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Portal 2 in Review

Be warned, this is the only negative review of Portal 2 you will read on the internet. At least the only one where all the words are spelled correctly and the grammar is at or above a 6th grade level. This is potentially dangerous stuff, and I’m already nervously looking out the window and anticipating hordes of nerds wearing “The Cake is a Lie” shirts converging on my yard, wielding pitchforks and torches. I swear I just heard someone outside yell “you monster”. Read more, if you dare.

Portal was an OK game.

I didn’t play it until a year or so after its release and after reading so much effusive, doe-eyed praise of it, I was quite underwhelmed by its simple but definitely clever puzzles. It felt like a proof-of-concept trial more than a fully realized game. I didn’t think it got very interesting until the last act, but when the credits rolled over that terrible song that sounds like a mash-up of Weird Al Yankovic and a bad show tune sung by a robot, I had my fill of it. It was a cute game, that’s all. Nothing really all that special other than a couple of good gameplay ideas and some really lame nerd jokes that I never cracked a single smile at. It was quirky and singular, and that’s about the best I can say for it.

Now, Portal 2 is here and everyone on the Internet is flipping out over what is essentially the exact same game except with enough extra material to justify a full $60 retail price, a couple of visual design and story elements cribbed from Bioshock, and a de rigueur co-op mode. But now, there’s an all-new terrible song to close it out and the stupid, unfunny cake jokes are replaced stupid, unfunny potato jokes. It also explains away some of its more interestingly enigmatic elements to pad out its running time and provide a larger context for its ruthlessly linear levels and lockstep progression. This game is more strictly regimented than a Call of Duty game, and that’s without assessing the single-solution puzzles that occur between hallways.

Gameplay is essentially the same right down to the hidden areas behind panels, but it’s tough to fault Valve for following the “if it ain’t broke” axiom. Portal wasn’t broke, but I also felt like it wasn’t complete. Valve’s response to make this game feel more fleshed out is to add a couple of new mechanics including some fun environmental elements such as a catapult and three different flavors of physics-altering goo that can be sprayed all over the place. But it really is more of the same, right down to the “test chamber” format that gets repeated three times over the course of the game. By the third set, I had a couple of unsavory places in mind where “testing” could be archived for future reference.

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There are more non-testing environments as Chell (who is more of a floating portal gun than an actual character) moves through several generations of Aperture Science architecture. Once again the Source engine’s ability to render rusty catwalks, steam pipes, featureless offices, and other boring industrial areas that would be roundly criticized and mocked in a non-Valve title is in full display complete with the same crude platforming that has been around since the first Half-Life. There are a couple of neat and sometimes awe-inspiring moments when levels alter or shift unexpectedly, and there’s some foliage in some parts that at least break up the alternating monotony of brown industrial and gray minimalism.

Puzzles are easy and very disappointingly so considering they’re the main attraction. The design of them is outstanding from an instructional design perspective. Objectives and solutions are almost always clear (if not glaringly obvious), and it doesn’t take a degree from MIT to sort out how to solve any of them with a minute or two of observation. But I’d like to feel at least a little challenged rather than instructed at some point, and the only time that I felt so was when a puzzle would require searching all over the area for a tiny piece of portal-able wall space. But that’s more “Where’s Waldo” than clever, brain-teasing puzzle design. There were a handful of situations where I nearly went to YouTube just to figure out where to look, not necessarily how to solve the problem.

Part of the charm of the game, I think, is that it makes players feel smart. Many games make the player feel empowered in terms of physical ability, but fewer make the player feel brilliant. And I can totally see where this is one of the reasons why these games are as popular and well-liked as they are. But for my part, it’s just not enough to carry the game, particularly when there’s barely any challenge in surmounting its obstacles.

Narrative is another void from the original game that Valve sought to fill, and this time there’s at least a little more story. It’s undeniably well-written and the three voice actors do some absolutely top-flight work with the material. Some of it is genuinely funny such as GLaDOS berating Chell for being too fat, but more often than not the “nerd joke” humor and forced attempts at cultish, meme-generating lines become grating and obnoxious. If you think hearing the voice of the guy at the airport telling you not to leave your bags unattended talk about the apocalypse would be hilarious, then this might be your thing. It’s the exact same joke as hearing a homicidal robot talk about cake. I don’t find ironic juxtaposition all that funny. Some do. It doesn’t help its case in my book that no one in the game ever shuts up, particularly an irritating robot straight out of a Douglas Adams novel. I’m not too crazy about the comic turrets that talk and sound just like the Battle Droids from the bad Star Wars film either.

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It’s also disappointing that the back story of Aperture Science turns out to be a variant of the Andrew Ryan/Rapture story from Bioshock. Cave Johnson might not be the idealist utopian and his character trajectory isn’t the same, but there are cloying similarities that observant players will pick up on. It doesn’t help that there’s similar faux-old time graphic design collateral all over the walls, or that Cave Johnson talks at you the whole time via recorded messages, sounding almost like a Simpsons caricature. You’re in caves this time (hence the name, get it?) rather than under water, but the idea of an optimistic, scientific utopia gone to seed is obviously similar.

There is an interesting and quite compelling subtext that I liked a lot that presents Aperture Science in an interesting arc that moves through the futurism and can-do spirit of the 1950s and early 1960s on through cynicism and scientific stagnation in the 1970s and virtual corporate tyranny and disappointment in the 1980s. Black Mesa figures into the story, which is also a subtle reflection of the effects of capitalism, business, and government on scientific progress.

It’s smart stuff and it’s told with a light, inferring touch. The more sophisticated storytelling is totally at odds with other silly narrative events such as an unbelievably silly turn of events involving GLaDOS or the disappointment of learning her origin. It’s not quite as bad as finding out that The Force is just some kind of magical blood cells or whatever, but it does point out that Valve did that whole explain-away-the-mystery thing with this game. I was totally OK with what I knew about the characters, setting, and environment of the first game. I didn’t need any more. Now, it’s bulked up and filled out and it isn’t really anything special, enigmatic, or particularly interesting.

By the time I reached the end (which does have, I admit, an amazingly cool turn of events that would be criminal to reveal), I was so completely done with anything Portal that I couldn’t take the disc out of the PS3 and into an envelope bound for a Half.com buyer fast enough. It may still be warm by the time they get it. It was one thing when Portal was a cute game that lasted a couple of hours. It’s another when it goes on for eight to ten hours, and that doesn’t include the co-op. The co-op option is interesting- probably much more so than the single-player game- but it really requires that you play with a friend. I tried it a couple of times with random people on PSN before the Great PSN Explosion of ’11 and I just felt really stupid. I think one guy I was playing with pinged a place to put a portal like fifty times before I finally got to it. I’m not even remotely interested in user-created levels at this point, although I’m sure something more interesting and compelling can be done with the tool set.

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Let me be clear about it. Portal 2 is hardly a “terrible” game, and in fact I’d call it a good game that just isn’t to my particular liking. It’s undoubtedly a highly polished, well-put together package of content that obviously has an audience. Production quality is uniformly high, and there is definitely plenty to appeal to fans of Valve’s products. It’s a spectacularly designed and packaged piece of software.

With that said, I can’t help but feel that there are particular elements of this universally praised game that are getting a free pass simply because it’s Valve and not Electronic Arts or Activision. As I stated previously, the game is strictly linear with almost zero replay value once you’ve beaten both core modes- but I’m sure paid DLC featuring new levels or modes is incoming. The cardinal sins of day one costume downloads and preorder bonuses are also present, they’re just not as advertised as they are in other games. And for all of the outcry against other sequels that did little but reiterate successful formula, I’m not quite sure how this game is excused from the complaint. Dated graphics, boring environments, and a sub-8 hour campaign are other red flags that indicate some serious critical double standards going on. Had Activision or EA gone out with that whole potato sack scheme, no one would have been OK with it whether or not indie developers were involved or not. But Valve are practically folk heroes for what amounts to an elaborate marketing gimmick.

I’d better wrap this up because I’m due to be burned at the stake out on the lawn. I think I hear Gabe Newell bellowing out in the yard. Oh my god. Where did they get a tank?

Bill Abner

Bill has been writing about games for the past 16 years for such outlets as Computer Games Magazine, GameSpy, The Escapist, GameShark, and Crispy Gamer. He will continue to do so until his wife tells him to get a real job.

85 thoughts to “Portal 2 in Review”

  1. See, that’s what I like about the Gameshark/NoHighScores crew. You guys will write what you really think about a game, and if that means going against the hype of a long-awaited AAA title, then so be it. I will most likely give Portal 2 a shot, when it gets cheaper, but somehow I didn’t expect much more than what you’re describing here. Portal 1 was an original idea that didn’t really have a game around it.

    And on a somewhat unrelated side note: how is it that only Valve games give me slight to noticeable motion sickness? Whenever I play something based on the Source engine, I have to stop after about an hour because I feel queasy. No other FPS does that to me…

  2. Weird! Weird because Source is so bare-bones and plain…maybe because your eyes are having trouble focusing on so much blank space or their oft-reused “rusty metal” texture?

    I definitely recommend that everyone interested in video games should try this when it hits $20, which I guarantee you will be before Christmas. Not because of a lack of quality or popularity, but because of used market saturation and loss leader sales. There is no replay worth $60 here. Unless you’re interested in the user levels.

    Which is something I thought about after I wrote this…that if this had the kind of tools and functions that Little Big Planet had, then there could be some really devilish puzzles that folks could come up with. Not me, I don’t have the time and I’m not smart enough. BUt there again, I’m not really impressed anymore by walking through a portal on one wall and walking out on another anymore.

  3. I’ll still get the game tomorow, but to be honest this is the first review that, from my perspective, isn’t either filled with pointless bile or the feeling of a wicked dose of rose-tinted glasses.

    I quickly realised that Valve are acctually full of waffle when Left 4 Dead came out. The only good thing about that game was the grafitti, which I got to read, online, for free. The game itself was laughably boring. Zombies everywhere, kill them, run over there, repeat ad nausium. It just felt like playing a cheap rip of Doom to me, not the next big thing. Then they released a sequel, which was just a skin pack and a few different levels and a few new mechanics. They do it with every game. I wasn’t expecting Portal to be any different.

    Hobestly, I think what people like is acctually Steam and all the great deals Valve offer. By proxy, people play their games with this weird feel-good aura and puff them up better than they deserve.

    Either that, or they just haven’t made anything that’s honestly left me feeling satisfied. They never really do, now that I think of it. Always lacking that extra bit of oomph.

