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OnlySP 50 Favorite Games

OnlySP’s Favorite Games #41—Portal 2

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OnlySP Favorite Games 41 - Portal 2

Thanks to the staff of OnlySP, I am inviting you to come on a journey through our 50 favourite games. After last week and the long-awaited release of Kingdom Hearts III, this week’s game is also in a series that has long awaited a third entry.

Portal 2

#41. PORTAL 2, by Rhain Radford-Burns

2007’s Portal is a perfect gem of a game. The use of a portals to solve challenges is a unique gameplay feature that can entertain for hours, and the surprisingly deep narrative keeps players hooked as they discover each detail. However, with an average gameplay length of three hours, Portal did not outstay its welcome, and fans wished for a sequel to build upon its perfect gameplay. Valve granted that wish in 2011 with Portal 2.

Portal 2 opens in a generic, empty bedroom—an ironic start for such a complex and expressive game. In a few short minutes, the player is taught the game’s simple controls through a series of humorous dialogue prompts. The game wastes no time with its tutorial—a trope that the rest of the game continues with brief loading screens and very little time dedicated to cinematics.

Before long, the player receives the Aperture Science Handheld Portal Device—better known as the Portal Gun—which allows the player to place two portals and teleport between them. Though this use of portals is a seemingly simple mechanic on paper, Valve added several new features to Portal 2 to elevate the challenge even further.

Among the additions are excursion funnels, a tractor beam that moves the player in a specific direction irrespective of gravity; lasers, which the player must decipher their way around as direct contact leads to death; light bridges, which can be extended through portals and grant the player a platform to traverse; and paint-like gels including the Propulsion Gel, which moves the player more quickly, Repulsion Gel, which provides a significant bounce, and white Conversion Gel, which paints a surface to accept portals.

These new features, alongside the returning turrets and companion cubes, add such significant depth to the gameplay and keep the player engaged for several hours. Valve’s continued and more complex use of propulsion—wherein the player must use gravity to increase their speed in order to jump across spaces—remains an incredible joyous gameplay feature, and the addition of the gels makes these challenges much more intelligent and rewarding.

Portal 2 expands upon the story of Aperture Science established in the original game. As the player ascends through laboratories built in the mid-to-late 1900s, they discover some of the secrets behind the company and its founder Cave Johnson, significantly increasing the depth to each of the game’s seemingly one-dimensional characters. In addition, Portal 2’s ending remains one of the strongest, most epic, and most surprising finales to any video game.

Portal 2 gameplay 1

Along with being deep and intriguing, the story also presents myriad humorous moments. The return of Ellen McLain as artificial intelligence GLaDOS, as well as the introduction of Stephen Merchant as Wheatley and J. K. Simmons as Cave Johnson, was an expert decision on Valve’s part. McLain’s dry delivery of her lines can be comical at times and unexpectedly heart wrenching at others, while Merchant and Simmons’s performances as more unhinged and power-hungry characters regularly provide some of the most hilarious lines in any video game.

In addition to its strong single-player offering, Portal 2 also introduced a cooperative campaign, wherein two players—either via split-screen or online—assume control of robots Atlas and P-Body and must solve puzzles similar to those in the main campaign. Doubling the number of portals creates further complexity within the challenges and cooperating with another player, whether a friend or a stranger, adds a layer of trust and thought to each puzzle. More than likely, however, each player will spend a significant amount of time hurling abuse at their partner as they continue to find different ways to destroy each other.

Portal 2 co-op

Portal 2 set a new bar for puzzle-platform games. Expanding upon the perfection of the first game in every way—from gameplay features and original score, to the characters and narrative, and the addition of a cooperative campaign—Valve somehow topped its previous effort. Until the unlikely event of a sequel—or any future single-player game from ValvePortal 2 will forever remain one of the greatest video games of all time.

Thanks for reading our thoughts on Portal 2! Come back next week as we look at another interesting and innovative game. In the meantime, stay tuned to OnlySP and follow us on FacebookTwitter, and YouTube.

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OnlySP 50 Favorite Games

OnlySP’s Favorite Games #48—Legacy of Kain: Soul Reaver 2

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Legacy of Kain: Soul Reaver 2 art

Thanks to the staff of OnlySP, I am inviting you to come on a journey through our 50 favourite games. This week is another unexpected treasure from the turn of the twenty-first century, and a genre that had practically died of asphyxiation until earlier this year.

