Thursday, September 26, 2013

Pandorum review

Some of the movies that I remember most fondly are ones that I hadn't even heard of before seeing them, films that I went in to "blind". Pandorum is one such film.

Which is one reason why I don't like to actually tell anyone very much about the movie other than saying it's good. The other reason is that I think the mystery is a big part of what makes the movie work; we are in the dark just as the characters are, and we discover things as the characters do.

To be honest I can't think of all that much else that I'm willing to say outside the spoilers section, other than the fact that the movie just works. The plot, acting, environments, effects, and so on are all very good and seamlessly integrated parts of the whole.

Overall I'm going to give it a 9/10; it's a good movie, if perhaps not for everyone. But if you're reading this blog then there's a decent chance you're the sort of person who will enjoy it.


I absolutely love the end. It's partly the various revelations and twists that build up towards the finale, and partly the intensity; in an already dark and claustrophobic movie, the final scene with two people crammed into the tiny pod, in the dark, as it fills with water raises the fear and claustrophobia to a new level before they finally emerge into sunlight - not only is it the first natural light in the whole film, it's practically the first scene that isn't in a dark cramped monochromatic environment. And it felt glorious; it felt to me like a metaphor for the physical act of birth, and that the human race itself had been reborn. It was a surprisingly positive and hopeful ending to a very dark and oppressive film, and I really think that's a huge part of why the whole thing works, or at least why it worked for me.

Friday, August 2, 2013

Army Of Two: The Devil's Cartel review

The original Army of Two was one of the first games I bought for my X-Box 360, because I wanted a good split-screen multiplayer game and it was one of the only ones I knew of that made team-work a priority. While the cover-based shooting in the later stages grew very annoying, overall I really enjoyed the game. I actually liked the story (you're equal-opportunity murderers; Arabs, Americans, Chinese, you don't care) and the teamwork mechanics were pretty good, with a combination of organic gameplay elements and more structured game sections. I would have liked to see even more coordination opportunities or demands during normal gameplay (perhaps more teamwork moves like the shield, or using the step-jump organically to find secret areas or paths), but I thought it was a good start. I expected sequels to take that teamwork-centric gameplay and improve and expand upon it, but somehow it doesn't quite seem to have worked out that way.

The Devil's Cartel is the third game in the series. I'm afraid I missed the second, but I found this one slightly disappointing. The elements that I liked from the original - the emphasis on teamwork and the slightly less racist story - have been scaled back in favour of more generic third person gameplay about killing people who aren't American. That's probably a consequence of the game being developed by a different studio; there's no reason to try to include every feature of a game some other guys made if you don't feel the need for them in your game, it just feels like some of what made the original different has been lost.

I should mention that I played most of Devil's Cartel on my own (this is what happens when your friends get married), so naturally I didn't get the same multiplayer experience that I did from the first. However there are definitely changes to the teamwork elements, and I'll try to be objective when comparing the two.

The back-to-back segments (which I actually really liked) are gone. The parachute/sniper sections are gone - OK, those were a bit weird, but they were interesting. The vehicle sections, where one player drives and the other shoots, are gone. Aggro is still present but less prominent (it's barely even touched upon in the training and the "aggro-meter" is gone) making less likely that you will coordinate it with your partner. Tandem sniping is gone (no great loss to be honest). You can't swap weapons with your partner any more. As far as I can tell you can no longer drag your partner to safety when he's wounded, you just wait for him to crawl there on his own. You can't feign death any more either.

Shields show up later in the game but don't really seem to have much impact as most of the levels featuring shields are small and have lots of cover, and as you can now shoot your pistol while holding a shield you can happily take advantage of it on your own while before there was no point of using one without your partner's help - plus half the time when I picked up a shield I would immediately go through a brief story section and lose it without ever having used it. It's a small thing, but you used to have more manual control over the step-jump, which made it a bit more like an actual gameplay element and a bit less of a fancy transition animation - for example, you could grab a ledge and take a peek over it to see if there were any enemies before pulling yourself all the way up, while now it's a single un-interruptible animation.