  4. Very interesting, good sir. I must admit from the get go, I am one of those vehement fans of this game, who view all the negativity as just so much noise, put out by the chaff of society. Yes. (I am superior! Thou should pray to touch the hem of my robe!)

    Coming at your review from that perspective, what stands out to me is, first, a feeling that we didn’t even play the same game, somehow, followed by a feeling that the same things you did not enjoy sang to me in beatific melodies and harmonies. You found Wheatley irritating? I adored him (and thought Stephen Merchant was phenomenal as a voice actor). You found Chell an empty shell, barely a character? I found her to have a distinct personality, a remarkable feat considering the absence of any normal character-building strategies. (Admittedly, this last may be in large part a product of my own imagination, laying what I believe her personality should be atop the not even bare-bones framework provided for us.) You didn’t much like Still Alive? I treasure that song, not least because it convinced me to listen to Jonathan Coulton’s entire assembled works, and he remains one of my favorite artists to this day. Though I don’t think the song at the end of Portal 2 succeeded anywhere near as much for me.

    All of which goes to say that I find your views interesting and enlightening, and I can’t help but think it boils down almost entirely to subjectivity, more so than many other games I have played or read about.

    Bravo, though, sir, for writing a piece which truly made me think about the game that I would all too easily accept as fantastic, without truly critiquing. Very good points about the parallels between Portal 2 and Bioshock; I would never have made that connection if you hadn’t pointed it out, and you’re absolutely right that there is clearly a connection there. All in all, even as someone who would rigorously defend this game as being worth its current price (at least in his own estimation), I very much appreciated your take. Plenty of food for thought here.

    The one exception lies with reference to some of the pieces which I’m not entirely sure should be spoken of in the same breath as the game itself. I’m referring to the Potato Sack business, and to the day 1 DLC business. Maybe I am being particularly kind and forgiving towards Portal 2; this is entirely feasible. I might not sit for such shenanigans in another game. But it does seem potentially unfair to somehow imply ill toward Portal 2 for the marketing idiocy taken by Valve. The Potato Sack…well, whatever it may have been, I don’t think it exactly impacts the quality of Portal 2 for better or for worse. Same thing with the DLC. So, while the DLC may itself be a very stupid idea, and the Potato Sack might have been quite the mistake, the fact is that neither of those seem to say anything about Portal 2. They seem to say more about Valve, which is an entirely different topic of discussion.

    Regardless, I say once more, thank you for your interesting, well-written take. It is refreshing to read a more negative piece on Portal 2 written by someone who not only does not butcher the English language, but who actually uses it well.

  5. You know, Michael, as much as I loved Portal and actually dig the minimalist vibe, I can totally see your point here. I have to admit, that try as I might, I just can NOT get into Half-Life 2, which I feel may paint an even bigger pitchfork target on my back. I can fully acknowledge that it’s a well-made product, I could just never get into a groove playing it.

    I played Portal two full years after it caused cake-joke-acolypse, which I’m sure allowed me to enjoy it more (dead hype = no hype), and I’ll probably follow a similar strategy with its sequel.

  6. It’s because I thought I made a mistake somewhere, went in to edit the mistake, decided I hadn’t made a mistake, and attempted to submit the same post again.

    Or because I’m a robot. (SHHHHH TELL NO ONE)

    Thanks, though!

  7. I think Portal failed in a couple of ways. If you watch the commercial, you get the idea that Portal 2 is going to be a lot more dynamic than the first game – that portals will be used in much more improvisational gameplay. Instead you get the really deliberate and highly designed solutions of the first game. Granted the really obvious game design is pretty Valve-ish and some people love that, but I think there was a failure to innovate the gameplay in any meaningful way.

    I too was disappointed with the story. Strictly in terms of plot, it was about as banal as it gets. The JK Simmons portion, in particular, was like let me toss a wet towel on any hopes for interesting plot direction. I think the beginning and end were really the strongest points of the game in their development of the Glados character, who is played with stunning range by the voice actress. Her ability to elicit chills, charm you, and portray a character that comes across as distinctly female is pretty unprecedented in the annals of video game voice acting. I think Stephen Merchant was the nerd play. Was he amusing? – Yeah. Did he phone it in as his character from Extras? – Yeah.

    Regarding the graphics, I’d be hard pressed to call them dated, despite the fact the source engine is dated. I think your graphics engine is only as good as your artistic direction and Portal 2 really delivers in this respect. I was wowed by the visuals and frankly I think it’s one of the best looking games I’ve played this year.

    Portal was more than the sum of its parts. Portal 2 is merely the sum of them.

  8. Well thank you, it’s definitely nice to recieve the acceptance of my betters.

    It’s definitely subjective, as all critical reviews should be. There’s objective facts and then opinions, and a good review puts them both over. The best outcome, I think, is for a review to get you to analyze your own thoughts and experience with the game…not to convice yourself that you’re right or wrong but to arrive at a better understanding of what qualities you like and don’t like in a game.

    As for the Valve stuff, that was largely editorial but I do think that Valve is somehow excepted from criticism. Don’t get me wrong, if I’m the CEO or a stakeholder in a company like that, I’d LOVE to get to the position where the consumer is trained to accept anything we do without question and without holding us to the same standards as other firms. Blizzard is probably the only other company that enjoys this kind of status today.

    I do think that this “Valve absolution” extends to Portal 2 as a design. For example, if a critic completely rides on Halo: Reach being a repetitive or uninnovative continuation of a series then why is Portal 2 not cited as every bit an extension of the first game?

    I’m really surprised more people didn’t pick up on the Bioshock similarities…once I started getting to the posters and the AS labs, I thought “hey, Bioshock”. Cave Johnson is practically a parody of Andrew Ryan, whether intentional or not.

  9. I’m actually a big fan of minimalism in other media, and I think it can be a hugely successful design approach. And I do think in the first game it worked- because we were playing a very short, sharp game that didn’t reach further than it could grasp.

    As for Half-Life 2, I actively do not like it. I think it starts really strong with the City 17 business (particularly if it’s 2004 when you’re playing it) and then it completely falls apart between the asinine swamp buggy parts, the boring and incongruous zombie section, and those god awful levels toward the end where you’re batting energy balls around.

    I did like the first Half-Life, quite a lot. But it was over ten years ago.

  10. Oh, the art direction is definitely good, although if you’ve seen Chris Cunningham’s video for Bjork’s “All is Full of Love” then you’ve seen 75% of their schtick. But they do get some mileage out of the engine in the game, there’s some parts that look damn good- mostly the stark, simple areas and not the unbelievably ugly, dingy industrial areas. Everyone makes fun of Epic for doing the brown and darker brown palette…but man, Valve WEARS OUT some browns in their backroom areas in this game.

    Dynamism…that’s something that was definitely lacking.

    The actress that does GLaDOS definitely deserves credit, but over the course of the game there is a shift in tone that is disappointing and her acting suddenly wasn’t as interesting. Must be the broken Vocoder thing.

  11. Schrodingers game: while the cellophane is intact, the game is simultaneously meeting existing expectations AND providing a new, exciting experience.

    Comparing Gordan Freeman fans to CoD players: Maximum trollage achieved!

  12. I went in with a friend on the steam co-op bundle which cost us only 40 bucks a pop which also came with 2 free copies of Portal 1. But… $40 bucks is still too expensive even. The first game was free with the Orange box which was only 30.

    The game is wickedly funny though. I feel the energy and resources went into the writing and voice acting. Some amazingly good laughs have justified the price though for me.

    I agree with the $20 bucks though. When it hit that price this game will be a total steal.

    Good review btw

  13. If there’s a double standard going on, it’s that certain elements in games which aren’t actually detrimental to their value are being demonized and blown out of proportion.

    “As I stated previously, the game is strictly linear with almost zero replay value once you’ve beaten both core modes…”

    Some great game ideas just don’t have replay value. Does that automatically make these games less worth playing? Less worth buying, perhaps, but not less worth playing; those are two vastly different measurements. Look at your collection and find some games that don’t have good replay value but are celebrated nonetheless – Ocarina of Time, for example.

    Replay value is good for games where it works but shouldn’t be considered necessary, especially with rental services like Gamefly around.

    “And for all of the outcry against other sequels that did little but reiterate successful formula, I’m not quite sure how this game is excused from the complaint.”

    It’s not exempt from that complaint, but your perspective suffers from a) forgetting that this is a different genre than other sequels, and b) not being part of the target audience.

    The crux of the complaint actually lies in replay value. Call of Duty gets lampooned for not innovating on the part of the game that its core audience replays over and over, namely the multiplayer. CoD also suffers from being a much older franchise in a much more tired genre that seems to lack innovation in general. Since replay value is so important to CoD, it is natural that reviews dock it points for not offering more in this area.

    On the other hand, Portal is a franchise whose gameplay is well-rooted in the completely different puzzle genre, and therefore the question of replay value is approached in a completely different manner. Single-solution puzzles *inherently* have near-zero replay value. Therefore, when you fault this game for having no replay value, you are faulting it for its genre, which is clearly bonkers. The value of the experience of Portal 2′s gameplay is instead expressed as the sum of its puzzles.

    Point b) is about your inherent bias against Portal’s franchise aesthetic. It’s fine that you are immune to Portal’s charms, but you can’t use that as an argument against the game for not changing its aesthetic. I also think you could stand to have been much more objective about your opinion of ironic juxtaposition than you were, considering this is a review and not just your impressions. Except that you really just wrote your impressions and called it a review.

    “The cardinal sins of day one costume downloads and preorder bonuses are also present…”

    This is what I have a real problem with. Portal 2 has not committed a cardinal sin. Like you, I will (most likely) never buy one of those hats or any frills-only DLC, but unlike you, I don’t outright object to its existence. As an indie game developer, I’d love to be able to squeeze money out of stupid people over the Internet! Wouldn’t you? And it’s extremely easy too – take 3 minutes to slap a texture on a hat model you’ve had lying around since TF2, and suddenly you have money. Since creating this DLC is so dead simple and takes a pittance of work compared to the rest of the game, there is no basis for an argument that this DLC takes anything away from the rest of the game.

    It exists because it makes business sense, not because it’s fun, and since it doesn’t take away from any of the fun, it’s therefore not appropriate to put this DLC in a list of things the game did wrong, or a list of reasons not to buy the game. If the DLC was instead some sort of *meaningful* content, then you’d have an argument, but it’s not meaningful at all, it’s just decorative.

