Have You Played… Portal 2

Have You Played? is an endless stream of game retrospectives. One a day, every day of the year, perhaps for all time.

Remember how recently Portal 2 [official site] came out? IT WAS FIVE YEARS AGO. Sorry about that. I have a suspicion those magic windows might be having unsuspected effects on time dilation.

Portal was, and still is, a masterpiece. A couple of hours, massive twists, and one of the most exciting and original means of solving puzzles ever. Portal 2, weirdly, doesn’t feel like it merits the “masterpiece” mantel, and I’m trying to work out why. Because it’s utterly brilliant.

I wonder if it’s because it’s so much bigger, much less of this perfect vignette. Every moment of Portal 2 is stunning, excruciatingly clever puzzles accompanied by hilarious writing and acting. Stephen Merchant isn’t annoying as Wheatley, your robot guide, but is in fact positively great. Ellen McLain is of course perfect as GLaDOS once again, and J K Simmons is wondrous.

I wonder if it’s because it has so much more than just the portals. The light bridges, the paints, the swirly-whirly transporting beams… Each is great (although the paint is the game’s weaker point), but it also dilutes significant impact of just that single tool in the first.

I wonder if it’s because it feels so much more like a massive-budget production, less indie innovation and more money and staff?

Still, none of it matters, because the game is bloody amazing. It’s a deconstruction of the original game, it’s a deconstruction of gaming, and gaming companies. It even feels a little like an origin story for Valve is tucked in there. And the potato. Oh my, the potato.

It’s extraordinary. You surely must have played it?


  1. Herzog says:

    I played it for the first time this year. It’s not as tight as part one, but still a brilliant game.

    I can recommend the Steam Workshop. It gave me some more hours after finishing the single player campaign. Also Portal Stories : Mel.

    Looking forward to part 3!

  2. Cinek says:

    Yep. Played it, completed, was a very fine game. But I still liked the original Portal more. Felt more immersive and coherent. Still I enjoyed a ton out of Portal 2.

    • Arkayjiya says:

      I always felt like Portal 2 was bioshockesque while Portal 1 was more like the Cube horror movie. I liked the first one better because it really managed to create a mood more efficiently, although having played it so much and with it being so fast to finish, it lost some of that fright a little.

  3. gpown says:

    *slow clap* Ah, good. So we have that.

  4. keefybabe says:

    One of the best things about Portal 2 was it’s strong use of comedy. Not since the lucasarts adventures had comedy been such a strong component of a game. I remember genuinely laughing out loud at points.

    Hopefully Valve will make something for the single player experience again in the future.

    • silentdan says:

      I loved the bit where Wheatley was complaining about his low status among the other robots. “… and they assigned me to watch over the FILTHY HUMANS, if you can believe — oh … um, I’m sorry. That just slipped out.”

  5. legopirate27 says:

    Portal 2 was a complete delight! Excellent puzzle solving challenges and incredible writing. I believe it surpassed the original, but the scope and production was so much grander for the sequel. Both entries are absolute gems.

  6. kalniel says:

    The credits song wasn’t as good as Portal, otherwise I thought it was great.

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      Risingson says:

      I got really emotional in the credit song of portal1. I say it was the comedown to everyone, but between you and me the game just felt like a one sided lve story where you rejected soneone… And I am sure there are thousands of essays that tell this sane story.

    • welverin says:

      Wrong, it is a much better song.

  7. AskForBarry says:

    The interaction between the portals and the paint is one of my favourite mechanisms in any game ever. I remember not believing my own eyes the first time I saw it.

  8. Major Seventy Six says:

    Played it twice back to back. Can’t wait for Portal 3. And HL3. And TF3. And L4D3.

    Basically, Valves Trinity box. With the Trinity killer as guest :)

    • silentdan says:

      I think we all know we’ll see DOTA 3 first.

