It didn’t take long for the moment to make itself known. Portal 2 hooked me immediately. And I imagine it does that for players who haven’t indulged in the first game.
Why’s that so? By ‘immediately,’ I mean within the first minute or two. It’s not done with a lengthy opening movie, which sometimes works (actually, it always does in the Final Fantasy games).
In the case of Portal 2, it’s done with humor, a kind of canny, nervous humor that’s also biting but never degrading or demeaning. If Portal 2 didn’t have the humor of Wheatley, the round, little, somewhat obsequious robot voiced by Stephen Merchant, I’d venture to say I might not have played as much as I already have.
Humor is hard to pull of in any medium. In the case of Portal 2, it’s not only like the humor of The Office (appropriate since The Office co-creator Merchant is the voice of Wheatley). It’s also like Tina Fey’s 30 Rock. You won’t laugh out loud uncontrollably as you did with, say, Cat Vs. Printer. But you’ll chuckle inwardly and be attracted to Wheatley’s neurotic charm.
And for Portal 2 to sell beyond the core crowd (which it will in spades), it really needs that charm. Without the well-conceived comic narrative, the brain-mashing puzzles might become tiresome or painful or vertigo-inducing.
Like BioShock and Red Dead, Portal 2 is another case in which narrative enhances gameplay. Well-written, well-acted story and dialog is the last great grail for game makers.
In Portal 2, the narrative is close to perfection. It makes you want to play, and not only to solve the puzzles and win. It also makes you want to play to get that next nugget of humor and story. That’s what makes Portal 2 a game of the year contender. In other words, all hail Wheatley.