There are however some additions to the multiplayer formula. You get point bonuses for coordinating your fire against enemies - bonuses for flanking and double-teaming opponents and aiding him during melee - which helps if you care about that sort of thing. At the very least it's a way to make the game more interesting as you try to combo effects for maximum points rather than just shoot the enemies and move on. There's some sequences where one of you will cover the other from a vantage point with a sniper rifle or some form of heavy weapon while they advance, which I thought worked quite well but could have been better if there was a more compelling reason to need to do it.

In a lot of levels you have one or more additional AI partners, although personally I felt that it took away from the teamwork dynamic rather than adding to it, as you now had other characters you couldn't really control getting in the way. In truth I'm generally not a fan of AI team-mates in games, although there are exceptions that include the original Army of Two. I just felt I had more control over my partner when I played that game in single player than I did in this one; there were more specific commands available, for example.

While the original's story had you battling a variety (thematically at least, if not in gameplay terms) of opponents in a variety of environments across the globe, in this game you kill Mexicans. In rather same-y looking environments in Mexico. The scale seemed smaller, the stakes lower. Some of the characters and relationships had the potential to be more interesting, but the game just didn't seem to be able to take that extra step to make them work.

Also I didn't like the "reboot" of Salem and Rios - at least I assume that's what it was, I couldn't believe those were supposed to be the same characters I played as before. I suppose it ties the game thematically with the previous two iterations, but I would have preferred either a completely fresh start or a more familiar take on the two characters. And what was with that talk of Alice, did something happen to her? Did I miss something?

OK, now I've spent a lot of time complaining about the differences between this game and the original, so you might be thinking that it's a bad game or that I didn't like it. Well, that's not actually the case. It's a solid third person shooter which controls better than  the original; in fact it controls better than many of the big name third person shooters I've played. They've fixed a strange problem that I remember the original having; there was a small lag between pulling the trigger and firing that was noticeable with some weapons, which made shotguns for example tricky to use effectively. I'm not personally fond of the cover system, which lets you just look at a distant piece of cover and press a single button to run up and duck behind it, but I think it did make some transitions easier than they would have been with the old manual system. Cover is also destructible, which actually helped mitigate some of the worst issues of cover based shooters - no longer will you statically hide behind the same piece of cover for ten minutes while trying to kill enemies that you can't see or hit behind their own little chest-high wall.

The aim assist could be a little overly-aggressive at times, but I didn't mind, and it made sniper rifles a lot of fun to use even at somewhat close ranges. The grenade indicator was really obvious and eye-catching, thank God. I really like the weapon swap system; pressing a button switches between your two main weapons and double clicking the same button quickly draws your pistol; it's fast and easy to use, although I found it took practice to get used to drawing the pistol when stressed. I did have a strange problem when playing single player; for some reason overkill would trigger sometimes when I pressed L3, which is the sprint button, and not when I pressed L2. It seemed to sprint normally when I was pushing up on the analogue stick when I clicked it, I think it only happened when I pressed L3 while the stick was centred. There was nothing I could do to fix it though as you have almost not options to modify the controls, which I personally consider to be unforgivable (yes, I know there's a chance players will pick a "bad" control scheme and not enjoy the game, but I reject that assumption of player stupidity in favour of allowing players to play the game the way that works best for them).

The character customisation can be a lot of fun. Some of the masks are pretty cool, and being able to design your own is a nice touch. Customising weapons is a lot of fun, and being able to try before you buy is a nice feature. Having said that there's a few strange omissions; you can upgrade a weapon's magazine size, but it doesn't actually tell you how many rounds it will have, and even if you use the "test" mode the HUD is missing so you still can't tell. The effect of some weapon attachments such as the blind-fire camera is not explained, and as you can't move or duck behind cover in the test mode it's not always possible to figure it out there either. I still don't know if my ballistic shield actually did anything or if it was purely cosmetic.

