Portal 2: slower than a game of chess, but with cooler physics

, | Game diaries

The dirty little secret about Portal 2 multiplier is this: It’s dull. It’s incredibly, mind-numbingly slow.

After the jump, more dirty little secrets about Portal 2 multiplayer

I came home from work one day in the middle of the week to enjoy an hour of game time with Aaron. He had special dispensation to play the game, even though he would have to play it late on a school night to accommodate my schedule. I got home and we all had our dinner, cleaned up the kitchen, and then moved the couch around got ourselves ready to go.

About fifteen minutes into it, I realized this sad fact: Portal 2 is a lot like work. It’s like exercise for your mind. Portal 2 is what you might want to do to study up for Mensa entrance examinations. At one point, I actually found myself looking at Aaron with thinly veiled frustration.

“Dude, we’ve been on this level for going on 20 minutes — Are you going to solve this thing or what?

We may have done some of the earlier levels in the middle of the week with no problem, but once we got past, say, level three, I found I had to bring a certain amount of alertness and freshness of mind to the game to be — hum, successful isn’t really the right word. Aggravated and annoyed is more like what I was trying to avoid.

Portal 2 is not a game to blow off steam, unless blowing off steam for you is all about deep thought and concentration. Aaron seems to be that kind of person. He makes the best of any gaming downtime by using YouTube to research game strategies or the next big gaming phenomenon. He actually finished the Portal 2 single player game in two nights of super focused gaming, about ten hours total. To me that seems crazy.

How could anyone give a game this hard that much focus?

But probably because of this slow, plodding pace, Portal 2 is also incredibly rewarding, if you can manage to figure out its level secrets. I really feel as if I’ve accomplished something, if I’m the one who figures out the solution to a level. Sometimes I don’t even completely understand what I’m doing as I’m solving the puzzles. I feel as if I’m riding the wave of understanding, kind of like watching the movie Inception, listening to Leonardo DiCaprio explain to me how he’s going to plant an idea into some dude’s mind and how that will eventually work for him. Sure, I could go to all the trouble to create charts and graphs to really understand exactly when Ken Watanabe enters limbo or which death “kicks” DiCaprio back up to reality. Or I could just keep moving forward, plunking down different combinations of portals and sort of understanding where it’s all leading, and what I might try next. What’s really amazing about this game is the fact that there is someone out there at Valve — some Christopher Nolan of video gaming — who does understand how it all works and why.

The problem for me is sticking with the game long enough to capture the rewarding experience. Aaron told me his head actually hurt as he went after the last few levels in the single player mode. He assures me he only looked for a YouTube cheat once, and that was only because his head was throbbing.
Me, I’m okay with YouTube cheats and walkthroughs. Especially if the game I’m playing starts to make my head pound.

Next, the really real true life secret of Portal 2 play time (has less to do with Portal 2 than I had previously imagined).
Click here for the previous Portal 2 entry.

Tim Elhajj lives in Bellevue, Washington. His first book, Dopefiend: A Father’s Journey from Addiction to Redemption is forthcoming from Central Recovery Press in September 2011.