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“Portal”: Best Multiplayer Game In Years…?

Yes, you read that title correctly. Is Portal one of the best multiplayer games to come out in years?

I know, I know. Portal is a single-player game. There is no “versus” mode and there is no co-operative campaign. How exactly is the game “multiplayer”, then? Let me explain how I played through the game, and the answer should be pretty obvious.

portal_first_area

With the exception of test chambers 17 and 18, there was always at least one person in the room while I was playing through Portal. My first playthrough of the beginning dozen or so test chambers was with my wife in the room, somewhat paying attention as she went about her own business. There were questions here and there along with the occasional chuckle at GLaDOS, but that was about it.

I decided to show Jeff the game one day, and figured the best way would be to just start at the beginning. Anyone who has played the game knows how fast the first few levels fly by, so I very quickly made my way back to where I had left-off (I think somewhere around test chamber 12). From there, it seemed like there was no stopping us. While I was in full control of the game (personally having my hands on the mouse and keyboard), the two of us figured out the puzzles in each chamber to get Chell onwards through the Enrichment Center’s test. It was getting pretty late that evening, so we left off at the beginning of test chamber 17.

From there I dropped the game for a while (though for no particular reason other than that… well… that’s just how I roll). A few weeks back (OK, the end of November) I finally decided to play the game some more. I was home by myself for the evening and played through test chambers 17 and 18. It was a very different experience. “Lonely” is perhaps the best way to describe it, and probably more along the lines of how Chell actually felt (were she, ya’ know, a real person). That’s not to say it was a bad experience; it was simply different.

I began running into chugging problems with the game, with later levels throwing more and more “stuff” on the screen and my GeForce 7900 GS having a tough time keeping up. I again “dropped” the game for a little bit, right at the start of the final level.

Fast forward a couple months later, and the new GeForce 9800 GT is all installed and running things silky-smooth. It was time to beat Portal.

portal_final_area

That evening, with not only Jeff right by my side, but his girlfriend and my wife hanging out in the background, we returned to the multiplayer version of the game that I knew so well from the earlier sessions. It was exactly what I was looking for, and I can’t imagine not having (finally) experienced that ending level and battle solely by myself.

What did I enjoy so much about it? Those moments where we would all go, “Oooooooooohhhhhh!” upon figuring out the deceptively-simple key to a puzzle. The collective laughter at GLaDOS’ increasingly-desperate antics (the “reverse psychology” tirade was brilliant). The chuckles at hilarious things in the background (like the PowerPoint-esque presentations in the meeting rooms in the final level). The random shout-outs of things to try or places to look.

With the exception of a couple little platforming acrobatics to perform at certain points, the pace of the game is “slow” enough for anyone around to really become absorbed into the story and flow right along with it. It gives you enough time, but also provides just enough of a sense of dread that you need to hurry up and move on… and everyone is right there with you.

Andrew mentioned to me that when he played through Portal: Still Alive on the 360, he typically had one of his roommates there with him (who had played through the game before). What were your “multiplayer” experiences like with this game? Did you just blow through it all by yourself in one sitting? Did you later replay to show friends and family? Were you that “friends and family” being shown the game?

(Blah blah blah, “Welcome to 2007″…)

2 Comments

  1. Yeah, I had very similar experience when I played the last level. Patrick had been guiding most of the game At the last stage, it was me, Patrick, my friend Holly and her boyfriend John. I kept asking if anyone else wanted to play, but they just wanted to watch me and hear my constant, “Holy crap!” reactions to the game.

  2. I played through the game in just a handful of sittings, and my girlfriend was there watching and suggesting solutions for all but one of those sittings. And the time she wasn’t there, I defnitely got that lonely feeling.

    Conversely, I just fnishd playing through Dead Space and I enjoyed that game the most when I was playing alone. In that case, having other people around seemed to prevent becoming totally immersed in the game and I just didn’t feel the tension buidling the same way I did when playing alone.

    Next up in my GameFly queue is Left 4 Dead (which I’ve heard nothing but good things about) and it will be interesting to see what an action/survival game built for co-operative play feels like compared to something like Dead Space or the Resident Evil series.

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