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Jul
14th
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Portal 2

I have mixed feelings about this one. On one hand it is a solid piece of engineering and those ten hours I spent with it were fun, if annoying at times. Yet remembering how revolutionary the first Portal was, it’s hard not to blame Portal 2 for its lost potential. A bigger budget and a bigger team, but the result is an uninspired sequel riding on the popularity of the original.

The story in the first Portal , and the progression of environments made sense. First you where a test subject, then you escaped and made your own way around the facility to finally fight GLaDOS. Hints that something was off with Aperture were subtle and built tension. The length was just right, you could complete it in one breathtaking sitting.

In Portal 2 you simply “follow the rail” as the helpful robot with an awful British accent (and forced humor) tells you. References to the original are in-your-face, everything lacks subtlety or any kind of suspense. At least puzzles rise up in difficulty nicely, if a bit slowly. It’s hard to get used to hand-holding popups and NPCs suggestions though. It’s a puzzle game, I want to figure this stuff out, OK?

Sure, the visuals are nicer, but that doesn’t really add anything to the game play. Unfortunately from the technology point of view Portal 2 has a major flaw: the loading screens. Loading between levels takes longer than in the original and there are now immersion-destroying separate loading screens. Both chase sequences in the game are also broken up with the loading screens. The funny thing is: elevators are still here. Yep, Portal 2 has both an elevator and a loading screen between levels.

Ultimately it’s just more of the same. Portal 2 doesn’t push any boundaries, it’s a high fidelity bonus pack to Portal. Sadly it’s nowhere near as important as the first Portal. You can go to Portal Memories to explore interesting environments or to Portal Pro for some real challenge.

Funny thing is that I’ve seen this before. It’s the same kind of thing that happened to BioShock. It was supposed to be a worthy successor to System Shock 2. Developers of both Portal 2 and BioShock made the game accessible to a wide audience. Both games achieved the same level of “critical acclaim” (top spot on metacritic in their year of release). Yet both lost the soul of its predecessor.

If you’re looking for a spiritual successor then it’s clearly somewhere else.

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Academics only recently started to accept there were actually really quite a lot of Viking women roaming around pillaging (…) and they probably fought just as much as the men. (…) The reason nobody thought this previously was that whenever archaeologists uncovered the grave of a Viking buried with a sword, they assumed it was a man. Because sword. A few years ago it occurred to someone to check.
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Jul
12th
Sat
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Waking Mars

Developers used their resources wisely and achieved a lot with their limited indie budget. There are only four voice-acted characters and they are represented by a handful of static talking heads, yet I quickly got attached to them. The game’s pace is great. After initial tutorial levels with some exposition you can progress at your pace through the linear string of levels. Around the middle the game world opens up and you can explore the caves in any order you want.

The main mechanics of the game revolve around collecting seeds and planting them in fertile terrain. There are eight types of seeds and ten species of martian life forms that interact with each other in unique ways. Learning to change the environment through those interactions is the main focus of the game. It reminds me of Starseed Pilgrim a bit.

The fact that the seeds can be planted only at specific places seems restrictive at first, but it gives a nice puzzle-like flavor to the game. A pure sandbox would be harder to design and implement, and wouldn’t support the story so well. The story is an exploration too. There are multiple endings and the player must experiment to find all of them.

Waking Mars is a calm exploratory experience. Developers succeeded in creating a believable alien ecosystem. The mechanics, the animations, the sounds all feel just right. You don’t fire any guns, there are no waves of enemies to kill. This makes observing the circle of life and death inside the Mars caves that much more interesting, profound even.

I’ve finished the game on an Android device after 7.5 hours of play.

Jul
10th
Thu
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