Game of the Year: Portal 2
It’s gaming’s oldest trick: the mute protagonist, allowing us to project our own thoughts, words and humanity onto the blank slate avatar. But Portal 2′s silent heroine Chell invites us to identify with her in deeper ways. She is the white-collar worker in all of us, awakened to the corrupt, abusive system in which she operates in the first Portal, before raging against that machine in this sequel.
That her weaponry is wits, not bullets, places her closer to us still. She relates to our menial desk jobs better than any Gordon Freeman or Master Chief ever could. Those armoured warriors are metaphors for our night fantasies, gung-ho heroes who shoot first and ask questions never, thoughtless yet cathartic lightening rods for our daily frustrations.
Chell, meanwhile, is our daytime fantasy, sticking it to the man with silent, determined quick-wittedness, watching the perverse system crash down about her as she prods at it, not content till the entire corrupt operation has been sucked into space, the void where it belongs.
Fitting, perhaps, that Portal 2 should be game of the year in which the financial systems of our world collapse about us, silent Guy Fawkes protestors staging sit-ins as the GlaDOS’s of our world lurk unseen. Portal 2 is a comedy, for sure, but it is a black one. Wheatley and GLaDOS are two sides of the same, inhumane system, wooing us with their empty promises and cheeky witticisms like so many bank adverts. But beneath the jokes and smiles, these are monsters that want to destroy us. We understand that now.
Chell allows us to turn the tables, not with guns or flames, but with portals that allow us to turn the system’s anger against itself, deflecting it away from us to its point of dastardly origin. In that way, Portal 2′s catharsis (and what is a video game if not catharsis written in zeroes and ones) is so much deeper and more satisfying than the adolescent rage of so many first person shooters.
The writing is smarter than any other video game, and the puzzles enjoy a clockwork wonder that allows us all to feel special, smart. But Portal 2′s true appeal is in allowing us all to take down our personal Aperture Science Labs, to taste the justice that we all crave. In this way, Portal 2 occupied 2012′s hearts more than any other.
Read contributions from other Eurogamer writers on the site’s GOTY here.