I got the Half-Life 2 Orange Box this week. I haven’t played it much (I don’t have much time for gaming these days) but I did beat Portal in a day. I’ve also played a bit of Team Fortress 2, and it’s a pretty good visual upgrade to Classic (but still the same game). I’m saving Episode 2 until Laura gets back into town, as she enjoys watching me play. I was slightly annoyed at having to re-buy Half-Life 2 and Episode 1 over again, but I’ve forgiven Valve as I’ve come to understand that they were mostly pressured into it by the brick-and-mortar retailers. Valve did the right thing by allowing (and in fact promoting) the transfer of extra licenses/activation keys to other people. By the way, if you’d like my keys for HL2 and Ep1, let me know.
If the Gravity Gun was a big step forward in gameplay evolution, then the Portal Gun is a flying leap. (The fact that they’re both born from the same series should tell you something). It’s definitely the most flexible and enjoyable game weapon I’ve seen yet. It’s a teleporter, lock pick, jet pack, grappling hook, cloaking device, and grenade launcher all rolled into one. The best part is that it’s not overbalanced at any of those things, so you have to be clever to get the most out of it.
The big problem is that it’s way to easy to be too clever, and so the map designers had to design in heavy restrictions to keep it from becoming too unbalanced. Thus, you can only use the Portal Gun where they allow you to use it, via the mechanism of walls that don’t allow portals. At times the restrictions are stifling, but it’s completely forgivable once you consider:
- The game is designed and marketed as a puzzle game, not a more freeform adventure.
- They worked the restrictions into the storyline very well: the protagonist is supposed to be advancing through a testing facility, not running around free.
- It’s clear that the entire Portal project was a proof-of-concept for future Half-Life games. It’s going to get better from here. I pity the level designers though.
Also: I’ve often said that Fallout 2 has the best intro movie of any computer game; I think Portal gets the prize for best end game movie (though it loses some of the effect if you haven’t played it all the way through).