The original Portal was not a stand-alone game: That’s important to remember. If it had been a movie, it would have been at the bottom of a triple-bill, after Half-Life 2: Episode 2 and Team Fortress 2. It was a bonus.
But like some of the great B-movies, Portal rapidly eclipsed its A-list companions. This was something different. It was compact, flawlessly designed, witty, and unexpected. There wasn’t an ounce of fat on it. Sure, it was a puzzle game, but in the process of ushering you gently through the puzzles it gradually transformed into a wickedly funny piece of sci-fi storytelling. The genius was in the thrill of this discovery, as a puzzle game flowered into something amazing and unpredictable.
And it can never happen again. Portal’s appeal wasn’t just in the mechanics or gameplay: it was in the gradual way GLaDOS went all HAL-9000 while you were busy playing with cubes. Portal 2 can’t possibly duplicate that thrill of discovery, so it compensates with size and humor. It’s a longer game, it’s a funnier game, it’s a bigger game. But is it a better game?
No. It’s great, certainly, and has some of the best writing and puzzle design you’ll find in any game this year. But the new bulk isn’t muscle: It’s flab. The environments get too large. The narrative sequences—so effortlessly blended into the gameplay of the original—now occasionally stop the game cold.
Yes, I know I’m nitpicking on a game that I’d gladly rate a 10, but my point is this: Bigger isn’t always better, and some kinds of magic just can’t be re-created. Portal 2 is many wonderful things, but it can never be the one thing that made Portal a classic: It could never be new again.
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