    I realize that those are unqualified statements about the amount of work it takes to make those hats, but it doesn’t take a degree from MIT to know how to make them.

    “Had Activision or EA gone out with that whole potato sack scheme, no one would have been OK with it whether or not indie developers were involved or not. But Valve are practically folk heroes for what amounts to an elaborate marketing gimmick.”

    The Potato Sack ARG is not why people love Portal 2. The ARG also has nothing to do with whether the game is worth experiencing. Don’t forget so conveniently that the ARG was controversial in its own right – to say that it made “folk heroes” out of Valve, even if only “practically,” is just yellow journalism.

    tl;dr This isn’t a review, it’s just your impressions. I think you’re really just trying to stir the pot with this list of the lowlights of Portal 2. An effective way to get hits, but not an appropriate way to cast a light on a game. It’s fine if you dislike Portal 2, but at least dislike it for the right reasons.

  14. The reason Portal 2 is getting so much good criticism is, and I think you might agree, is because Valve is EXTREMELY forthcoming in its intent with games. Just from playing you can tell exactly the intent of the game you’re playing. While Half-Life 2 is supposed to be a heavily story driven epic, their other games are less so. TF2 is laughing while killing your buddies. L4D(2) is a hardcore co-op shooting (reminds me of contra more than resident evil(the earlier resident evil, not 5)). Portal as well as portal 2 is always supposed to be a bunch of spacial puzzles strung together on a few jokes.

    all their games are meticulously rigid, and intricately put together to always give you a sense of progress, _and_(this is important) duty to progress(you always feel the need to move forward.)

    whether you think the jokes are purposeful attempts at memes is irrelevant, because if you play their catalogue, that’s just how their writers write. that’s the kind of humor they generate. you can’t _blame_ them for “Still Alive”. they just wanted a quirky song.

    The reason “Still Alive” is popular is because other games didn’t have either balls or imagination or both, to but a weird tune in their game. it’s not that groundbreaking, but standards are pretty low for video game consumers.

    I think Portal stands out, and _should_ stand out, is because it’s a AAA profile quirky puzzle adventure, and not an alpha male power fantasy which is literally every other AAA game on the market. It’s all we got: violent power fantasies, and sports games. Rockstar throws in an open-world, uh, thing, once in a while.

    I feel like my thoughts are kinda disjointed here, but the last 3 paragraphs seem important.

    This game has hats goddammit!

  15. Would you mind illuminating for me what the “right” reasons for me to not like this game are? I don’t see that anywhere in your post and I’m not quite clear how posting an honest review that doesn’t jibe with your opinion on the game amounts to “yellow journalism”. Can you explain further?

    I didn’t say anything about the potato sack ARG being the reason that people liked Portal 2, please don’t mischaracterize what I stated very clearly in the review.

    As for “bias”- of course it’s “bias”, it’s my review, my opinion. If you want “unbiased reviews”…well, I’m not sure what to tell you because they don’t exist regardless of what another writer might have told you. I don’t write “unbiased” reviews. No good reviewer in any medium does.

    On replay value, I’m going to tell you straight up that I don’t think _most_ story-driven games have much replay value- see my comment in Bill’s Sunday Time Waster. But I think that’s something that’s very important to a lot of people who are making a decision whether or not to spend $60 on a game. And if there’s a ceiling on what this game is going to offer, then it needs to be stated. Some folks may enjoy getting the achievments, doing speed runs, or whatever but the fact is that the content here is a one shot pistol.

    And we shouldn’t consider replay as part of a critical evaluation with Gamefly? Are you serious? Not everyone uses that service, most people interested in this game are putting down $40-$60 for it. It’s a consumer product with retail price, it doesn’t get a free pass because it can be rented. That logic doesn’t make sense.

    That being said, I wish that I had rented it myself.

  16. Oh yes, I definitely agree- Valve puts it right up front and what they do, they mostly do well for the audience that is receptive to it. That’s a very good point, as is your comment about their rigidity. In fact, I think we could expand your comment to quite possibly isolate Half-Life and Half-Life 2 as the points at which looser, more emergent gameplay and progression structures became subsumed by greater linearity and rigidity.

    I would also totally agree with an opinion that I assume you have that there should be more AAA games that are at least similar in spirit and approach to Portal or Portal 2. As it stands, there are tons of great games that don’t match up with the male fantasy axiom but they don’t tend to be the AAA, high profile releases. In fact, I’ll definitely concede that for as much as I don’t like Portal 2, I’m glad to see a game that takes a different approach is as popular and succcessful as it is. We need more games that follow after Portal 2, less after Call of Duty. Or Half-Life for that matter.

    Like, say, Mirror’s Edge.

  17. Hey, at least you guys have access to a selection of Gamefly-esque services, something that seems to have gone over this guys head.

    Seriously, his post screams of “YOU HATE THE GAME I LIKE!”. An argument that pretty much works on the basis that an opinion is only the correct opinion if its congruent with his opinion.

  18. If you think they’re the same, you’re very wrong. There *is* a difference between the two. It’s not very subtle either.

    These are some negative impressions. Note all the negative adjectives he uses:
    “But now, there’s an all-new terrible song to close it out and the stupid, unfunny cake jokes are replaced stupid, unfunny potato jokes.”
    “Puzzles are easy and very disappointingly so considering they’re the main attraction.”
    “…a couple of visual design and story elements cribbed from Bioshock…” What conclusions do you draw about the game from reading those sentences? Most likely, you think “the game probably sucks and you shouldn’t buy it.” Barnes says himself that the game is good, just not his cup of tea, which is *not* what his writing is trying to make you think. He is downplaying this game as hard as he possibly can with guerilla writing tactics, and he’s getting away with it because you and every other Joe Schmo who isn’t an English major wouldn’t know an objective review from a tainted one.

    To be fair, he does qualify those statements with a few well-placed “don’t-get-me-wrong”s here and there, but he’s still trolling you with his bias.

    These are the same statements, rewritten *objectively* (i.e. a manner which is appropriate for a review):

    “The humor relies heavily on the same tropes that had the Internet rofling at the first game. GLaDOS’ witticisms are still sharp, well-complemented by the other two characters, but if you were bored of any part of the first game’s aesthetic, you won’t find any revelations here.”

    “The new puzzle pieces, your gels and lasers and whatnot, provide an interesting and necessary twist on the portal game mechanic, as does co-op’s double-the-portals, double-the-fun gameplay. However, in the single player, these mechanics don’t lengthen the campaign very much because they aren’t freed from the development of the story. It may not be enough to quench every Portal pro’s thirst, but it’s going to have to do until the level editor arrives. In the meantime, there’s achievements, including some secrets, to keep you busy – assuming the puzzles themselves don’t.”

    “Portal 2′s story derives from some clear influences. It’s hard to be in Aperture’s underbelly, being spoken to by a dead CEO over a loudspeaker, reading corporate propaganda posters in a deserted office, and not think Bioshock. Then again, you can’t have a female computer AI villain, in control of a large and often deadly facility, whose name is six letters long, and not think SHODAN. Portal 2′s base story feels borrowed, a somewhat disappointing revelation to fans, but its character development is smart and well-executed, and the game maintains its trademark aesthetic throughout. However, if you have a harder time with the puzzles, the story may seem to drag on and will be less impactful.”

    Do you see the difference?

    My point in writing all this is that this is not a review, and by calling it a review, he is trolling us. That said, I think it’s well-written, but it’s too skewed to be called a review.

  19. You have some very specific criticisms of the Portal games, but I don’t quite understand what you wanted out of it. Something about justifying a $60 price… but it leaves me with the feeling that you just wanted a FPS or RPG. Portal is Portal, ever since it was Narbacular Drop. People like it for being that, not because they’re suckered in the illusion of playing Halo X. If you don’t like Portal, then that’s fine, but you can’t expect to be pleased just because many other people are. You don’t get to blame the numerous people who enjoy it for misleading you. If your expectations were up too high, you didn’t pay enough attention the the previous two games.

    When you try to shame your opposition out of using their artillery, you are hit trolling.

  20. You’re making up material, Statue. At no point in this review did I claim to expect a FPS or an RPG out of this, and I made it quite clear that I had played Portal, knew what to expect, and quite frankly got exactly what I expected out of its sequel. Which _is_ disappointing given the praise and admiration these games get. My expectations were far from high, the letdown is that it met the low ones

    Nor did I at any point “blame” others for misleading me. You’re putting words onto my page.

    I don’t go into games “expecting to be pleased because others are”. For pete’s sake, I’m a games writer and critic!

    As for “hit trolling”, I think games writing is in a bad way when someone can’t have an unpopular opinion without being accused of “hit trolling” or “yellow journalism”. “Hit Trolling” would, in my mind, be something closer to “Portal 2 f*$king sucks and the people who like it are retarded”.

    Which isn’t anywhere near what I spent a couple of hours of my life writing, by the way.

  21. Once more with pedantry, volaticus! Since we’re workshopping here now, could you rewrite your last two posts with more of this hallowed “objectivity”? I’m not seeing it in phrases like “yellow journalism” and “trolling”.

    I’ll tell you straight up that I don’t give a rat’s ass about writing an “objective” review. “Objective” reviews are for people who don’t want to step on toes or offend sensibilities. I don’t care about those things. My critical heroes are folks like Lester Bangs, Legs McNeil, Harlan Ellison, Roger Ebert, Pauline Kael, and Tom Chick- people who have distinctive voices and aren’t concerned with upsetting someone who might be reading a review seeking for validation or self-congratulatory agreement with a critic. If you don’t like a more direct, on-the-level personal style, it’s probably best you skip any future reviews I post here because that’s what I do.

    Objectivity has a place in a review, when you’re stating facts and concrete, immutable elements. But I don’t write back-of-box copy with a couple of mild “YMMV” comments and a middling “not my cup of tea” comment if it doesn’t match up with my tastes or aesthetics. Other writers do that, and that’s their thing. But I’m going to tell you straight what I thought, and my hope is that we’ll bounce ideas off each other and get a better understanding of what other people like and why.

    Or, you can just throw up the troll flag and shut down the conversation, because like Labreya suggested this all sounds like “your opinion is not my opinion so I’m angry”. It’s your call.

  22. I only see one difference.

    Your writing style tells me nothing of the game. I may as well be reading the blurb on the back of the box, or a press release. I’m half expecting to see it get the strike-through treatment. To me, there is something the writer has tried to avoid saying, usually anything bad in the gameing review industry because so many reviewers seem to be afraid of saying “I don’t like this”.

