In this critical play, I will be exploring the puzzle game Portal 2. The game was developed by Valve and released in 2011 on Steam, Xbox 360, and Playstation 3. Portal 2’s gameplay centers the use of portals to traverse several movement and logic puzzles. The player is equipped with a portal gun that can spawn portals on two selected surfaces, from which the player can enter from one side and exit from the other. The player can also use a gravity gun to pick up objects and place them on various different surfaces. For example, the player might have to move mirror boxes around a map in order to solve a puzzle or the player might need to place weights upon buttons or pressure plates to trigger certain actions within the environmental puzzles. The mechanical elements of these puzzles lead the game to almost feel like a cross between Jenga and Chess, where players must complete a series of puzzles, either by themselves, or with one other player in the co-op campaign. Therefore, the game is structured in a player vs. game or cooperative play model, with the objective of the game being explore the environment and develop solutions to the complex puzzles. Portal 2’s game mechanics stimulate the inquisitive, mathematical, and logical reasoning parts of the player’s brain. The mechanical aspects of the portal and gravity guns create a gameplay dynamic that rewards creative thinking and solution discovery, and in co-op settings, leads to brainstorming sessions with the co-op partner.
Portal 2’s sources of fun stem from challenge, discovery, and expression. The gameplay “challenge” stems from the logic puzzles and locomotion challenges the game confronts the player with. The “discovery” stems from the player’s exploration of Aperture Science’s Labs and the game’s environmental exploration potential. The “expression” stems from the many different ways to solve the game’s puzzles.
Through my playthrough of the game, in both the singleplayer and multiplayer components, I found the game to be exceptionally engaging. The sound, physics, and visual design of the gravity and portal gun mechanics were very satisfying and the feeling I got after solving a Portal puzzle was pristine. During my multiplayer co-op playthrough of the campaign, I found myself communicating with my partner and brainstorming extravagant strategies on how to solve the puzzles. One thing I found happening often, was that the actual solution for the puzzle was much simpler than what we had imagined. I am not entirely sure whether this is more related to the strategies I used for approaching the puzzles or the actual puzzle game mechanics themselves. I also felt like certain puzzles were not very intuitive, and in certain cases I had to pull up the IGN walkthrough to get a hint in terms of what to do next. Having a more helpful in-game hint system in Portal 2 could perhaps better help players who are stuck.