I’ve Been Really Busy Being Dead
I really want to spoil Portal 2 for you – assuming you haven’t played it yet. Maybe you have. It has been out for a few days now, and it’s not particularly lengthy. But maybe you haven’t. In which case, I really want to spoil Portal 2 for you. I want to reveal all its surprises, the silly moments that made me laugh, the poignant moments that made me sad, and all the puzzles that made me feel so smart. When a game is this good you can’t help but talk about it.
But it wouldn’t be right. You don’t want spoilers.
How about we compromise? How about one little, inconsequential spoiler from early in the game? It’s not even really a spoiler, just a retelling of what happened to me after completing a minor puzzle. You don’t mind, do you? You do? Oh… Well, too bad. Here it comes.
“Every test chamber is equipped with an Emancipation Grill at its exit, so that test subjects cannot smuggle test objects out of the test area,” says GLaDOS. “This one is broken.” And then ominously, “Don’t take anything with you.”
Don’t take anything with me? Sitting a few feet is the Companion Cube! Well not, the Companion Cube – that one was sadly incinerated – but a Companion Cube. I’ve already completed the puzzle. I’m at the exit and just a few steps away from the elevator. How can I not go back for my cube? So, I throw a portal up, run back for my cube, throw up another portal, and walk through. We’re both beyond where the Emancipation Grill would be. I jump up and down with ecstasy, carrying my cube, thinking about how I’ve beat the system. We win, and I get to be with my cube.
Suddenly, when we’re one jump away from the elevator, the Companion Cube just disintegrates, fizzles into nothingness. I’m left holding nothing. “I think that one was about to say, ‘I love you,’” she says. “They are sentient of course. We just have a lot of them.”
It was a trap! I should have known – she actually had already fizzled two other Companion Cubes – but I was blinded by excitement. It was all a trap to play with my emotions. And it worked! It did play with my emotions, but not in the way that GLaDOS intended. Her sarcasm, her contempt, her deviousness, the surprise of it all – it was wonderful.
There are so many moments in Portal 2 similar to the spoiler above that you may or may not have read, moments that surprise and astonish. All of them made me think Valve was in my head while I played the game. They knew what I was going to do before I did it. They knew how I would react to certain situations, what I would think and feel, before I knew what to think and feel. Which, when you remember that Valve employs an experimental psychologist and measures playtester biofeedback with devices like heartbeat detectors and skin conductance sensors, isn’t that surprising.
Smart, Surprising, Funny, Poignant, Magnificent.