Portal 2

Portal 2 feels very different from the first game. The first game seemed a lot like what it was: a new idea that came in from the outside-- outside Valve's usual Half-Life universe, and outside the usual thinking. Portal 2 feels a lot like that idea brought into the Half-Life universe, and expanded-- which is a good thing, I think.

I really enjoyed the backstory of Aperture Science and the comparison to the Black Mesa mythos that Half-Life is steeped in. The origin story for GlaDOS was terrific, and it came as a huge surprise to me that this came about organically, almost accidentally-- it seemed almost as if it had to have been planned from the very start, it worked so well.

Some have bemoaned the addition of other gameplay mechanics, namely the speed, bounce, and portal gels, as it takes center stage ahead of the portal gun itself, especially during the old test areas of Aperture. Some I know complained that the puzzles themselves were more limiting, allowing for one solution and one solution only, rather than multiple possibilities, as in some of the first game's puzzles.

I also like the idea of doing things in ways the designers don't intend, but I can see what Valve was trying to do here, and mostly, it works. Especially in some of the old test chambers, you don't feel so much like you're solving a puzzle as you are interacting with a Rube Goldberg machine, from the inside.

One thing I did notice is that the existence of the portal gel changed a fundamental perception I had drawn from the first game about how portals work. In the early stages of the first game, you can shoot a portal on nearly every surface. Those puzzles are so simple that either a portal made anywhere else but where the designers intended is pointless. Later on, as they increase in complexity, the flexibility to place portals everywhere can give rise to unexpected solutions. Then, to increase difficulty, the designers start placing special dark, metallic tiles in rooms to prevent portal placement. The conclusion I drew from this is that in general, portals can be placed on any surface unless special effort has been made (special tiles) to prevent it. I'm not sure, but GlaDOS may even have referenced this idea while introducing one of the rooms that use these anti-portal tiles.

This conclusion is bolstered, somewhat, by what happens when you get into the superstructure of the enrichment center. You can't just place portals on anything back there, but surfaces that can't hold a portal often share a similar dark, rusty, metallic texture to them, similar to the anti-portal tiles. Plain, smooth, concrete walls seem to work fine.

Portal 2 turns this on its head, with its moon dust and portal gel. Here, we're told that surfaces need to be specially treated in order to conduct portals, and the white tiles that make up enrichment center test chambers have been treated specially in order to work with the portal gun. Ordinary surfaces can be treated with this gel, but not all ordinary smooth white surfaces can be used with the gun without the gel. While this somewhat contradicts what we seem to see in Portal 1, it does make more sense.

In summary, I think what the new gels and the deeper story brought to Portal 2 outweighed what was lost from Portal 1's deeper and more non-linear puzzles. Almost enough to stop wondering where Episode 3 is. Almost.