As you may know, Row Three has long had a sister site called More Pop, where Row Three contributors talked about music, books, television, video games, basically whatever pop culture stuff we wanted to that wasn’t film. With the end of Lost, which generating our most active threads over there, it’s gotten harder and harder for us to maintain on a regular basis and we’ve made the decision to go ahead and shutter it. HOWEVER. We still have other pop-culture stuff we want to talk about besides movies once in a while, so we’re resurrecting the idea as a column over here. Might be weekly, might be less, but never more. We’re still very focused on movies, and that’s never going to change. But once in a while, we’ll bring you our thoughts on video games, music, books, and more, and then open up the comments as a forum to talk about, basically, whatever the hell you want to. This is the space for all those things you never quite knew where to talk about before. Post it here.
To kick things off, I was going to talk about playing Deus Ex: Human Revolution, a game I’ve been dying to get pretty much since it was announced. The first Deus Ex game for PC was really a watershed moment for me as a gamer – I’d been playing Myst and other adventure games (which I still love, don’t get me wrong; I’d like nothing better than for that style of gaming to make a comeback), but then a friend gave me Deus Ex, my first FPS/RPG of any type, and I was hooked. Without it, I probably wouldn’t be a gamer at all now.
But what actually happened was Gamefly (the Netflix of video games) finally sent me Portal 2 after weeks of waiting, and I’ve been consumed with that for the past two weeks. The first Portal game was a sliver of an add-on to The Orange Box, Valve’s combination of their previously-released games Half-Life, Half-Life 2 and Team Fortress. But it was Portal that got all the word of mouth in that set, thanks to challenging puzzles, a witty script, a catchy song, and one of the most memorable AIs of all time.
Portal 2, which came out this spring, expands on these things with a longer single-player campaign that picks up after the events of the first game, plus a totally new co-op campaign. This time around, you wake up alone in the Aperture Science facility, which is now in pretty decrepit condition, with a eager, Scottish-accented AI core working with you to help you escape – after going through a number of testing rooms with your portal gun first, of course. The script remains as witty as ever, with the laugh-out-loud moments starting not five minutes into the game. They continue, even as you’re set upon by puzzles that get more and more difficult, but never impossible. I’m pretty decent at puzzle games, but I can get frustrated pretty easily – Portal 2 managed to keep me unfrustrated even at the puzzles that took me over an hour to figure out (yes, some of them did, I admit it).
I think GLaDOS is one of the best villains in video games – here her combination of detached scientific statements and unconcealed bitterness is hilarious and awesome, and the game has some surprises up its sleeve, too, concerning her. The best part, though, is when you uncover an older course of tests from the 1980s, with a whole different but none-the-less entertaining feel. The game is still relatively short, but just about the time you think it’s almost over, it has another twist up its sleeve. The main twist is relatively predictable, but smart dialogue makes it continually fun anyway, along with great voice acting from the three principles (including J.K. Simmons, who, let’s face it, makes everything better). The co-op mode is completely separate, involving two testing robots going through a wholly different set of testing chambers – the level of cooperation needed here is high, which is great. Too many co-op games I’ve played only have a modicum of actual cooperation needed.
This is, quite simply, a fantastic game. I only wish it had been longer, though I probably put 20 or so hours into it all told, including repeating a bunch of it to get the achievements. It’s delightful every step of the way, and manages to be both mentally challenging and adrenaline-pumping exciting, as well as hilarious. It’s been out since spring, so lots of people have already finished it long ago…have you played Portal 2, and if so, what did you think of it?
Also feel free to bring up any other non-film-related pop culture you want to talk about!