      • Hmm-Hmm. says:

        Nu-uh! Dota 2 will probably, just as most e-sports aspiring titles, stick around for a long time. What would their incentive be to make a third title? Flagging interest in Dota 2? Its’ design becoming out-of-date?

        • jama says:

          I think that was the joke. VALVE DOESN’T DO THREES.

          • Premium User Badge

            particlese says:

            Have patience. They’re still working on Ricochet 2 (delayed for Vive support, I hear), so the threes can’t start yet.

          • LennyLeonardo says:

            OK,Portal 4 then. 4tal.

  9. Plank says:

    “Portal 2, weirdly, doesn’t feel like it merits the “masterpiece” mantel, and I’m trying to work out why. Because it’s utterly brilliant.”

    Maybe because it was more test chambers. No, some will say, you escaped the test chambers. Yes, and the open areas were still test chambers. It was just a matter of finding the white walls/painting walls white. It was too linear.

    • jama says:

      The portal series was always about linearity. Portal is about finding the solution, never about making a solution. A good video that talks a bit about what it calls “puzzle solving” vs. “problem solving”: link to youtube.com

  10. mike2R says:

    Not yet. Bought it at release (I loved Portal), and started it. Then decided I wasn’t really in the mood for it right then, and it would be better to save it for when I was.

    Five years… Maybe this weekend…

  11. Coming Second says:

    It’s consistently funny throughout, which I think is the big accomplishment it holds over Portal 1. It’s one thing to make an audience laugh for an hour, it’s another to do it for three or four times that length, particularly given that audience is already used to your material and knows what to expect. It’s just got such a good script.

    Nothing will ever be quite as good as Portal thanks to its perfect size, use of such a small but incredibly strong selection of elements and the way it blindsided everyone. But it’s a bit unfair to judge Portal 2 on the basis it’s a sequel to a perfect game. It’s brill.

    • Ragnar says:

      For me, the humour was mostly a miss. The only part that actually made me laugh was at the very end.

      I felt like Portal 2 was trying, perhaps too hard, but most of the jokes were of the “Heh, that is amusing” variety, as opposed to Portal 1 which was genuinely funny.

  12. deadlybydsgn says:

    I was delighted the other month to realize Valve had added split-screen co-op the to the game since I originally played it. Maybe I can convince my wife to visit some test chambers (if I can tell her it’s low pressure…).

  13. arioch says:

    It was also the most fun I have ever had playing a co-op game… a few short hours of genius.

  14. Czrly says:

    Portal 2 was good. It wasn’t as crisp as the first one – the puzzles often felt like a hunt-the-texture job, instead of a challenge – but it made up for this with atmosphere, humour, character and innovative paint game-play.

    Ambition is never a bad thing, in a game.

  15. Andy_Panthro says:

    I’ve owned it for some time, and have yet to play it. I quite enjoyed Portal 1, but I played it long after all the memes had propagated across the net, so that reduced the impact of certain parts. The sequel is just one of those games that I think I’ll get around to someday, but that day never seems to arrive.

  16. Laurentius says:

    I’ve played it, completed it many times. Absolutely brilliant and fantastic game. One of my favourite games of all time. Claver, funny, witty, I love this game!

  17. Distec says:

    I really liked Portal 2 and have few complaints about the actual puzzles. But I do think the tone got a bit too wacky. That may seem strange given it’s a follow-up of the meme-tastic original, but I thought the first Portal struck a finer balance between the comedic and the sinister. Portal 2 is a pie-filled clown car by comparison. It started getting too cheeky for its own good. And I guess the soundtrack wasn’t as good either; I’m more a fan of Bailey’s work than Morasky’s.

    The upside is listening to JK Simmons be a loon for a few hours – all of his bits were gold.

  18. JakeOfRavenclaw says:

    It’s just so much bigger and more ambitious than the original Portal that it’s tough to compare them. If I had to choose I would pick 2, though. The whole ending sequence is still possibly my favorite moment in any video game (“Ha, I wonder what would happen if I shoot a portal at the–HOLY SHIT IT WORKED!”)