    Barnes gives an acctual review, his experiance with the game. He says “These are the faults that let the game down in my book. If you feel the way I do about other things, you’ll most likely feel the same about this.”. It gives me an acctual person to match the ideas to, and not some generic grey blob of a review you write. He casts his own critical eye across the game. If you’re too slow to put “In my opinion” in front of the whole thing, thats your own fault

    It looks like the folks at Merrion-Webster agree: “6: a: a critical evaluation.” Kind of hard to be critical and neutral at the same time.

    Also, please stop useing the word “trolling”. It’s just an overused, bullshit term that people now use to describe anyone they don’t agree with. It’s so overused it’s lost all real meaning, and makes me even less likely to respect any of your views on the methods of English writing.

  23. I really hope no-one reading that is planning on playing portal 2 as I do not believe that is in anyways a “minor spoiler”.

  24. -We’re all really impressed by your iconoclasm. You were particularly courageous when you called the game good but just not to your liking.

    -If you don’t find the portal mechanic to be particularly fun or engrossing, why gig the developers for not padding the game length?

    -It’s not really fair to accuse Portal 2 of lifting ideas from Bioshock when Bioshock itself is less blindingly original content and more a retcon allegory filled with 20th century science fiction and political theory influences.

    -I think the Germans have a word for “Man declares game to be full of the kind of humor only nerds would enjoy; complains of not having a friend with whom to play co-op portion of game”.

  25. Thanks for pointing that out- I fixed it so there’s NO spoiler unless you consider “there is a plot twist” one.

  26. Doesn’t matter if I did have friends to play more of the co-op. I had the PS3 version, and my PC won’t run it…and PSN got deleted or something.

    I played it for a while, I got enough of a taste of it and my review isn’t based on that experience anyway but the core content. It’s definitely something that I’d be willing to play through split-screen with a friend on the couch. From what I understand there’s only a couple of chambers.

    As for the iconoclasm…that’s not really the goal here. I wanted to give an alternative viewpoint. This is a popular game met with almost universal praise and I think that’s great for all parties involved from Valve on down to the fans. But I had a different experience and outlook on the game, and I thought it was worth sharing so that, once again, maybe a dialogue would form about what people liked/didn’t like and we could all go home with new perspectives. Crap, that’s right, this is the Internet. I forgot that doesn’t happen much here.

    The portal mechanc can be fun and engrossing- I really liked it in Darksiders, for example. And Crystal Castles, for that matter. But it was a minor mechanic in a larger context. Portal is a lot like the card game Dominion- a great mechanic in search of a game.

    It is fair to state plainly that Portal 2 cribs some moves from Bioshock. There is no such thing as a completely original work. Everything is influenced by something else. But it’s one thing to be influenced by science fiction and political theory, another to get close enough to a three year old game to notice similiarities in concept.

    Finally, is “schadenfreude”, the word you’re looking for?

  27. Portal 2 isn’t the game which turns people on to liking the franchise if they didn’t enjoy the first, it reinforces all the things people loved from the first one. And the most striking statement “…in fact I’d call it a good game that just isn’t to my particular liking.” just sums it up. It isn’t a bad game, it just doesn’t resonate with you.

    I am not a PC gamer, and as such have no love for Valve. When the Orange Box came out in 07 I picked it up for the heck of it to give all the games a try. Portal looked like a neat game mechanic and I went in with no expectations at all. Playing the original and finding all the hidden messages and hints at something bigger was oddly refreshing. I went in fully expecting a physics gym, or a Mario Vs DK type of game (which I would have been perfectly happy with), but was pleasantly surprised at the story which was more or less hidden in the tapestry of the sterile world. And then the twist of escape, it really came so unexpected and blew my mind.

    So going back to it not resonating with you, working at GameShark and seeing a breadth of games maybe you saw more games or saw them differently. For someone like me it was a breath of fresh air from a lot of the gaming I was doing at the time which are much more prevalent now especially in the indie scene.

    “Part of the charm of the game, I think, is that it makes players feel smart.”
    Really I feel this is the same reason people loved Lost and Heroes. There are obvious hints of espionage and trickery and when people guess right they feel really smart, or when they can predict a twist coming up. I think at their core lot of really good games do this already, where a puzzle is actually quite solvable and you feel smart for having solved it, and I think thats OK even if one person might find the puzzles super simple. Look at Professor Layton.

    Admittedly a couple of the puzzles did seem easier than the first one. The rooms were less compartmentalized and my brain was more trained to find the white walls first and systematically think of the order of things. And the single solution aspects of some puzzles can get be a bummer at times, but I still find myself trying to break the logic at other times just for fun, and a few times found secret areas as a result.

    Personally I am glad it is the same game because I loved the first one, and I was pleasantly surprised by a few things in this one. But one thing did strike me about your review which would be good to get some elaboration on: “Portal wasn’t broke, but I also felt like it wasn’t complete.” What would have made it complete? Because for me it felt complete, so all they added was built on the already good amount of stuff.

    Overall we shouldn’t expect everyone to like everything, and you make a number of valid reasons for not liking it, and I am pleasantly surprised to see some great responses from the readers on here. We are getting to the point in games where it should be ok not to like something for personal taste for reasons other than “genre.”

  28. I’ve still got a couple more chapters to knock out, and though I definitely like the game more than you do, this is some really good stuff, Mike. A lot of points very well argued!

    Except for Still Alive. Doesn’t have to be a musical masterpiece. It’s fun and it makes me smile. Oh, and I loved Stephen Merchant’s voice work in this game. And I have a man-crush on Cave Johnson…

    You know what? Nevermind. You suck and I’m coming for you!
    (But, really, nice work!)

  29. I think you’re doing your point a disservice by trying to walk it back from the edge. You don’t like that Valve’s reputation as a developer impacts the way their games are received by the gaming public- you said as much in your “alternative viewpoint”. Setting aside the issue of why it bothers you that a developer has built up genuine goodwill with its customer base by putting out a couple of the most beloved games of all time, it’s a valid point: the ARG probably would have been a screaming PR disaster if EA had used the early release of Blops as a carrot to sell MW2 map packs or whatever.

    As it stands I’m not sure it did end up being all that positive a thing for Valve, with most observers either being mildly disappointed that the payoff wasn’t life-affirming or completely unswayed by the whole thing. Yeah, they get their cut with Steam being the distribution medium, but they were pushing indie games, which is kind of a cool thing for every gamer who ever complained on the internet that creative games published by independently minded people really ought to get a better crack at competing with publishing behemoths. With that in mind, I’m willing to give them a pass, personally. Maybe I’d feel different if I’d spent the last month combing the internet for clues to an ARG instead of, you know, less boring stuff.

    Now, your alternative viewpoint thingy, how alternative is it, really? Let’s be honest here, your review says some pretty nice things about Portal 2′s story, its dialogue, presentation, and its overall togetherness as a game- you just happen to follow up every compliment with a vaguely stick-in-the-muddish sort of sniffing about how it’s something that you’re just not that wild about. As a review of you as someone I’d prefer not to be locked in a room with for several hours I’d say this is a smashing success, but as a counterpoint to every other piece that has mentioned that Portal 2 is funny, exceedingly well-produced, and in fact, quite flush with portals, it falls flat.

  30. Thanks. I’m sure some wouldn’t be bothered by it, but I’m one of those who if they they know something is going to happen, they just keep looking for it to happen. This will then distract me from all that is going on currently. =D Thankfully I’ve finished it now though.

  31. It’s hard to know how to take this “review”. Maybe it’s just because the word “review” has different meanings to different people. I love session Impressions. I really love videogame impressions articles, BGG session reports, and reading comments to get other points of view. However, when I see the word review, wrongly or rightly, I tend to expect something different.

    I just feel from reading it, I get a better understanding of what you like and don’t in general. I don’t feel like you’ve told me a heap about what the game has and hasn’t done well. I realise you could point out many examples above where you write about something you didn’t think was good. Next to each of these though is a statement saying this is not something you enjoy. Your most welcome to your opinion and to express it, but once again the word “review” is a stumbling point for me.

    It’s not that the “review” is negative which bothers me either. I’ll admit it sometimes it takes me a while to see the author is getting at with some negative reviews (especially if I like the game). I do respect them though, especially when I can see the author’s wealth of knowledge and passion for the subject bleeds through what they are writing. Tom Chick’s strategy reviews and Bill Abner’s Sports reviews are a great example of this. They love the subject matter and often their criticism reflect the hopes and desires for the betterment of the product.

    This is where I think I find the core of my problem with this review. You come out straight away saying you don’t have much of an interest in the series, it’s puzzle genre or it’s style of writing. Your negativity has little basis other than your personal tastes and preferences. I feel like I’m reading a reflection of the author through the eyes of the game, rather than a reflection of game through your eyes.

    … But maybe this is just me being stuck on that little word “review” and what it means to me. I will give you props for not adding a ridiculous number or letter score to your review though. I think I would have been more understanding if this was simply titled along the lines of “your impressions”. As a review however, I do expect the criticisms to be have more to stand on than your tastes.

    [edit to last paragraph to make my point clearer]

  32. I’m pretty sure the term “objective review” is an oxymoron. And if you have written something objective about a game, well then it wasn’t a review, it was a description, and even that probably wasn’t very objective.

    Barnes has written a review, and he has written it in his own voice. The only difference between the examples volaticus! put up was the tone of the piece. volaticus! is saying that one tone implies objectivity. There is, I suppose, some truth to this, insofar as the reviewer’s voice sounds less personal in the absence of the personal pronoun I and subdued comparisons(read lack of pith).

    However, volaticus!’s example is not an objective review, it’s a style. One that is basically trying to approximate a consumer report. It is possible to reach some kind objectivity in a consumer report because you’re evaluating the effectiveness of a product’s advertised function. That product usually being a tool, you can expect to reach some sort of broad consensus. i.e. Yes, this hammer can hit a nail. It is not possible to do this with a piece of media. Every piece of media is divisive to someone, such that no review, regardless of how it is written, will come across as objective. Fair, maybe. Objective, never. For a game review to be objective you have to assume some kind of universal gamer, an assumption that may have worked to some degree 15 years ago, but has since crumbled under the increasingly fractured gaming landscape.

    I think volaticus!’s frustration basically arises from the structure of Barnes’ review. His piece is as much about addressing what he feels is undeserved hype around Valve and Portal as it is about the game’s merits. This isn’t a typical format, but I think it’s still a legitimate review. If you read the book reviews in the New Yorker, they’re explorations about a particular topic that incorporate the book being reviewed into the larger point. I’m guessing volaticus! doesn’t read those either.