Unfortunately there is one big problem with the game that I have to mark it down for. Invisible walls. Often in the game I would try to walk through an open doorway or passage only to be stopped by an invisible wall and a glowing blue icon. Sometimes I was supposed to wait for my partner to catch up or for something else to happen, but sometimes it was something else, like a path I had just come from and apparently wasn't supposed to go back down.

You still sometimes get invisible walls in large open-world games, driving games and the like, but as they tend to be only around the very edge of the map you rarely run into them, and ultimately they are understandable as it's not always possible to make a natural-looking world that is completely enclosed without it looking more out-of-place than the invisible wall would be. But to have invisible walls in a big-name linear shooter in this day and age is very hard to forgive. It shouldn't really be a big issue, it doesn't really ruin the gameplay or anything, but it's just very hard to accept such an outdated hangover of older game's limitations, and I actually found it to be quite obtrusive. Maybe I'm just spoilt.

I enjoyed the game enough to give it a 7/10, it's definitely worth playing if you like to be in the same room as other people, but I can't help feeling it should have been better than it is.


I was looking forwards to the confrontation between Salem and Rios, but when it happened it felt rushed; Salem threw a few vague accusations about being left behind, Rios didn't really say anything back (I was kind of expecting him to respond with something like, oh, I don't know, "You drove off and left US behind, and I STILL lost a leg trying to pull you from the fire, you backstabbing traitor!", or just anything really), then bullets started flying and that was it. By the way, what were those tiny scenes with Salem in jail during the credits? I guess that means he's going to escape?

They didn't seem to know what they wanted to do with Fiona. She doesn't say a single word at first, then five years later she suddenly shows up and she's a completely different person, and one minute she's fighting alongside you then she's kidnapped and needs to be rescued then she rescues herself only it's a trap then her story arc is done then she dies. Kudos for having the guts to kill her I guess, but I just felt they didn't know how to handle the character or what they wanted for her; she had an interesting backstory but they never took advantage of that, I never really felt as if she had a connection with the other characters despite them saving her years ago, and then you never really even avenge her death.

Check behind doors Goddamnit! Aren't you guys supposed to have, like, training or something? How come you keep letting people ambush you in really obvious ways? And when there's three of you facing one guy with a gun to someone's head, how do you keep letting him kill two people then escape without being shot? There's three of you, surely you can surround him and get an easy shot, or at least cut off his escape route and force him to negotiate? How is it that the moment Salem pulled the trigger on Fiona he wasn't instantly filled with so much lead that there would be no organic material left, just a man-shaped outline made of gently cooling bullets? Ditto for Bautista and Chuy. Neither of those two identical scenes made much sense to me.

Soooo many dead Mexicans...

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Despicable Me 2 review

The first movie was a bit of a surprise hit for me. It was funnier than I expected, and I enjoyed the story. As a result my expectations for the sequel were naturally higher than they were for the original, but in my experience animated movie sequels are sometimes better than the originals (Toy Story 2 and Madagascar 2 come to mind), so I allowed myself to be hopeful.

And you know what? I really enjoyed this one; probably a lot more than I did the original in fact. I found it much funnier, and some of the new characters are a lot of fun. I also think that in the original it took me some time to really warm to the characters - not surprising given the nature of the film - while their familiarity in this one meant I had more fun watching their antics right from the start.

The animation, acting, and music were all great. The whole "pointing out of the screen to remind you it's in 3D" gimmick was severely over-used - I lost count of the number of times they did it - but the short minion animation that accompanied the credits was actually some of the best use of 3D I've ever seen in a movie. It was like a bunch of animators said to themselves "Let's see what we can really do with this whole 3D malarkey when we're not too busy worrying about the rest of the film", and then went out and did just that.

