q4 Halo: Reach · Dead Rising 2 · Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions · Castlevania: Lords of Shadow · Enslaved: Odyssey to the West · Fallout: New Vegas · Star Wars: The Force Unleashed II · Call of Duty: Black Ops · IPhone Games · Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood · Splatterhouse · Epic Mickey · Holiday 2010
2011 - 2014
2011
Q1 Top 5 of 2010 · World of Warcraft: Cataclysm · Fable III · Minecraft · A Shadow's Tale · Dead Space 2 · DC Universe Online · MindJack · Two Worlds II · Bulletstorm · Killzone 3 · Kirby's Epic Yarn · Dragon Age II
Q2 Pokémon White · Yakuza 4 · Crysis 2 · Nintendo 3DS · Portal 2 · Castlevania: Symphony of the Night · Mortal Kombat · Brink · L.A. Noire · The Witcher 2 · Hunted: The Demon's Forge · Duke Nukem Forever (for real this time) · InFamous 2
Q3 Alice: Madness Returns · Shadows of the Damned · F.E.A.R. 3 · The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time 3D · Call of Juarez: The Cartel · Bastion and From Dust · Catherine · Red Faction: Armageddon · Deus Ex · Deus Ex: Human Revolution · Driver: San Francisco · Dead Island · Resistance 3
Q4 Gears of War 3 · Hard Reset · Rage · Kinect · Batman: Arkham City · Battlefield 3 · Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception · Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 · The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim · Saints Row: The Third · Assassin's Creed: Revelations · The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword
2012
Q1 Serious Sam 3: BFE · Top 5 of 2011 · Super Mario 3D Land & Rayman Origins · Sonic Generations · Star Wars: The Old Republic · Amy · Resident Evil: Revelations · Darkness 2 · Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning · NeverDead · Syndicate · Mass Effect 3 · Twisted Metal
Q2 Yakuza: Dead Souls · Ninja Gaiden 3 · Silent Hill: Downpour · Kid Icarus: Uprising · Fez and I Am Alive · Prototype 2 · Risen 2: Dark Waters · Sniper Elite V2 · Diablo 3 · Max Payne 3 · Dragon's Dogma · E3 2012 · Lollipop Chainsaw
Q3 Quantum Conundrum · Spec Ops: The Line · Walking Dead · Inversion · The Amazing Spider-Man · Half-Life · Wreckateer and Deadlight · Steam Roundup · Sleeping Dogs · Darksiders 2 · DayZ · Guild Wars 2
Q4 Borderlands 2 · FIFA 13 · Resident Evil 6 · Dishonored · XCOM: Enemy Unknown · Medal of Honor: Warfighter & Doom 3: BFG Edition · Assassin's Creed 3 · Halo 4 · Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 · Hitman: Absolution · Far Cry 3 · ZombiU
2013
Q1 Top 5 of 2012 · Paper Mario: Sticker Star · Black Knight Sword & Hotline Miami · Anarchy Reigns · DMC: Devil May Cry · The Cave · Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch · Dead Space 3 · Aliens: Colonial Marines · Crysis 3 · Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance · Tomb Raider · SimCity
Q2 The Walking Dead: Survival Instinct · BioShock Infinite · Lego City Undercover · Luigi's Mansion: Dark Moon · Injustice: Gods Among Us · Star Trek · Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon · System Shock 2 · Metro: Last Light · Next Gen Buyer's Guide · Fuse · Remember Me · E3 2013
Q3 The Last of Us · Deadpool · Animal Crossing: New Leaf · Ride to Hell: Retribution · Dark · Mario & Luigi: Dream Team · Rise of the Triad · Papers, Please & Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons · Pikmin 3 · The Bureau: XCOM Declassified · Saints Row 4 · Killer is Dead · Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs
Q4 Grand Theft Auto V · Lost Planet 3 · Beyond: Two Souls · The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker HD · Batman: Arkham Origins · Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag · Call of Duty: Ghosts · Exclusives Showdown · Ryse: Son of Rome · Dead Rising 3 · Super Mario 3D World
2014