    Personally I think Barnes’ should’ve gone full are-tard and just turned it into a piece about the deleterious effects of Valve fandom on their recent development output.

  33. Thanks for your thoughtful criticism, I appreciate it but I think that we’re getting hung up too much on what is/isn’t a review. I’ve read sessions reports that are more reviews than some reviews I’ve read that are more session reports. It’s a semantic argument, really. Ultimately, a review is an analysis of the product or object as well as the reviewer’s individual, experiential encounter and that’s what I try to do in both my tabletop and video games writing.

    I felt like it was important, particularly in a review that has some volatility attached to it, to offer the reader an “out”…and that “out” here is my qualification that I’m not a big Portal or Valve fan, that I don’t care for its style or writing, and that I’m hardly an impartial observer toward it. That being said, I think you misread me, I actually love puzzle games and puzzle platformers in particular.

    The negativity is based squarely in the product, what it offers, and my personal encounter with it. That being said, only an idiot would come out and say that this game “sucks” or is somehow an example of a bad video game product. There’s a vast gulf of difference between reviewing a game like Quantum Theory or Ghost Recon Wii- games that have SEVERE quality and design issues and that are not on par with current standards- and a game like this that is a well-made, high standard example.

    I’m an author, and I think it’s important that my review (or impression, if you’d rather call it that) bears the mark of authorship. I don’t write from anyone’s point of view other than my own, and I don’t write generalized, softball reviews that aren’t from the heart.

    It’s a great point about what it means when the comments are more about the review than the subject- this happens a lot with my tabletop writing as well, but I really think it has more to do with writing like this in fields where there are people like Voltaic (sp) below that want objective, noncomittal reviews and soft opinions.

  34. That’s a good way of putting it- it reinforces the “core competencies” of the first game.

    As for my comment about Portal’s sense of “incompleteness”…I felt like the mechanic is a good one, and I think there’s a minimalist, appealing storyline there. But it feels like that’s as far as it goes. I think there’s more that could be done with it without ruining the brevity and succinct quality that are among its greatest strengths.

    Truth be told, I think the mechanics are better suited as a smaller part of a larger game than as the only part of a smaller game- I mentioned Darksiders previously, with its last act Portal-influenced sections.

    With Portal 2, I think the mistake was just to provide more of what worked with a couple of new novelties within its core concept. Expanding the story and setting was a mistake, I think. Introducing new characters, even though there’s only two, wasn’t the best idea in my opinion.

  35. I have about 4 or 5 msgs in the spam filter that I’m trying to “set free!” but am having issues with it.

    Sorry for the inconvenience.

  36. This is a great comment Tendo, and I think you’re making some quite important statements about the state of games writing today that I really appreciate seeing here.

    You know, it’s funny, I’m watching this documentary about the history of American film criticism and Stanley Kaufman just said (paraphrasing) that reviewing a film is about explaining your relationship with the movie, the movie’s relationship to other movies, and its relationship to the world. This is really what I try to do with my games writing, and it’s how I’ve tried to approach reviewing Portal 2- which is why the Valve comments were important, because I do want to get that point where my video game reviews are more like something you’d read in the New Yorker or Film Comment than on Destructoid or in a GamePro magazine circa 1995.

    And doing that forecloses on this silly notion of “pure objectivity”, because it demands authorship. I’d agree completely that volaticus’s examples are voiceless and without passion, like you said they’re more like consumer reports.

    And I think you’re right on the money that you can do that if you’re reviewing an object that’s going to provide a consistent experience from user to user without requiring the user to interface or engage with it on an intellectual, experential, spiritual, psychological, or emotional level. Games require these things, and to reduce the things that making playing them so special to objective, dispassionate writing completely shuts down any possibiilty of reaching a higher level of discourse about them.

  37. You are often a very enjoyable reviewer. Like Yahtzee, you have this kind of bulldog on a chain thing going. But the reason you and he get away with it is because you are funny and make good points. I have not played the next Portal, and was enthusiastic for a negative review.

    “It felt like a proof-of-concept trial more than a fully realized game.” – I think the first is a bit too polished to wholly dismiss it this way, but fair enough, I see where you’re coming from.

    “…when the credits rolled over that terrible song that sounds like a mash-up of Weird Al Yankovic and a bad show tune sung by a robot, I had my fill of it…Nothing…other than a couple of good gameplay ideas and some really lame nerd jokes that I never cracked a single smile at.” Later, “Now, there’s an all-new terrible song to close it out and the stupid, unfunny cake jokes are replaced stupid, unfunny potato jokes.”

    Seriously? This is trash. No coherent points. No suggested alternative. Nothing redeeming.

    Yes, by the time you got to Portal, the jokes had probably already been ruined as memes. But that is not an indictment on the game. And people are already whining about this all the time. It’s gotten to the point that I more annoyed at ‘omg I am so annoyed at teh Portal referecez’ jokes/complaints than the memes themselves. Further, I detect a great helping of arrogance, like a master chess player watching a game between mere children. If you were an incredible writer, I would be fine with this.

    Which brings me to the primary disappointment. “At least the only one where all the words are spelled correctly and the grammar is at or above a 6th grade level.” You use ‘unfunny’ like 3 sentences later. Unfunny? I mean, fine, whatever, it works and I don’t want to be a jerk. You don’t have to be Shakespeare. But then don’t preface your work with arrogant nonsense like that.

  38. Fair points. I guess I got the wrong impression about your views on puzzle games. And it is true that extra view points and different types of reviews (more objective or more personal experience) is good for us readers to get more variety.

    Really enjoy most of your work, especially your board game articles, but I guess I fall a bit more in the objective camp. =D

  39. Well, reviews are ultimately an entertainment product themselves, and folks have very different tastes. I view my role as a games writer very much as an entertainer as much as a reporter, and I’m well aware that not everyone is going to like what I do. Totally OK by me. But hey, if you enjoy “most” of what I do, then I consider that a win!

  40. Actually, I only used “unfunny” twice and it was deliberately repeated to indicate the repetitive nature of the jokes. You even quoted the only two times I used it. That’s not bad grammar or diction. If you’re going to ding me for a grammatical offensive, hit me for sentence structure. I write some long ass sentences.

    I’m not indicting Portal because the memes were spoiled/overused. That’s an adjunctive nuisance but hardly the fault of Valve or anything to do with the content. In the new game, the attempt at meme creation and culty one-liners feels forced, and I think that’s a completely valid point to make about _the game_, not its audience.

    As for coherent points and suggested alternatives in my comment about the Johnathan Coulton song- I think it’s pretty coherent where I stand on “Still Alive” and the cake jokes. Alternatives would be to shitcan Coulton and bring in some real robot rock- Kraftwerk. Ditch the cake jokes for pie jokes, which are invariably funnier.

  41. 2 things…

    1) “DLC is a minor point, really…it is unusual for Valve to charge for nonsense items but not for more substantial offerings. ”

    Although there are no promises of future free content from Valve, as a consumer you can be pretty confident of excellent and FREE post game support for any major updates. Not to mention, nearly everything that can be bought through their “dress-up” stores can be found randomly or unlocked for free given enough playtime. (I’ve already found the portal beanie that can be purchased in the Portal store) So I personally wouldn’t consider continuous free content in a world where many companies force you to pay to be competitive or experience the whole game as a minor issue, but a significant benefit.

    I really dislike DLC in general and preferred the old expansion model where it was like buying a sequel to a game just with the same engine behind it. But Valve’s DLC is something I don’t have to fear as no-one can get an advantage or exclusive content by paying for it. It just saves time for those who would rather buy a hat than spend time crafting or randomly finding and trading one.

    2) “There’s a floaty, soft feeling to everything that isn’t exactly helped by the fact that “Chell” is really a floating portal shooter until you see her through another portal”

    Maybe it’s just me, but I kind of play Chell how I did Gordan Freeman. I don’t need dialog, or a set of characteristics and quirks, or even cut scenes depicting Chell. For me, its not Chell, but rather myself I think of as performing the puzzles and trying to escape. Chell is just a (better looking thankfully) placeholder for me to imagine myself walking through the laboratory shooting my portal gun and saving the day.

    Just my take on those two issues.

    EDIT: on the DLC issue after re-reading your review… “cardinal sin of day 1 dlc??” it was cosmetic items, not game play mechanics or extended content. And even then that only changes the look of the robots in the co-op mode.

    Also pre-order bonus? Could you elaborate? Is it some cosmetic items or something else if you order from amazon or gamestop. I realise pre-ordering through steam gave you an extra copy of the original game, but that hardly seems like something anyone would complain about. It doesn’t punish anyone who didn’t preorder and is just an extra copy I can gift to someone later on.

    Although you see reviews as entertainment products, they still act as recomendations for many. And misreprenting or not disclosing the facts, regardless of tastes and likes, seems like you might have taken too many creative liberties while trying to create your entertainment piece.

  42. You’re right. I should stick to the thing that confuses me about your review: What exactly did you want them to change from the first Portal?

    If I imagine something like “they could have added something to Chell” or “break out into more variety of environments” then it starts to sound like more of an RPG or classic platformer. I don’t think you were holding out for some bulletsice/fire levels, but you complain that gameplay is the same? What’s the problem?

  43. I didn’t think I’d find another person, let alone some game journalist, who shared the same opinion as me regarding Portal.

  44. Whew, good thing nobody paid me for it then!

    Can you provide examples of how it could be more “professional”?

    Further, could you indicate what exactly constitutes “unprofessionalism” is in it?

  45. Yeah, but what are just “cosmetic items” for sale in a Valve game are “OMG horse armor ripoff” in another. A preorder bonus is a preorder bonus, regardless if you like it or not. Correct me if I’m wrong, but I believe there were preorder robot skins for Gamestop preorders. It’s not a big deal or a reason to not like the game, but let’s be consistent.

    Can you explain how I misrepresented this game or the facts of it, other than presenting a negative opinion of a popular title and developer?

  46. i think your childish demeanor and lack of tact whilst replying to people who read your column speaks for itself.

  47. That’s ridiculous. I see Michael replying to every Portal fan’s argument, some of which is clearly fanboy-dome run wild, which is a hell of a lot more than you’ll get from the majority of the reviewers on the internet.

    Agree or not I think it’s great that he’s in this thread defending his views. What more do you want from a critic who puts his opinion out there for all to see? I love Portal 2. But this article was quite good. It makes me both disagree with him on a lot of levels but it’s also clear where he’s coming from and I don’t feel any worse or my opinion less valididated because someone disagrees with my opinion about a vidoegame.