I do have a little bit of criticism. The story just wasn't as strong this time around; more time and attention is spent on Gru's relationship with Lucy, pushing the whole "saving the world" plot into the backgound, but that relationship isn't as compelling as his relationship with the girls in the first film. I just feel that the romance angle in this one is more generic and less touching than his connection with the girls. Speaking of which, it seemed a little strange that the movie paid far more attention to Margo than her sisters; Edith especially was almost completely ignored, which I thought was, well, kind of unfair. Gru also had much more character growth and change in the first one.

Overall I'm going to give it a 9/10. It might be a little shallow compared to it's predecessor, but it is just a whole lot of fun.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

The Croods review

I'm not sure why, but the trailers for this movie did not make it look particularly appealing to me. Perhaps it was just the strange-looking characters? Perhaps the story just came across as silly? I wasn't sure, so I decided to give it a go anyway.

Turns out it's a good movie. It's funny, exciting, visually impressive, with a pretty good story and likeable characters. I'm not usually impressed with Nicolas Cage's acting, but I thought he did a great job as Grug. It almost goes without saying these days, but the rest of the voice acting was spot-on.

I did have a bit of a problem with the film's "message". Mild spoiler warning I guess, skip this paragraph if you must. Anyway, the father's story arc involves learning to "never be afraid". Now that might be good advice to upper-middle class families in first world countries, but I don't think it works in the context of the movie. Their entire world, the animals, the birds, the plants, and even the planet itself, spend the entire movie trying to kill the Croods. Practically very hour of every day in their lives is a struggle for survival; under those circumstances fear is not only a valid response, it's the correct one. Not being afraid will very quickly get you killed. But I suppose it's more important for children to learn to be brave and enjoy life, so I probably shouldn't complain.

I'm giving it an 8/10; it's a nice fun movie.

Friday, July 12, 2013

Jack Reacher review

Tom Cruise has been on a roll lately. I think this is his fifth movie in a row that I've really enjoyed.

Being as it's a movie about a single character and starring Tom Cruise, I think I can be forgiven for assuming it was intended to be a mind-blowing summer special-effects action extravaganza. It isn't. It's a thriller. Having said that, I enjoyed the action more than do in many action movies.

In fact, I enjoyed just about everything about this movie; I just found it all to be very well executed. There was a balanced amount of action, and it was all fast, brutal, and convincing. The story was interesting enough and flowed well, it wasn't terribly unpredictable (what is these days?) but it wasn't blindingly obvious either, and the obligatory twists were handled well enough. Basically, watching Jack Reacher work was just fun.

A do have a few criticisms. The film has an anime-like obsession with making the central character look cool and mysterious, which might feel silly to some people but didn't bother me personally (actually, it felt a bit like a guilty pleasure; to enjoy watching a guy who isn't all human and vulnerable but rather just outright cool and awesome). The main villain, while quite characterful, isn't particularly menacing and probably could have benefited from a bit more screen time. Likewise some of the supporting cast could have had a bit more depth or backstory.

The thing that bothered me most, however, was that I felt the film has something of an anti-gun theme. It opens with a very powerful (and disturbing) scene of a sniper gunning down helpless civilians that's interspersed with shots of ammunition being carefully hand-loaded; while in theory this is just about establishing the character of the sniper, I can't help but get a "crazy gun people who are so obsessed that they load their own ammunition are really scary" vibe from it. Even the nice gun range owner who shows up later doesn't seem to have any objection to his patrons being universally referred to as being crazy.

I don't really think that's fair myself; anyone who's much good at anything spends a lot of time and effort on it, and that includes paying attention to the small details, whether it's shooting, driving, cycling, programming, writing, or cooking. In fact, tinkering and experimenting with every element is often part of the fun of many hobbies.

Of course Jack Reacher saves the day in the end using guns, so either I'm reading too much into it or the movie is somewhat hypocritical. I only mention it because this is kind of a big issue right now that Hollywood actors have decided to get involved in, which could end up affecting movies since guns on screen are part of the debate.

I'm giving it 8/10; a solid and engaging movie.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Escape from Planet Earth review

Despite finding some of the characters rather annoying, I enjoyed this movie. It was funny and the idea was novel.

