This post is spoiler free so stress less.
I just wanted to try and briefly elaborate on some comments I made over twitter last night. I asked on twitter, “Does anyone care that I don’t think Portal is quite as amazing as everyone seems to be saying?” which was an attempt at avoiding the love-it-or-hate-it dichotomy. But it didn’t really help, and the discussions that followed left me unsatisfied.
One of the things that I prize highly in a game is enduring appeal. The epitome of this is Far Cry 2: I can literally play that game for hundreds upon hundreds of hours without it losing it’s appeal. There are a myriad number of characteristics that go into evaluating a game on this criteria: variation, openness, procedurality, linearity, aesthetics, etcetera, etcetera. Notice here that I’m not avoiding replayability not just because It’s Not A Word but also because it obscures all these factors that go into what gets lumped under ‘replayability’.
So Portal 2 then. Yeah, it’s actually as great as they say it is. But… I know without a doubt that I’m not going to be playing it in a months time. What does that mean? Does that make it worse than Far Cry 2? For me, yes, but not objectively so. It’s only worse because I can tell it is not going to grip me in the same way, shake me around and show me some amazing things, before throwing me to the ground and leaving me there panting and saying “Please sir, can I have some more?”
Portal 2 is not that. Valve games are almost never that (Left 4 Dead 1 & 2 were a bit of that). I still enjoy them, but I want to be gripped by a game. I want to be caught up in its fiction; caught up in its premise; caught up to the point that I want to inhabit that world. I want to be held by a game such that playing it feels like slipping on a comfortable new skin. I want to be held so tightly by the appeal of the game that whenever I boot it up I breathe a sigh of relief. I want to play a game that is like coming home.
Far Cry 2 was all of those things, for more reasons than I can justifiably list (aesthetics, story, setting, fiction, tone, themes, sound, visuals, lighting, engine optimisation, length, breadth, depth, etc, etc, etc.). Portal 2 will never be those things. This does make it ‘not as good’ in my books. But my books are open for all to see, and they’re horribly, terrifically and unfairly biased.
Responding to a comment I made on twitter about wanting a new Far Cry 2 to play, someone (probably Manveer Heir) once asked me “Don’t you want a new game to play instead?” Well, no because Far Cry 2 was all these things to me and I wanted more of that. But also yes, because the appeal wears off eventually, otherwise I’d just be forever playing Far Cry 2.
But I know that no game will ever quite capture me again in the same way. It’s impossible because, partly, it’s down to me. FC2 came along at just the right time to capture me entire gaming zeitgeist. And with every thing that would be changed in a hypothetical Far Cry 3 it risks upsetting the balance. So I don’t exactly want a new game, but I can’t keep playing the old one forever.
In the mean time, Portal 2 will do in a pinch. Though I’ll probably be on to something else once I’m done. It’s just not that gripping.