    Clearly, YMMV.

  48. Far be it for me to speak for Mike, but generally you get from him what you give. Your comment showed little respect for the work that went into the review and you got little respect in return.

    Maybe you feel the review disrespected you personally as opposed to being criticism of the game and therefore feel your comment is justified? Certainly there are parts there where you could make that argument. But if you’re going to call the review unprofessional, and you want a reasoned response, then back up your assertion with a reasoned argument that supports your assertion. I guarantee you you’d have gotten a different response from him and there’s plenty of evidence in this thread to back up that claim.

  49. Spam filtered and vanished while editing a typo? So apologies if ends up with a double post.
    ________

    1) Let’s start with your assertion that Valve gets a free ride on all these issues.

    Valve has taken tremendous flak in the past when they first introduced the Man Co store for TF2 with its high priced cosmetic and useless (aka horse armour) hats. They have received a lot of abuse at releasing a sequel to Left 4 Dead a year after the original. The portal 2 arg was not met with universal praise and you could read countless comments about how people felt betrayed. They also had the metacritic user ratings bombarded with 0s by people annoyed with the ARG and cosmetic dlc. They are always taking criticism regarding steam and their delays in releasing the next Half Life episode or sequel.

    The reason many of us don’t hold much merit to these complaints is some are just outright bogus or the result of anonymous individuals who feel they should be given everything for nothing right now, and all of the time. Some are however, understandable points though such as $10 useless cosmetic items. Valve’s track record of always offering an alternative way to collect these items other than spending money goes a long way to ease any fears. They also release any significant or game changing content for free.

    2) Confusing the horrendous developer practises with those of little significance. What is 10x worse for the consumer in the following:
    – Having to pay for day one for dlc content to complete the game story or having the option to purchase a new cosmetic item on day one (which in now way affects game content).
    – Having to choose a certain retailer to get part of the games content and story with no other way of receiving it, or getting a cosmetic and non game altering skin from purchasing the retail version from different places. (Maybe you can still buy it in game? I have no idea as a pc gamer.
    – having a sequel that just updates a playing roster or having a sequel that expands the game play dramatically but still has the same core mechanic at heart?
    – a prejudice/sexist advertising campaign merely focused at creating attention through controversy verse an innovative, community and indie developer inclusive experience that didn’t pull off everything everyone was expecting.
    – a money grabbing promotional sale of a game (ie iPhone tie-in) that promoted a sequel and was the only way to get the full story or a profitable sale that benefited other indie developers and could still be participated without making any purchases if some games were already owned. It also resulted in new content for many already released titles and released the game several hours earlier without disadvantaging any who didn’t participate or purchase the potato sack.
    -a single five hour campaign or one 8-10 hour campaign and another (different) 5-7 hour co-op campaign (I haven’t finished it yet so going by reported times).

    Yes, consumers hate when publishes dick them around and rightly so. But comparing this circumstance to some of the truly money grabbing ploys that have been rightfully criticized is indeed quite a stretch.

    The following is where it gets more cloudy with different perceptions and obviously I will also be somewhat biased in my views, but feel free to read if you wish.

    3) Many of your opinions are expressed as facts/truths rather than opinions.

    “Objectives and solutions are almost always clear (if not glaringly obvious), and it doesn’t take a degree from MIT to sort out how to solve any of them with a minute or two of observation.”
    “I’m sure paid DLC featuring new levels or modes is incoming.”
    “Dated graphics, boring environments, and a sub-8 hour campaign”
    etc etc” (though you did mention an 8-10 hour campaign earlier, but I guess sub 8 has more of a ring to it?)
    “…particularly when there’s barely any challenge in surmounting its obstacles.”
    “As I stated previously, the game is strictly linear with almost zero replay value…”
    “…complete with the same crude platforming that has been around since the first Half-Life.”

    4) perhaps not a misrepresentation, but an effort to belittle/alienate any alternate viewpoint or those who like it.

    “But now, there’s an all-new terrible song to close it out and the stupid, unfunny cake jokes are replaced stupid, unfunny potato jokes.”
    “and some really lame nerd jokes that I never cracked a single smile at.”
    “I’m already nervously looking out the window and anticipating hordes of nerds wearing “The Cake is a Lie” shirts converging on my yard, wielding pitchforks and torches.”

    ________
    I think I’ll leave this as my last comment for this article as obviously we both have different opinions. The fact I’m still replying to it shows that my bias in liking the game is playing at least an equal part in my criticisms of the review.

  50. I disagree with Barnes on any number of topics, but I don’t see anything in this conversation or any other that could be characterized as “unprofessional,” much less “childish.” He has a tepid reaction to Portal 2 and offers up specific points of criticism describing why it didn’t work for him. That might qualify as unprofessional behavior for an OB/GYN, but as a games journalist posting on a gaming blog, that falls pretty neatly within his job description.

    One of my favorite things about No High Scores is how the staff is so interactive with the readers. If you post a specific question, or even an interesting comment, it’s more than likely you’ll get a direct response. It’s a pretty cool sense of community they’re fostering, particularly since they’re not getting paid a dime for their efforts.

    That “gamers hanging out together” style is going to stop real quick if the comment sections get overtaken by people making baseless accusations every time they read something they disagree with…or *think* they disagree with, if they’d actually played the game in question for themselves. Disagree with Barnes all you want, but try doing it with less name-calling and more focus on the points he’s making.

  51. Thanks for taking the time to write out a reasonable criticism- I really appreciate the dialogue. I wouldn’t write a review like this and not expect to get into conversation about it or expect to defend my position and I’m glad you’re making your case here. It’s totally cool that we have different opinions on it, the net result is that we get to rap about games together and exchange ideas and that’s a total win as far as I’m concerned.

    Per your points, I think you’re mixing up the intent of a review with basic reportage. A review is an opinion, so it’s appropriate to make statements that reflect personal opinion like the fact that I find the cake jokes silly or that I find the environments boring. I shouldn’t have to state “in my opinion” before each of the items listed to clarify them as subjectives when the “review” format should tell you right up front that everything you’ll be reading is an opinion. If I said “Portal 2 is fantasy RPG that features a nazi dinosaur and I beat the campaign five times in two hours” then that’s both misrepresentation and falsifying facts. That’s a far cry from stating my opinion about the game.

    Good points about the DLC issue, but if you think Valve is doing things like the potato sack business for any reason other than to monetize you as a customer and a fan, then you’re kidding yourself. They’re just going about the cash grab in a more acceptable, fan-friendly way. Which is cool, but at the end of the day selling robot costumes isn’t any different than selling horse armor and it should be judged consistently with the established standards applied to other companies.

    As for Valve always releasing significant or game changing content for free, I’m pretty sure I paid cash money for the L4D and L4D2 DLC I bought.

  52. Exactly, let’s talk about why you disagree. Tell me why you think I’m wrong, give me your perspective, and maybe we can both come to a better understanding of why someone would or wouldn’t like this game- or others like it.

    I like debate, I like to argue. I like productive discussions where ideas are shared and it’s meaningful to me when people are passionate and invested the things they care about and enjoy. But this whole business of attempting to discredit something you don’t agree with with “unprofressional”, “childish” or “troll” comments…I’m sorry, but can you take that crap to another Web site where that’s the done thing? Because none of us at NoHS want to see that go on here.

    If you’re going to criticize me or my article along the lines you’ve suggested, by all means do so. But bring something else to say and support your claim. I’ll listen.

  53. Putting my cards on the table: the first Portal was the reason I picked up the Orange Box. Portal might even have been the point where I went from being someone who plays games into being a gamer. So that’s me.

    I think you and I are looking for very different things from the game. For me, it’s much less about interesting puzzles, and much more about the feeling of momentum. Flinging Chell around a map, looking through her eyes as the world goes ’round makes me grin and say “wheeeee!!!!” every time. Playing coop with a friend has the same sort of madcap giggling insanity that a well played game of magicka has. The puzzles? The puzzles are just the excuse to play with the world’s physics. That is why I have played the game twice, will be playing the game at least once more, and will do a whole lot of coop. Even when I know how to solve the puzzles, I’m having fun with a portal gun.

    One thing about your review which I did find to be unfair: DLC. VAVLe has simply never charged for map packs, extra levels, or changes to game mechanics. Every piece of paid DLC they’ve done (at least for us PC players) has been cosmetic. L4D2 has DLC every week. It’s always free. Their new maps and map packs are also free.

  54. DLC is a minor point, really…it is unusual for Valve to charge for nonsense items but not for more substantial offerings.

    I don’t find the physics of Portal or Portal 2 to be all that interesting. There’s a floaty, soft feeling to everything that isn’t exactly helped by the fact that “Chell” is really a floating portal shooter until you see her through another portal. I don’t know, I appreciate what you’re saying and I can understand your affection but the simple physics don’t feel like enough to me.

    I am definitely more into the puzzle aspect than the physics one though, regardless of the Source engine’s inability to depict anything that feels physical, that’s definitely true.

  55. If you paid for the L4D and L4D2 DLC you probably bought it on the Xbox. Microsoft refuses to let VALVe give DLC away for free. Which, agreed, sucks.

  56. “Truth be told, I think the mechanics are better suited as a smaller part of a larger game than as the only part of a smaller game”

    Maybe, but to me it would cease to be Portal. I can’t think of any prime examples at the moment, but I know in the past I have seen other games/movies/musicians try to do more and change what the nature of the original name was. I think someone should take the portal mechanic and bring it into a team based shooter, Monday Night Combat style, but to me that shouldn’t be Portal.

    “With Portal 2, I think the mistake was just to provide more of what worked with a couple of new novelties within its core concept”
    But for me that is what worked without ruining what I loved about the original, and since you didn’t like the original there was really no way to like more of the same.

    “Expanding the story and setting was a mistake, I think”
    I think without it the story would have been too redundant and like the original. I hadn’t played Bioshock, but even so the fall into the history of the company felt very familiar (and not just because I loved JK Simmons on Party Down.) For me it was a nice break in the action and reintroduction of the same mechanics (which I like) in a new setting and tone. It was also a nice twist because I thought I would just be climbing around the catacombs the whole time.

    “Introducing new characters, even though there’s only two, wasn’t the best idea in my opinion.”
    In a game with 2 characters introducing 2 more wasn’t a problem for me. I really liked Stephen Merchant as Wheatley, and his rise to corruption was a nice touch, even if a bit predictable. And Cave Johnson to me wasn’t really a new character, but only served as the Glados of the past which was fine with me.