#48. LEGACY OF KAIN: SOUL REAVER 2, by Ben Newman

At risk of sounding cliché, developers just don’t make games like Soul Reaver 2 anymore. There are still “dark” games, but the nineties to mid-noughties tendency to opt for deep, grim, Gothic-inspired aesthetics and stories has pretty much died. Sure, Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines is getting a sequel, but even so, its tone and aesthetics are distinctly disconnected from the source material. The same would occur if Soul Reaver threatened to be remade today; games like this are not wanted in 2019, and if they were to be made, they would be a niche commodity. However, while Soul Reaver 2 and the Legacy of Kain series in general is very antiquated in terms of gameplay these days, the details and care pumped into the lore, art design, and especially the dialogue still stands the test of time.

From the outside, The Legacy of Kain can look impenetrable. Strictly, it’s a fantastical, Middle Ages-esque foray into vampirism, but the game offers much more than that. Thematically, Soul Reaver 2 carries its vampirism themes and imbues them with impeccable voice acting, thus elevating a subgenre than alienates many into something that appeals to anyone who appreciates good, consistent writing. Just check out the dialogue below, for example:

Beware of some story spoilers below.

“Hate me but do it honestly” is a piece of dialogue that sticks out: a mix of honesty and depression that underpins the whole series. Legacy of Kain: Soul Reaver 2 was the epoch of what the series was building up to that point in terms of atmosphere, story and writing, although the gameplay did let it down.

The themes of the Legacy of Kain series never shied away from discussing heavy, biblical themes. The biblical and philosophical undertones of the game rivals that of more classical literature. How many games do you know of wrestle not just with the concept of time and life, but imbue these a subtle mirroring of Old Testament and New Testament meditations? Names like Kain and Raziel are not there for window dressing, they go a lot deeper than that.

Gameplaywise, Legacy of Kain: Soul Reaver 2 has not aged well. The environments feel empty and too sparse, with platforming sections, puzzles, and combat just feeling overly rushed, almost an afterthought. Traditionally, the story is the fragile framework that allows gameplay to shine in games, but with Soul Reaver 2, this tendency is reversed. For those looking for tight, Devil May Cry-inspired combat or the regimented, meticulously designed backtracking of Castlevania, then Soul Reaver 2 isn’t that game. The game’s systems borrow from the greats but is never really interested in matching their quality. Instead, the game itself realises that gameplay is merely there for players to soak up its story and idiosyncrasies.

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When considering the Legacy of Kain series, each game was unfairly rushed out of the door. The first, Legacy of Kain: Blood Omen, was probably the most polished of the bunch. A litany of deleted dialogue, levels, mechanics, and set pieces were apparent in each mainline title. Despite these trials and tribulations, the Soul Reaver games still had so much soul. The combat was never really a joy to play, neither were stretches of barren wasteland in each game, but the dungeons, verticality, spacing of upgrades, and the story is what hooked so many back in 2002.

The character designs, too, were just so damn cool. Vampires were never my thing, but if a studio knows how to elevate them past their pale aesthetic into flat-out crazy, almost demonic variants, then I’m all in. Raziel, whichever way you look at him, is a blueprint on how to design an appealing protagonist. The little touches of his cloak, the way he moves, the distinct contrast between his royal form of speech and his scarred body just tells a story in itself; his entire presentation is an extension of his struggle, and the same can be said for most of the other main players in the Legacy of Kain series.

Raziel Soul Reaver 2

Tentative efforts have been made to revive the series, but each were wide of the mark. The cancelled 2011 spiritual sequel Legacy of Kain: Dead Sun was tonally all over the place, then 2014’s multiplayer-only shooter Nosgoth was a joke to the series. In some ways, Soul Reaver 2, and the Legacy of Kain series in general, is better off as a product of its time. Unless a team of writers can approach the series with the same deft touch and appreciation for slow, chess-like storytelling, then the series is better off left as it is. In truth, a game like this wouldn’t survive in 2019, and that says more about us than it does about the game.

Thanks for joining us for a look back at Legacy of Kain: Soul Reaver 2. Do you have a favourite Gothic-flavoured game?—Why not join in the discussion below? Next week’s games are peripherally connected to the Legacy of Kain series, but only through shared development staff. What are your thoughts? Let us know below, and be sure to follow OnlySP on FacebookTwitter, and YouTube, and join in with the OnlySP Discord.

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