As I subjected myself to the bright and bewildering mess that was Naruto Shippudden; Ultimate Ninja Storm 3, Full Burst Extreme Flavour Resurrection VS Capcom, or whatever mess of adjectives came out of the lottery that week, I was asked by a friend how the thing rated. Well, I thought, I don’t like it. In fact, after I’d pushed my eyes back in and managed to quench my gag reflex, I decided that I didn’t like it much at all. Which led me to a question – why the hell was I playing the thing?
The industry is bloody saturated at this point, with games getting put out every other week that are apparently the biggest thing in any franchise ever, no seriously, we mean it this time. It comes across as disingenuous, or to put it more accurately, AS GREAT BIG PORKIE-PIE FIBS. A lie that’s getting spouted yet again with the trailer for Assassin’s Creed: Syndicate, and nothing could have made me more thoughtful about the content. Questions, questions, people – does the protagonist look like more of a tool when he’s wearing the silly top hat, or when he’s thrown it away to be replaced by the stupid beak-shaped hood that now slightly taints the series image in the way that the asteroid slightly tainted the Cretaceous period?
For these reasons and others I suspect that anybody who goes near this industry with little experience of gaming culture would turn and run. Probably smart at this point. But for those who are willing to stomach pre-order culture, day one patches, villainously manipulative corporations and Pewdiepie, I offer what should be the bedrock of any good gaming knowledge – my personal list of “Must Play” Games. Bear in mind that these are not necessarily my favourite games, nor what I consider to be the objectively best games, if such a concept actually exists.
No, these are more of a hearty buffet, the ones that should give a new player the best, most rounded experience so that they can understand what each genre can offer them, then go as they please. Alright, then. Let’s start with an uncomplicated one.
Yes, the first one. Yes, the original. No, there’s nothing wrong with Portal 2, as a matter of fact it’s bloody great, but the first one is what I consider a necessity for the purity of the experience. Portal 2 blended story and puzzles, but leant more heavily on the first one and was a touch over-long, and whilst it was a good story and the game is always worth your time, that’s not what I’m drawing upon here – my “Story game” comes later.
You see, Portal 1 was a magnificent creation for those who wanted simply to tax their brains with the kind of bizarre physics not seen outside of the negative zone. Originally a small side-gift to go with the less than efficient release of Half-Life 2; Episode 1, Portal has almost dwarfed its running mate for popularity at this point, and with good fucking reason. The fascinatingly simple and yet deceptively complex core mechanic that was the portal gun immediately took the imagination by the reins and charged off into the sunset. I still can’t think of a better mechanic that based simply around travel, except maybe Spider-Man 2’s webslinging, a game that almost made this list.
The premise of Portal is appealingly simple – you are a silent protagonist in fabulous boots who has been locked up in a lab with a computer named GlaDos, who is more obsessed with science than Stephen Hawking and Dr. Frankenstein combined. Unfortunately she has the processing power of the former and the morals of the latter, and decides to throw you into a series of behavioural tests based around the aforementioned portal gun. You have to navigate these challenges, all the while looking for a way out as Hal 9000’s creepy sister grades you, taunts you, and even goes so far as to insult your weight in order to keep you moving (or waddling, as she would put it),
Yes, this was what made Portal from a good game into a great one, it was one of the few games that actually went about humour with a sense of wit, whereas most games, trying to appeal to the broadest audience, tend to give them no credit whatsoever and fall back on slapstick comedy or just self-referential eye-rolling. But the only source of laughs in this game is GlaDos herself. The rest of the labs are empty but for the occasional childish murmur of the turrets or the dull stare of the companion cube. Because of this, Valve understood that the dialogue had to sparkle if it wanted to be consistently funny, or run the risk of being about as amusing as bollock torture. Or even worse, like Sacred 3.
Like puzzle games? Move on to other gems, like the Talos Principle, or try a more story-orientated variation like the Monkey Island Games.
TOMORROW: NARRATIVE, MORAL COMPLEXITY, AND A GAME THAT GAVE ME PTSD.
2 thoughts on “THE BEGINNER’S GUIDE TO VIDEO GAMES PART 1: PORTAL”
I’ve just read most of your blog posts up to this point and thought they were thoroughly good reads, and enjoyable to. Its clever and informative all wrapped into a neat, concise package. I look forward to more in the future!
Ps. You many already know of the God-given man himself, but if not I’d suggest looking up Jim Sterling, as I believe he’d be right up your alley.
Thanks for your praise, I’m glad that people are enjoying these articles. As a matter of fact, I do know Jim Sterling’s work. I consider him an excellent journalist and critic, if a little self-indulgent. I also have great respect for his obvious passion for morality in the gaming industry. Considering that most critics are happy either to rake the financial benefits that come from licking major publisher’s boots (let’s not forget how often triple-A games get undeserved high scores, I still can’t believe that GTA V has currently got a score of 97 on metacritic), or others simply use journalism as a platform to make themselves look good and others look bad, Sterling is one of those who is both healthy and necessary for the integrity of Gaming culture, calling out dishonesty and nastiness in the industry where he sees it. Of course, with E3 coming up fast, I suspect it’s going to be one of those times where dishonesty and nastiness are pretty obvious to all, as the corporations descend from their jewel-incrusted thrones to hold little fragments of falsehood above us all, like gameplay is a crisp packet and we’re all a bunch of particularly dim magpies.