  57. Yes, it was for the 360- this is also why there’s no support for the Team Fortress 2 on the 360 version of the Orange Box.

  58. That’s a good point,that what Portal “is” could be lost in a larger context. But I think that reinforces some of what I’m saying, that expanding the Portal concept into a full 8-10 campaign with extended story and setting material wasn’t the best idea

    But, by the same token, you felt like this was done in Portal 2 but without loss and that seems to be the consensus. It seems that for most fans, Valve hit the mark.

    I didn’t dislike the first game, I just didn’t love it like a lot of folks do. I thought it was cute and had a good concept. It also was exactly long as it needed to be and knew when to excuse itself before it got long-winded or boring…which is what Portal 2 does, particularly in its middle section.

    Here’s the thing…and this ties into what Tachkoma was asking about below, how I would “fix” Portal 2. I think it should have been a more challenging, more rigorous puzzle game following on from the first one and perhaps occuring in different environs. GLaDOS is fine, and her constant berating in the first game was one of its assets, so I would be OK with her staying. I’d say the same amount of story would be apporpriate- it’s already more than most classic puzzle platformers have, and it’s all that was needed in a game focused on small set of core mechanics.

    As for characters, I liked that it was Chell and GLaDOS. I don’t like the whole silent protagonist thing and I really did feel that Chell was just a floating portal gun with no identity whatsoever, but the idea is that GLaDOS is addressing the player and I think that works.

    But Wheatley…oh man…it’s like when they added that tall, irritating robot to Buck Rogers. Everybody was cool with Twiki, Twiki was fun…so the producers say “Let’s add ANOTHER robot”. Shark jumped. Same thing happened on Diff’rent Strokes. Wheatley is like that little redheaded kid that moved in when Mr. Drummond hooked up with Dixie Carter.

    Interesting that you took Cave Johnson as the “GLaDOS of the past”. I didn’t really think about it that way, but it’s very true what with his intercom announcements and all. I still think he’s a flop. I literally imagined a Simpsons character saying every line, yellow skin and all.

    But yeah…Cave Johnson…that’s about as ingenious as Luke Skywalker…

  59. (Minor Spoilers)
    I don’t really feel that it’s fair to say Portal 2 cribbed elements from BioShock, though I think they have been influenced by similar sources.

    1. Aesthetics: Rapture is done in an Art Deco style (which is appropriate for the time period of it’s founding, 1946) the older sections of Aperture Science Innovations are also done in a style that is time period appropriate (1951). I don’t think you can fault Portal 2 for that.

    2. Cave Johnson vs. Andrew Ryan: Andrew Ryan is an embodiment (and critique) of Randian philosophy. Cave Johnson is more an embodiment of Modernist ideals: (From Wikipedia) “…Modernism as an overall socially progressive trend of thought that affirms the power of human beings to create, improve and reshape their environment with the aid of practical experimentation, scientific knowledge or technology.” Obviously there’s some overlap there since Randian philosophy is very Modernist.

    3. Rapture vs Aperture Science: Rapture was supposed to be a utopia for free from the constraints of government, which for the purposes of the story illustrated the folly of Randian philosophy. Aperture Science was (is) an institution dedicated to the progression of science, and it’s philosophy, and aesthetics are reflective of the prevailing attitudes of the time, from it’s inception in the 50′s through the 80′s and beyond.

    Basically, what I’m trying to say is that they’re mining similar source materials, and they made choices that make sense for their setting and overall story arc.

    I think the similarities seem more striking than they actually are because it is a time period and aesthetic style that has not been utilized by many games. I imagine you wouldn’t say a World War II game was cribbing it’s visual style from another World War II game, because those visual elements have become an ingrained part of video game storytelling.

  60. Yup, literaly finished now, credits and all and I have to say, I’m pretty much in the exact same boat. If I was to sum up the game in one word, it’s “jaded”. It’s got some good stuff in there, but ultimately it’s laid on to heavily and gets overdone before the end.

    It really is just full of the same old jokes that have flooded the internet since the first game. Not even similar. Just the same. Repeated. Glados is still just a cynical bitch, and they really lay it on overly thick. I turned down the master volume several times just so I didn’t have to listen to her go on and on. You’re a spiteful cow. I get it. Can you maybe shut up about it? Wheatley is a great character, but not great enough to hold up the whole show alone.

    I was also thoroughly dissapointed with the ending. It started off really well and just went to pot half way through, again trying to squeeze in those last few insane moments rather than sticking to one tone and doing it well.

    The gels were nice, but I feel it took too long to get to them, and even then the way in which they are introduced tries to do too much at once. There is narrative that could have been explored better if it wasn’t just used as a way to get you to learn how to use the gells. I just feel it was wasted opportunity for some real deep storytelling.

    I wouldn’t say I’m surprised though. When Left 4 Dead 2 came out, all it was was a reskin and two or three new mechanics laid on top of L4D 1. Thats exactly all that Portal 2 is. I think this will be my last purchase of anything Valve makes. Just seems to me that they’re much better at running a market place and adding on to TF2 for fans of that team based fps style game than trying to make new single player, story driven experiances.

    Personaly, I’d give it 75%. Better than some games, but plenty of room for improvement. A bit too much room considering this is the second game.

  61. Hold on now- Art Deco is an older style than 1946 (not sure where you’re getting that date), and in fact one of the nitpicky issues I had with Bioshock was that its visual collateral and graphic design was all over the timeline from the 1920s through the 1960s. Deco is a ’20s and ’30s style that was really gone by the 1940s, not counting its several resurgences of popularity in later decades. Also, the graphics and illustrations in Bioshock are VERY modern despite referencing previous time periods. This is also the case in Fallout 3 and New Vegas, where very modern iconography and illustration styles sort of betray the illusion of authentic appearances. This happens in Portal 2 as well.

    I’ll buy that about Cave Johnson vs. Andrew Ryan. But I don’t think the issue is so much a philosophical or subtextual one as it is a raw, representational one.

    As for Rapture vs. Aperture, the key takeaway is that Rapture has that foundation in Randian philosophy, Aperture is more of a metaphor for science and its relationships with capitalism and governance as well as a gradual decline in futurism and forward-thinking ideas. I’m certainly not trying to say that both are identical, but there are some pretty high level similarities that I don’t think can be completely dismissed.

    It is true that they’re mining similar sources and that’s totally OK- but Bioshock was such a strong, singular example that it’s tough to not notice when something at least lands in its neighborhood. Singularity, for example, goes WAY further than Portal 2 in treading the same ground.

    Good discussion, I like this!

  62. The 1946 date is the founding date of Rapture (according to Wikipedia). Also from Wikipedia on Art Deco: “…flourished internationally throughout the 1930s, into the World War II era”. I believe 1946 falls pretty squarely into the World War II era (tail end, maybe, but it’s understandable that Ryan would employ an Art Deco style)

    Personally, I feel the Art Deco style makes sense for BioShock on an emotional/aesthetic level because the style is closely tied with Randian philosophy.

    I don’t think the similarities between BioShock and Portal 2 should be dismissed, in fact I think there are some interesting parallels there. But I don’t feel that it’s fair to say that Portal 2 is cribbing from BioShock.

    Full disclosure: I also was reminded of BioShock when I first encountered the 50′s era labs in Portal 2. I also thought that Portal 2 was too easy.

  63. Really, a fat guy named Porkins. Come on.

    I’m really not a silent protagonist fan, but I found it funny when Wheatley told you to speak and you jumped. I laughed out loud at that. Yeah she had no personality, but that opens the can of worms of silent protagonist debates.

    It’s hard not to imagine Cave as a Simpsons character when it is JK Simmons for crying out loud, he plays this same character in a lot of things (but none better than in Party Down http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TWfqW_kVzqI). Broke the 4th wall for me a bit, but I felt it was a good character.

    The adding of another robot (vs human) makes the most sense to me because it also helps to mask the “faults” of the game. Not having skin deformation, lips, or a face ensures that things don’t look bad (like a Tron Jeff Bridges), and when you add enough panels to get emotion out of the robot it makes it great instead of good. And as far as Wheatley is concerned, I really like Stephen Merchant so he was very welcome in my book.

    In fairness if there was not the expansion into the caves, or the introduction of someone like Wheatley, MORE people would be calling the game more of the same. Wheatley isn’t like the kid they added on the Simpsons (“thanks Mr. S”) but is more like Lando Calrissean or a Yoda, expanding a smaller universe into a bigger one with a few more characters.

    I do agree though that more puzzles and a few tougher ones would have been welcomed, and I would “fix” that much the same (thought I still like the story arc and environments I visit, but I welcome tougher puzzles). The single solution thing can be annoying I suppose, but then again I don’t know how I would feel if it was more open. I try not to say “it would have been better like this” because it is very presumptive of anyone not doing the actual creating (not saying you did this yourself, but it’s an easy place to go to).

    If nothing else a place like Valve does a lot of iteration and testing, and I’d like to think they came to their “puzzle solution” decisions for a reason.

    I think I might have figured this one out. Go with me here. A good adventure puzzle can be looked at as 2 parts:
    1) Eureka – Most good game puzzles aren’t brain busting riddles that make you cry, they are often a single solution puzzle where a “eureka” rewards a player by making them feel smart.
    2) Execution – The trial and error of making it happen is where more of the fun can happen because it then requires some focused skill (like aiming in Angry Birds) which the first one had more of with bad aiming and potential for screw ups. And I don’t know if I just chose right every time (either because I am super smart or super Portal savvy) or if there really was a lot less room for error than before.

    This is fun. Let’s get coffee at E3 and discuss some more.

  64. Yeah, a lot of the “caught” messages that were legit, when we try to publish them they sorta, well, vanish.

    I have since lowered the “filter number” which should allow easier access to post but may also cause a bit more spam to pop up. Not much else we can do atm.