I'm giving it a 7/10.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

The Incredible Burt Wonderstone review

Bread doesn't taste bad and it stops you from going hungry, but it's not exactly an enjoyable experience. Burt Wonderstone felt exactly the same to me; it wasn't bad and it stopped me from feeling bored, but it wasn't exactly entertaining either.

I think it's supposed to be a comedy, the problem is I never laughed. I guess, in retrospect, there were a few moments that I would classify as having some humour value, although I don't remember thinking so at the time. The story was not great, with Burt's character arc being very shallow and poorly handled - his entire personality does a complete 180 after a five-minute conversation. And the "big finale" was decidedly underwhelming; rather than take the opportunity to present some kind of big spectacle befitting of a movie about stage magic, they basically just had one single drawn out silly joke that I found neither funny nor interesting and just... well, underwhelming.

The only redeeming feature I saw in the film was that some of the characters were quite likeable (which is more than I can say for many comedies these days), chief among them being Olivia Wilde's character Jane. This is actually the first time I've been impressed with Olivia Wilde's acting. Steve Buscemi also impressed me considering how little he had to work with. Steve Carell handled "pompous stuck-up jerk" just fine, but when it came time to portray Burt as more of a sympathetic human character, well, I just didn't feel it. I'm sorry, but I think Carell is one of those actors who plays a certain type of "character" very well, but isn't very good at playing actual human beings.

Overall I'm giving it a 6/10. Watch it if you're bored and there's nothing better on, but don't bother to go looking for it.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Together They Fight Crime

I recently caught a bit of Elementary. I must say I'm enjoying it a lot more than I thought I would. I got me thinking about a subject that's been puzzling me recently, so I figured I'd go ahead and rant about it a little. To illustrate my question, let me give a brief summary of some of the shows I see on TV these days:

The Mentalist:
A female law-enforcement professional solves cases alongside a male non-law-enforcement specialist.

A female law-enforcement professional solves cases alongside a male non-law-enforcement specialist.

A female law-enforcement professional solves cases alongside a male non-law-enforcement specialist.

A female law-enforcement professional solves cases alongside a male non-law-enforcement... guy.

Two female law-enforcement professionals solve cases alongside two male non-law-enforcement specialists.

A female law-enforcement professional and her partner solves cases alongside a male non-law-enforcement specialist and his partner (OK, this one doesn't quite sound the same on paper, but it has some of the same dynamics).

OK, some over-simplification there, but there's definitely a running theme. And I can think of more shows with a similar theme or balance, even if the relationship isn't the same on paper: Elementary, Life, Monk; they all have a male lead running around solving cases in unusual ways, while his female counterpart gets dragged along to support/balance/offset/keep him grounded.

Why is this? Is it something to do with a desire for a strong female lead, but not wanting just another cop show? By having the man not be cop, he can be "quirky" and "unpredictable", and perhaps even be the "awesome hero" by doing things better than the cops? Fair enough, but why is it always the woman who's a cop and the guy who isn't? Is it just easier to imagine a guy risking his life to fight crime on a regular basis even though it isn't his job, while if a woman does it we don't buy it? Is it something to do with wanting the guy to be the brains and the woman to be the muscle for a change? Or simply some form of "everyman" fantasy fulfilment spin on the detective genre?

I dunno. Just saying is all.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Braid review

I don't play an abundance of puzzle games, so I'm no authority on the subject, but the puzzles in Braid are fundamentally different to any I've ever seen. Most puzzle games, or puzzles in games, that I've played involve manipulating objects in space in one way or another (some games use classic word or logic puzzles it's true, but these work just as well on paper and don't really benefit specifically from being video games, and again are nothing new).

In contrast, Braid's puzzles are all about manipulating time. It's a different type of thinking, I believe. Rather than considering spatial relationships, a skill that comes naturally to us as it's part of our everyday lives, you need to consider causal relationships - something that we don't have as much varied experience with since in our lives time typically only flows in one direction.