    • merzbau says:

      I remember the commentary where they talk about just how delicate a balancing act it was to prompt the player to shoot at the moon and think it’s their ca-raaazy idea that’ll never work. I kind of wish their data collection was deep enough and/or public enough that we could see what percentage of players reacted to the perceived time pressure in that moment and did the “correct” thing vs what percentage actually stuck around long enough to hear the followup lines from Wheatley (“Yes, take one last look at your precious human moon! IT CANNOT HELP YOU NOW”)

      And all the kudos in the world for The Part Where He Kills You, still one of the funniest things I’ve ever seen in the medium, from the ridiculous pileup of dialog, chapter title, achievement, etc, to the gauntlet of hilariously unsubtle traps with the same subtle prompting to escape as the moonshot, all set to that gloriously silly music track.

      We shall never see its like again :(

      • Urthman says:

        In fact, to preserve the joy of that climactic “aha” moment, the game cheats in your favor. If you accidentally shoot the wrong color at the moon, the game surreptitiously swaps the color of the previous one so the portal works, rather than making the player say, oops, and have to re-create the other end.

  19. caerphoto says:


  20. jomurph86 says:

    Yeah, Jake. The final solution has overshadowed every other part of P2 for me as well! For me, it was soooo incredibly surprising and thus satisfying. And I loved the robot chorus.

  21. Disgruntled Goat says:

    Portal 2 is probably in my top 10 games of all time. Plus me and a buddy had a fantastic time playing through the co-op campaign.

    It’s too bad that Valve doesn’t make games anymore.

  22. Ksempac says:

    Portal 2 is probably the most memorable disappointment of my gaming life of the past 5 years.

    Portal 1 taught you how to use portals and then, in the latter puzzles, let you think on how you could apply that knowledge to continue your progress, which made you feel clever.

    Portal 2 had puzzles that solved themselves, which made you feel bored. Since most walls couldn’t accept portals, i would usually put portals on the first 2 spots i could see that actually accepted portals and ended up solving puzzles before even understanding what the room i had stumbled upon was about. Coop was supposed to be a good addition (i love coop), but it had the same problem of auto solved puzzles.

    • icarussc says:

      Although I enjoyed Portal 2 very much, I had similar feelings.

  23. Premium User Badge

    Risingson says:

    Just started it this week. I finished Portal 1 just some months ago. I don’t know why, when I am about to end something, I let it be for years.

  24. Blippity says:

    Actually, no. I got Portal for free, when Steam hit Macs, but only played one level. Since then, I have not thought about playing it.

  25. Premium User Badge

    alison says:

    I am really excited by the the idea of an Escher-like walking sim where nothing works as it should in the real world. I still haven’t found a game that measures up to my dreams. Portal is one game I have never played that I hope could do it – bizarre jumps through the reality that we have come to understand in the real world – but I have a fear that it is basically just 3D Lemmings, or 3D Lost Vikings, or 3D The Incredible Machine. When I think about Valve and their game-quittingly shitty “puzzles” that made up most of Half-Life, I have zero confidence in a game by the same crew that makes puzzles the entire point. Please, someone, sell it to me. Should I play it? I hate puzzle games. I like walking sims and story games and comedy. Is this for me?

    • 1Life0Continues says:

      Yes, you should play it.

      But I’m not going to “sell” you on it. Portal (and Portal 2) contain some very well designed puzzles, some great visual storytelling and some unique and very funny humour. But if you need to be “sold” on it before playing it, you’ll likely never play it anyway.

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      kfix says:

      I think you should play them for the comedy alone. Well written and very witty dialogue, sharp in the first and a bit wacky in the second.

      The puzzles require a bit of spacial awareness and in some cases a bit of dexterity and timing, but they are not too taxing, they just have that nice quality of making you feel clever.