  65. On the topic of replay value, I really only have one thing to say: while the game changes only or a little, or indeed not at all, with successive playthroughs, the replay value for me lies in the fact that I enjoy the game mechanic itself. I’ve had fun going back through the same chambers that I’ve already beaten in both Portals 1 and 2. Obviously, this does not work for you, given that you seem to not share my enjoyment of the core element of the game. Not that there is anything wrong with that; different strokes for different folks, as they say.
    I’m glad to see some dissenting opinion about the game on the internet. I happen to love the game, as I did the first Portal, and it’s interesting for me to try to figure out why I like it and you do not. Essentially, it comes down to this: every point you identified that you don’t like about the game I either don’t care about or I actually like, e.g. the Jonathan Coulton songs. I think they’re funny and enjoyable little pieces of indie rock music, or whatever genre you want to call it. Another good example lies in your Bioshock comparison; I thought the same thing as I wandered through the caves beneath Aperture Science. The only difference was, my thought went a little more like this: “This reminds me of Bioshock. Cool! I liked that game and I like this game!” I also quite enjoy the sense of humor in the writing of the game, while you did not. Again, different strokes I suppose.
    The third point I want to make refers to your criticism of the Source engine as being outdated and graphically inferior to many modern games. As somebody who has played the game on his computer, and chooses to play all Valve games on his computer, but who does not posses a God-like supercomputer, I play the game on the lowest graphics settings. As I do with most of my PC games, because it is the only way they run well. Obviously this is a minority opinion among PC gamers; I just wanted to point out that graphics concerns may not be an issue for all gamers. It seems to be for you, which again is perfectly fine.
    My last point is not strictly about this review, but rather about games in general. It seems to me that overhyping something really has the potential to kill off some of the potential market. Probably part of the reason I enjoyed the first Portal more than you did is how I came across it. At the time, I was not really into PC games, so I had heard very little about it. I bought Orange Box for the Xbox 360 because my friends told me I had to play Half-Life 2. I ended up finding out how much I loved Portal with very little prior exposure to it, and went on to introduce it to many of my friends. I think the ad campaign for Portal 2 was a little over the top, and may have contributed some to the internet backlash that always seems to follow bigger games like this. Similarly, I’m sure finding the cake joke in Portal 1 after being told of it by your friends was a lot less funny than finding it on accident by yourself.
    In conclusion, I would just like to stress how much I enjoyed this review and how much I like this website. If you guys keep providing quality articles like this, opinions backed up by facts with the intent to inspire discussion, I’ll keep coming back to the site. Keep up the good work!

  66. True, but is this bad? Jump in both feet first if you are confident in your creation. What would you recommend they do otherwise? To me the only option would be to cover all bases the way most publishers do, yet they aren’t most publishers, so it’s kind of a catch-22 going off that theory, but I don’t know if that is what you had in mind.

  67. “I literally imagined a Simpsons character saying every line, yellow skin and all.”

    It’s funny you say that, because myself and my boyfriend had the exact same person spring into our heads, from the voice and manner of Cave.

    John Madden.

  68. I loved Portal 2, but… I also have some of issues with it.

    The puzzles were easier than in Portal. Too easy for me: with one exception I had no trouble solving them. And that was disappointing to me because I wanted harder puzzles; I wanted more of a mental challenge and the euphoria of solving them. Thankfully the co-op mode has more complicated puzzles (and more variety, I think). I also fully expect new levels to arrive as DLC. And I know there will be many user-created levels providing a greater challenge.

    I find it oddly contradictory that you complain that the puzzles are “disappointingly” easy, and yet conclude “I’m not even remotely interested in user-created levels at this point”. I’m also sorry that you don’t have any friends*, so couldn’t enjoy the co-op properly.

    (Yes, that’s meant to be a joke, referencing Portal’s end sequence.)

    I believe that the puzzles in the single player are intentionally simpler in Portal 2 for two reasons: first—due to Portal 2’s narrative having a much stronger influence on the design than Portal’s did—because they would interfere with the pacing. Having a large, long, multifarious puzzle on the scale of Portal’s chamber 18 would just stop the story dead until the puzzle was solved.

    The second reason I think they simplified it is because so few of the people who played Portal finished it. Some estimates can be made from Portal’s achievement stats and Portal 2′s achivement stats, using the achievements Lab Rat and Wake Up Call to estimate the number of people who started the game, and Heartbreaker and Lunacy for the number of people who completed it.

    From those stats, I conclude that with Portal, only 38.5% of people who started it actually completed it. For Portal 2, 48.4% of people who started it actually completed the single player. Now these figures aren’t very solid, but they do suggest already that the simpler puzzles are allowing more people to enjoy the game, which is obviously a sensible business goal.

  69. That’s an interesting point about the puzzles in the Portal games…they’re not really about the process of solving, but of that “eureka” moment. And that moment isn’t delayed by the challenge of solving them. Which is, I think, another reason these games are as popular as they are. They make you feel smart, even when all you did was look at obvious clues and employ a very limited set of tools to solve them.

    Again, it may be that lesser narrative and more focus on the puzzles would have been a good thing…but there again, I found the extra levels in Still Alive to be sort of dull.

    And you’re right on the money, allowing more people to enjoy the game is definitely good for business, and that may in fact mean making the puzzles easier.

    With that said, where is the hardcore “this game is dumbed down” brigade? I have yet to see a single comment about Portal 2 that calls it “dumbed down”, when its simplifications are just as obvious as in any other game dubbed that.

  70. A good point about the graphics- I _can’t_ play the game on my computer (old laptop), so I can definitely empathize and I think that’s a valid defense of using an older engine to increase accessiblity.

    I do think I should clarify that I’m not beholden to graphics at all- see my Mission: Europa review. I think great design and creativity in visual presentation can more than make up for a dated engine.

    The problem I had with the graphics was that the industrial areas were ugly and boring, the interiors were sterile and bland. And that, in part, is due to using an optimized, seven year old engine.

    Earlier I stated that Valve’s art direction was outstanding- I kind of misspoke. Their _mechanical design_ is outstanding. The turrets, the machinery, the robots- that stuff looks _great_ even if it is straight from Chris Cunningham. THe remainder of their art design ranges from good to terrible. The offices, metal scaffolds, and other objects in the game look old and uninspired. But there again, dated textures and engine limitations invariably come into play.

    It’s a good point you make about hype, but the element of surprise is definitely something that shouldn’t be neglected in assessing a game like Portal. With that said, was there anyone that played the first game that was surprised by anything that went on in the second? The (ahem) portal target at the end of the game surprised me, but I think that was the only time where I felt that frisson of the unexpected.

    Thanks for your kind words, and I’m glad we can get together and shoot the shit here!

  71. Oh, I see what you’re getting at…but really, the argument to make here is that Ryan was probably just a deco guy and wanted to bring that style into Rapture…or that Rapture was probably being built at the height of the movement.

    You’re definitely right about connecting the style to Rand, it makes sense.

    I think if there were more story material in Portal 2 there could be some more interesting points of comparison, particularly if you figure in the Minerva’s Den DLC from Bioshock 2.

    But, as it stands, the connections are admittedly tenuous and mostly surface.

  72. Ben Abraham, and myself have both reviewed the game negatively, but we fall outside the regular gaming press so I guess it doesn’t count as a review. My thoughts are at http://roguelikedeveloper.blogspot.com/search/label/portal%202. What I find surprising and would have thought more of the game press would have commented on is the ‘all eggs in one basket approach’ that Valve have taken. For instance, if you don’t warm to Wheatley, you’re pretty much screwed as far as narrative engagement goes. And yet I’ve yet to read a review (other than yours) which points this out…

  73. I gotta say, I’m really not digging this review. Honestly, I don’t care if someone dislikes Portal or Portal 2. I even have some of my own qualms with the series. However, I really don’t appreciate the implication that I’m letting external factors positively influence my opinion on an otherwise mediocre game. To say that fans of this game are harboring double standards is pretty insulting, and it’s hard to shake the notion that this review pretty much does the same thing. I mean to say that were it not for Portal’s popularity, I feel this review would have been very different. The tone just feels so bitter.

  74. “…some really lame nerd jokes…”
    -Can you clarify this statement at all? Personally I loved the dialogue, and found that a lot of the writing did have me smiling and chuckling almost every time. I’m very curious to know what you define as “nerd-humour”, especially as you make a Battle Droid reference later on. Labelling something as ‘lame’ because its ‘nerdy’ is not, by any means, a legitimate criticism.

    “…its ruthlessly linear levels and lockstep progression…”
    -I hate to state the obvious here, but Portal 2 is a puzzle game. To me, that alone should insist at least some linearity, as it wouldn’t be a puzzle game if you could do anything anyway you wanted. At some points during your review you point out that the writing and story is high-point for the game, and I wonder if you considered the notion that perhaps the story is so effective *because* of its linear nature. A game like GTA 4 can’t tell a story in the same way because pacing is impossible to structure- and if you don’t want a linear game, you could always go play that instead?

    “…comic turrets that talk and sound just like the Battle Droids from the bad Star Wars film…”

    -I don’t know what version of the prequel trilogy you were watching, but the turrets in Portal 2 sound nothing like Battle Droids, whether it be their voice or their manner of speech. The turrets are given a soft, child-like speech that adds a sort of innocence to them, creating a contrast between the ‘personality’ and outward appearance of the turrets versus their ultimately vicious purpose in life. Pretty much opposite to Battle Droids.

    “It’s also disappointing that the back story of Aperture Science turns out to be a variant of the Andrew Ryan/Rapture story from Bioshock. Cave Johnson might not be the idealist utopian and his character trajectory isn’t the same, but there are cloying similarities that observant players will pick up on.”

    -Maybe I missed something, but I didn’t make any sort of connection between Andrew Ryan and Cave Johnson. Andrew Ryan, despite having some interesting ideas on how to implement objectivism practically, was an unlikable, malevolent character. Cave Johnson, conversely, played out as a very likable and, eventually, tragic character. I don’t know how you came to the conclusion that these two are similar; in fact, I don’t really think you do either. In your article you don’t mention any sort of specifics to indicate the characters are similar at all, past handing out the assumption that “observant” players will be able to pick up on whatever sublties you might be imagining.

    “Let me be clear about it. Portal 2 is hardly a “terrible” game…”

    -This criticism can hardly be levelled at you alone, but is rather indicative of the state of game reviewing, however: you framed the entire ‘review’ as a wholly negative one, and yet at the very end, you felt the need to clarify that maybe Portal 2 isn’t so bad and most of what you said could be complete BS. If this is a legitimate, critical review, then why is there any reason to try and deflect some of the inevitable criticism it will receive? You probably would have been better off to not call this piece a review, but an opinion. Many of the point you try to make in your favour are tenuous at best, and by throwing in that last little line you basically knocked down whatever credibility you may have had by admitting you’re incorrect.

    I’d like to know your response to some of these criticisms, because otherwise I gotta tell you, this whole article comes off as being kind of troll-ish. Kind of *really* troll-ish.

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