Games that involve time manipulation are not new, but the most taxing puzzle I'd previously seen in one was probably rewinding time after stepping on something that just fell down so it would carry me upwards. Meanwhile, the puzzles in Braid are complex and just unlike anything I've experienced before. And just about every one gave me that lovely little "lightbulb moment" of understanding as the pieces suddenly clicked into place in my head.

Each level has a new rule or mechanic, always involving time, that you need to understand in order to solve the puzzles. This keeps things fresh and keeps the experience escalating. Worlds often start with a couple of simple puzzles to help you understand the new mechanic. These first puzzles follow a couple of repeated patterns, the familiarity making them easier to solve and thus and excellent and natural transition into the new world. The last level stands out in being less a puzzle and more a test of speed and reflexes, which might frustrate some people, but it works very well in suddenly introducing a tension that had been missing the rest of the game, and thus giving the final level a weight and sense of importance.

I found the game quite difficult; enough so that I left it for quite a while after failing to find solutions to some of the last few puzzles. I did manage to finish it without any outside help in the end - although I still don't know how I actually solved one particularly fiendish puzzle, I pretty much muddled through that one by luck and wouldn't be able to do it a second time! So for me I would say the difficulty was close to perfect, but I cannot judge how challenging other people will find it.

So unless you're quite a bit more intelligent than me, some puzzles will take time, and a lot of trial and error, to solve. It's quite easy to just not feel like like putting the effort in, to just put down the controller or switch to something more straight-forwards, before you really start to "get" the game. Please don't; persevere and you'll most likely be glad you did.

It occurs to me that some people might not agree with the lack of a hint system (at least I don't remember seeing one). Personally I'm grateful; if I had been offered an easy way out I might have succumbed on some puzzles, but now that I've finished it I feel some level of pride that I solved (almost) every puzzle. Only the very last world is inaccessible anyway, plus there's always the internet.

Unlike some puzzle games, Braid doesn't just get by on the bare minimum of game elements; like a precious stone, every facet is finely polished and fits perfectly in the whole. The controls, while simple, are easy to use and will be familiar to anyone who has ever played a videogame, and easy enough to pick up for the rest of us. The graphics and music are some of the best I've encountered in a 2D platformer. The narrative is engaging, told less through words and more through every part of the game itself.

The entire game looks like a beautiful water colour painting. Bright colours yet soft tones and gentle, almost hypnotic movement in the backgrounds conspire with the lovely music to create a gentle, almost relaxing atmosphere that is not threatening to non-gamers and a nice change of pace for the rest of us. There's a strangely haunting quality to the game which comes across most strongly in the journal entries and the art on the jigsaw puzzles you assemble. It recalls distant memories of happier times; a nostalgic longing for the joy and simplicity of youth, a desire to recapture that perfect moment that we never fully appreciated at the time, if it ever really existed at all that is.

Which is actually a large part of what the game is about. The protagonist is searching for something; something in his future, or maybe in his past. He's not sure what it is, sometimes he thinks he knows, other times it seems less clear. In this way he's much like most of us. While this is initially established by the diary entries at the start of each world, it's supported by just about every part of the game. The old-fashioned 2D platformer mechanics, killing enemies by jumping on their heads, seeking a princess in a castle, the bright colours and and gentle musical; all these things speak to our nostalgia for the early days of video games, the same nostalgia that keeps us playing technically simple platformers in these days of big-budget 3D extravaganzas.

The animated backgrounds and constant musical accompaniment serve yet another purpose though; combined with other subtle audio and visual cues they help to reinforce the effects of manipulating time. Leaves fall slowly downwards, steam rises from distant geysers, but rewind time and suddenly those leaves are falling upwards, the steam being sucked back in to the ground; move forwards again and it's all back to normal. This feedback helps you stay oriented while you rapidly move backwards and forwards in time, as well as just generally helping to immerse you in the game.