Q1 Top 5 of 2013 · Knack · Killzone: Shadow Fall · Survival Special · Broken Age · Might & Magic X: Legacy · The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds · Dark Souls · Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII · Strider · Thief · Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2 · Dark Souls II
Q2 Titanfall · InFamous: Second Son · Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes · The Elder Scrolls Online · South Park: The Stick of Truth · FTL: Faster Than Light · Child of Day-Light · The Amazing Spider-Man 2 · Tesla Effect: A Tex Murphy Adventure · Wolfenstein: The New Order · WATCH DOGS · E3 2014 · Murdered: Soul Suspect
Q3 Tomodachi Life · Enemy Front & Valiant Hearts: The Great War · Shovel Knight · EarthBound · Transistor · E.T. · Firefall · Sacred 3 · Risen 3: Titan Lords · Daikatana · Lichdom: Battlemage · The Sims 4 · Destiny
Q4 D4: Dark Dreams Don't Die · Hyrule Warriors · Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor · Alien Isolation · The Evil Within · Bayonetta 2 · Sunset Overdrive · Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare · Assassin's Creed: Unity · Far Cry 4 · Dragon Age: Inquisition · Sonic Boom: Rise of Lyric · Top 5 Games of 2014
2015 - 2017
2015
Q1 The Talos Principle · Elite: Dangerous · Five Nights at Freddy's and This War of Mine · Lords of the Fallen · Saints Row: Gat out of Hell · Dying Light · Grim Fandango · Evolve · The Order: 1886 · The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask 3D · Resident Evil Revelations 2 · Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number & Ori and the Blind Forest
Q2 Battlefield: Hardline · Bloodborne · Half-Life 2 Update · Axiom Verge & Stealth Inc 2 · Mortal Kombat X · Grand Theft Auto Online · Broken Age: Act 2 · Wolfenstein: The Old Blood · Cyberpunk Double · The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt · Splatoon · Hatred · E3 2015
Q3 Alone in the Dark: Illumination · Batman: Arkham Knight · Yoshi's Woolly World · Cave Story · Godzilla · Rocket League & Tembo the Badass Elephant · King's Quest: A Knight to Remember · Nom Nom Galaxy & Freedom Planet · Everybody's Gone To The Rapture · Volume · Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain · Mad Max · Gears of War Ultimate Edition · Until Dawn
Q4 Super Mario Maker · SOMA · Rock Band 4 · Assassin's Creed Syndicate · Halo 5: Guardians · Call of Duty: Black Ops 3 · Rise of the Tomb Raider · Fallout 4 · Star Wars: Battlefront · Just Cause 3 · Fatal Frame: Maiden of Black Water
2016
Q1 Top 5 Games of 2015 · Devil's Third · Mario & Luigi: Paper Jam · Assassin's Creed Chronicles · Xenoblade Chronicles X · The Witness & Bombshell · Gravity Rush · XCOM 2 · Firewatch & Layers of Fear · Far Cry Primal · Stardew Valley & SUPERHOT · The Division · Salt and Sanctuary
Q2 Republique · Shadow Warrior · Quantum Break · Dark Souls III · Ratchet & Clank · Star Fox Zero · Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door · Uncharted 4: A Thief's End · Doom · Homefront: The Revolution · Overwatch & Battleborn · Mirror's Edge: Catalyst · E3 2016
Q3 Mighty No. 9 · Inside & Shadow of the Beast · The Technomancer · Furi & Song of the Deep · I Am Setsuna · Headlander & Quadrilateral Cowboy · Quake · No Man's Sky · Grow Up · Deus Ex: Mankind Divided · Metroid Prime: Federation Force · The Curious Expedition & Mother Russia Bleeds · ReCore
Q4 Capcom Five · Clustertruck & Lichtspeer · Paper Mario: Color Splash · Mafia III · Gears of War 4 · PlayStation VR · Battlefield 1 · Titanfall 2 vs Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare · Dishonored 2 · WATCH DOGS 2 · Final Fantasy XV · The Last Guardian
2017
Q1 Top 5 Games of 2016 · Let It Die · Dead Rising 4 · Hitman · Gravity Rush 2 · Resident Evil 7 · Yakuza 0 · Nioh · For Honor · Nintendo Switch & Breath of the Wild · Horizon Zero Dawn · Nier Automata · Ghost Recon Wildlands
Q2 Mass Effect Andromeda · Yooka-Laylee · Persona 5 · Remastered Editions · Outlast 2 · Sniper: Ghost Warrior 3 · Prey · Wilson's Heart

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