      The first game in particular is just a jewel of a game for so many reasons. Play it, you won’t regret it.

      • Premium User Badge

        kfix says:

        Or indeed “spatial” awareness….

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        alison says:

        Hrm, it’s back on my Steam wishlist waiting for a sale, then. It was one of the first games i put on my Steam wishlist years ago because i felt like i was missing out on some kind of pop culture thing back when everyone was talking about cake (?), but jumping puzzles and physics puzzles in FPS games have irritated me so much over the years i could never bring myself to spend the 10€ for a game that seems to be all about that. Perhaps if i just focus on the story.

  26. Halk says:

    Here is the answer to the question why Portal 2 is less good than Portal 1: link to youtube.com

    As (almost) always, Yahtzee is dead-on.

    • welverin says:

      I watch Zero Punctuation every week, I find it highly entertaining, but I would never take anything Yahtzee says as a basis for whether a game was worth playing or not.

      • Halk says:

        Well I do. He has a very keen eye at identifying those strengths and weaknesses of games that actually matter (very much unline the writers of this blog and almost all other game journalists), and all the things that are wrong with gaming. What he does is satirical commentary in the noblest sense, not just parody.

        Although I have to agree that in recent years he is doing this less and less. In his early days his reviews were more funny and at the same time more informative. Especially since back then he actually reviewed good games sometimes and then would actually recommend them. Nowadays he basically just reviews games that suck anyway, and then predictably finds lots of things to make fun of.

        There is even an old episode where he complains that “You guys don’t like it when I like a game” so apparently over the years he just adapted somewhat to the demands of his audience who just want the parody, not the commentary, and who possibly never even understood the underlying seriousness in the first place.

    • Ragnar says:

      Yeah, I think he’s spot on there. With the exception that there’s one fault with Portal 1, the puzzle where you have to fire a portal while flying and twisting through space. The challenge was landing a twitch shot while being completely disoriented, rather than figuring out the puzzle, and made me feel a bit nauseous.

  27. Parrilla says:

    Had Portal 1 and 2 installed for about 3 years but always seem to have something else to play. I’ll get around to them some day.

  28. Premium User Badge

    syllopsium says:

    Portal is a puzzle game in first person. Portal 2 is a first person exploration game with puzzles.

    Practically none of the original Portal puzzles are timing and reflex critical. This is not true of Portal 2.

    That’s not to say that Portal 2 isn’t brilliant, horribly addictive, has a much improved background over Portal, and is on my short list of ‘instant buy and play’ games if a sequel ever

    Portal 2 is also excellent through a 3D monitor, I thoroughly recommend it.

  29. unraveler says:


  30. onodera says:

    Portal 2 is bigger, has higher production values and the incredible moonshot ending, but Portal 1 is still the better game, just like Alien is better than Aliens.

    The puzzles were better (too many mechanics relegated portal challenges to “spot the wall segment” in 2), the twist in the turrets level was a real gutpunch, 2 had too many test chambers.

    Nevertheless, not many sequels can afford to be worse than originals and still be outstanding games.

  31. Marclev says:

    Brilliant very, very funny, and feels very much like an “experience” to play.

    But the puzzles were a lot easier than the first, with lots less room for experimentation. And I seem to remember it had lots of clever individuals mechanics (the paint, the light bridges, etc…), but only one or two puzzles at the very end (if that) that actually combined all of those the mechanics and made you really think about how to use them together.

    Also it didn’t have any challenge levels, like Portal 1, which was disappointing.

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  33. Ragnar says:

    I think Portal 2 isn’t a masterpiece because it’s the result of taking a tight, focused experience, and expanding it to be a big, full featured, big budget game.

    There was a lot more of Portal 2, but the puzzles weren’t as clever, the writing wasn’t as sharp, the humour wasn’t as funny. The middle of Portal 2 felt boring. It felt like the game was trying too hard, and would have benefited from some editing and pruning.

    Still a good game, just not nearly as good as Portal.