Procrastination Amplification: Punditry on MMOs and games in general.

Not the Portal 2 Post I’ve been Meaning to Write

Y’all know the drill. I get a game, I play through it, I post two articles about it – one each detailing good and bad sides of the game. I meant to do that for Portal 2 ever since I pre-ordered it. The thing is, I still haven’t finished the game and don’t feel at all qualified to write a ten good / bad things post pair about it. Instead I’m going to tell those few of you who still care just why I’m not finishing the game. This is by no means a review nor do I mean to say that Portal 2 is a bad game, even though most points here will be negative. Fact of the matter is that the game lost me and I’ll try to find out why.

In many aspects, Portal 2 is just like the original Portal. The gameplay is pretty much identical, there is still a lot of humour to be had as well as a homicidal artificial intelligence out to test (read: torture, or maybe kill) you. That is probably the biggest problem I have with the game right there – Portal was awesome but I can do only so much puzzling of the same type before I get bored with it. The new elements added to the game don’t really change how the game is played at all. Introducing a different form for real puzzle pieces doesn’t really change how you go at solving a puzzle. I almost didn’t buy Portal 2 because I didn’t see the potential for expansion on the concept and it seems I was right.

Then there’s frustration. Some of the puzzles (especially in the multiplayer mode) either require exact timing or one very special idea to solve. It can be very frustrating to think that one has solved a puzzle but then to fail at control and timing. I’ve had a couple of levels in which I fervently searched for a different solution when the one I found first was correct all along, just not properly executed. Along the same lines, spending hours on a puzzle because I simply can’t come up with the one trick that will solve the whole level for me can be very frustrating as well. When I get frustrated, I stop playing. What’s worse, I’m deterred from starting the game again if I remember being frustrated.

Anecdotally, a friend of mine and I almost gave up in frustration at the very first level in the co-op mode. The game challenges you to use your signal tool on an animal to proceed, but neither of us could see any animals. That let us to assume that the “animal” was supposed to be the other player. So we used the signal tool on each other and things would happen on the screen, but the game would repeat the original direction over and over again and not let us move on. It turns out that there were pictures of actual animals on a wall to the side which we were to shoot. Using split screen, these were rather tiny and didn’t look like anything to interact with at all. I think we spent an hour checking controller settings and wildly pressing buttons until we found out were we went wrong.

Sure, the above example doesn’t show a high degree of puzzle solving skill. The fact is though that we missed one essential clue in the level and were therefore completely stuck. This is true for pretty much all other levels as well as far as I could see.

Oh but portal is funny, right? So you will be entertained while searching for solutions? Well, yes and no. Some writing is quite funny, but a lot of it is rather blunt or even lame. I think I might throw up if I hear GLaDOS use the word “testing” one more time. It’s just. So. Lame. Additionally, all her comments are scripted and if you have to repeat a level a couple of times (because there are enough of them that kill you when your solution fails) the comments will repeat as well. No wonder people are driven mad by that robot.

Then there are my very own personal issues with playing the game on my PS3. For one, I’m not very good at the whole two-thumb control scheme. This will be trivial for experienced console players, but performing precise maneuvers such as shooting portals while flying is very hard for me. This leads to death and repetition which eventually leads to frustration. In my mind, portal shouldn’t be about twitch and how well I can use my controller. Maybe I’m just wrong though and should install it on my PC instead. (Though that would defeat the whole purpose of the co-op thing and all.)

I haven’t played enough of the game to say whether the level design is worse than in the original Portal (though some claim that it is) or whether the game is too short. What I can say is that it definitely isn’t all that much better than Portal 1 to warrant being a new, full-price game and that there are many aspects of the game’s design that would need to be improved in order to capture my interest for a longer time. Multiple solutions for a puzzle would go a long way towards fixing the frustration issue and hiring better writers sure can’t hurt. Then again, maybe the wonder that was Portal simply can’t be repeated by a sequel.

I’m not really disappointed by the game because it is not exactly bad. It just doesn’t manage to pique my interest.


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