If there's one thing I didn't enjoy about the game, it's simply that the narrative gets less coherent as the game progresses. I believe this is deliberate seeing as the laws of the game's worlds themselves get more abstract as the game progresses, altogether moving away from the comfort of the early levels to a sensation of being lost and on unfamiliar ground. While it's all very impressive and engaging, it doesn't leave you with a satisfied feeling of closure at the end. While this might be it's intended purpose, it risks alienating players. Personally I have mixed feelings about the end, but that's not necessarily a bad thing.

Overall I give it a 10/10. Every part of the game is perfectly designed to work together to create a unique and memorable puzzle game.


The last level is... something else. A complete change of pace and very unexpected, it really screws with your head. I found it quite amazing, the way the entire last world was running backwards, then suddenly it stopped and all of sudden the fact that time was going the wrong way wasn't just some meaningless gameplay mechanic, and the sudden shift in perspective re-framed not just the final sequence, but to some extent the entire game. The truth is I'm still not sure I understand what it was all about in the end.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Looper review

I was looking forwards to this movie; it looked like it had a nice concept in the trailers, I like the actors, and I heard good things about it from friends and reviews. After I watched it, it got me thinking: is it me? Am I not capable of enjoying movies for what they are anymore? Am I just waiting for perceived flaws I can pounce on to rant about in my reviews? Do I have some specific personal hang-ups that I can't admit to which stop me from enjoying some movies, then I go through nit-picking and making mountains out of molehills just to justify why I didn't like it? Or is it really that some movies are not much good but everyone else just doesn't see all the problems and issues?

So no, I didn't like it much. There are some good ideas and some powerful scenes, but there's also too many plot holes and unanswered questions, and perhaps most importantly it seems to lose direction half way.

Time travel can be a very interesting mechanic in movies and other media. Some people may consider it over-used, or not enjoy it simply because it's so inherently paradoxical that it generally leads to confusion and plot holes. But I still find it interesting at times. Looper has one of the most thought-provoking time travel plots I've seen in a long time; the past and future versions of the same man are at odds, with the younger version trying to kill his future self - pretty crazy stuff.

The movie has a rather interesting take on time travel that is very effective in terms of the narrative; anything that happens to the past self becomes the past for the future self, but doesn't actually affect the past. Get it? No? How about this: the future self shoots the current self. Now the future self disappears since he was shot in his past and is therefore dead. However the past does not change, so the fact that the current self was shot does not change, nothing that the future self did in the current timeline changes, he just disappears. Get it now?

Unfortunately the setup is very quickly glossed over and it left me with some rather fundamental unanswered questions (more in the spoilers section). But what's more damaging than that is how the movie just seems to get bored of the young-vs-old angle and switch to a couple of different sci-fi tropes halfway through. To be honest, it felt as if it ran out of steam and out of desperation starting stealing from older movies. And the stories it steals aren't nearly as new and interesting, at least not to me.

Apart from some plot issues, I thought it was mostly well done. The action is pretty good without being over the top, although Bruce Willis does get the chance to cut loose near the end. The acting was all good - some great casting decisions I think, especially Pierce Gagnon as Cid, who manages to look both sympathetic and menacing in turn. There's some interesting visual elements, such as the subtle work on Joseph Gordon-Levitt to make him look more like Bruce Willis - watching the resemblance grow progressively stronger in one scene is quite interesting. There's a very powerful but very disturbing scene early on that I won't talk about, but suffice to say it will haunt my nightmares for years to come.

Perhaps my favourite scenes were the ones shown twice from different perspectives. This is something that I have seen different takes on before and always enjoyed, and it's very well done here. The first time each is shown with traditional "action" editing: quick camera cuts from very close perspectives. The second time each is show as a single cut from a farther perspective with minimal camera movement. It's interesting that the scenes are believable from both angles, and yet have such different impacts; initially being fast and in-your-face, then seeming deceptively sedate and detached. I can see these scenes being included in future film-making courses to highlight the effects of different camera and editing techniques.

