Portal 2: The Smartest Video Game Ever?
In this writer’s extensive experience, modern video games—which trump even movies in the battle for the attention of today's youth—are almost universally mediocre. Formulaic plots (space marines/terrorists/aliens/orcs) and kill-or-be-killed gameplay is the standard, and a glassy-eyed, button-mashing, semi-satisfied player is the result. These games don't stimulate the mind or imagination, they only numb it.
Then there’s Portal 2.
If you’re familiar with the original Portal game, (quietly released in 2007 for PC and Mac), you’ll know it was a) an amazingly innovative and entertaining first-person puzzle game, and b) achingly brief at about two hours. If you’re not familiar, I could spend a long time explaining the mind-bending mechanics that give the game its name, but you’re better off just watching this. Portal’s storyline was mysterious at first—you wake up in a massive, eerily deserted underground science facility—but it quickly evolves into a brilliantly original plot ripe with some of the funniest dark humor in the medium. To escape, the player must complete a series of spatial, physics-based puzzle levels only solvable with the use of two player-created portals and clever thinking. The puzzles begin simply enough, but soon you find yourself struggling—though not unpleasantly—to put together the solution. When it clicks, it’s a moment of true elation. Fist-pumps are likely.
Portal 2, released a few weeks ago (PC, Mac, Xbox, PS3), is the much longer, grander sequel. Reviews have been over-the-top effusive (“a masterpiece,” “utterly perfect”), but having played it myself, they’re right on the mark. While Portal 2 expands the intriguing story and maintains its fantastic dry sense of humor, it adds new puzzle mechanics to make the levels more intricate. There’s also a new cooperative mode allowing you to play with a friend online to solve even more fiendish challenges.
In fact Portal 2 is so engaging and satisfying that The New York Times even suggested it could be used as an educational tool, imagining that a savvy high school physics teacher might use the game as "a linchpin for an entire series of lessons...becoming the most important science teacher those lucky students have ever had.” A video game—a fun video game—in the classroom. Hell reports its first frost.