Overall I'm giving it a 7/10; interesting, but it doesn't really live up to it's potential, and I felt let down at the end.


I mention that the film forgets it's own plot and starts to borrow from different movies near the end. The first "source" being Terminator. Well, we've already had three terminator movies about a killer from the future travelling back in time to kill a kid before he becomes a threat, with a protector hot on his heels, so I wasn't impressed seeing the exact same plot here. They even do the whole "not sure which Sarah Conner it is so I'll just kill them all" thing.

The second plot, or trope, is the "scary psychic kid" plot. Again, already seen it, it was called Akira. Or Carrie. Of which IMDB lists 3 movies with the same name and plot, and a sequel. With the same plot. Which of course are based on Stephen Kings' first published novel, Carrie. Then there's the recent Chronicle. Hell, you can even count Matilda if you think about it. Of course there's tons of manga and animé, like Elfen Lied for example (a 13 episode series about teenage girls with telekinetic powers murdering everyone). In fact I consider the X-Men to pretty much have the same core idea (only it's typically portrayed from the other side of the equation, and with less murdering and more fighting aliens and robots). So that's billions of comic issues, several cartoon series including a 2011 animé, and four movies that I know of (five if you include that Generation X piece of garbage). According to Wikipedia the X-Men were first published in 1963, making them almost 50 years old. So... not a new idea, no. Hell, one of the recurring villains the X-men face are robots sent back from the future to kill all mutants, so even the combination of tropes isn't new.

OK, truth is I didn't watch Chronicle and didn't like Akira, didn't read or watch any of the Carries, and while I was impressed by how powerful the series Elfen Lied was, I was also quite disturbed by it. So maybe the whole "super powerful kid" thing just doesn't appeal to me. I mean, I understand it, I understand how difficult an issue it would be to deal with and thus why it's a good issue to discuss in science fiction media, but I've seen it many times over the years so I'm not impressed. Perhaps others who haven't had my exposure to the trope will enjoy it more in Looper.

I will say that I wasn't overly impressed by how it was introduced either. Right from the beginning they mention telekinesis, which immediately seemed out of place - especially since they didn't take much time out to talk about anything else. Then it doesn't come up again for a while, so you know it's going to be important later. When we see the strange kid who knows too much and is far too smart... let's just say it wasn't too hard to guess what was going to happen.

While we're on the topic, if a significant portion of the world's population has telekinetic powers (what was it, 5, 10 percent? I don't remember), how come this is the only kid known to have any real degree of power? We are talking at least two orders of magnitude more strength than anyone else in the world. And not just for a while either; thirty years in the future no one has any idea how this one guy is single-handedly taking out whole criminal families. Why is he so special when no-one else is?

I did find Joe to be a rather interesting character; a rather small minded, self centered young man who has some potential to be a better man but doesn't actually wise up until many years in the future. His ultimate sacrifice worked well, except for one thing: before flipping his gun around he quotes his former boss talking about how he "took him off the dark path". Well, that would have been a lot more meaningful if the path his boss put him on hadn't been the path of a paid killer. So that didn't quite work for me, no.

The whole setup, that they send bodies back from the future to be disposed of, is very contrived. It's briefly mentioned that they can't dispose of the bodies in the future, but they never even try to explain why not. My question is, why don't they kill them before sending them back? Clearly they have no problem actually killing people in the future - they killed Joe's wife after all. Yes, that was an accident, but they were walking around with loaded pistols when we know they have non-lethal ranged weapons, so clearly they're not that worried about killing. And while we're on the subject, what did they do with her body? Why didn't they just take it to the time machine they took him to?  Plus there's never a good reason given for why the criminal organisations go out of their way to kill former employees who aren't causing any trouble, after they've left them alone for decades. There's just no reason for it. Hell, why not just hire them farther in the past so they'll die before "the present" anyway, then you won't have to round them up and send them back with a ton of gold?

By the way, the highly illegal time machine is sitting unguarded in an empty construction site? Not exactly where I'd hide something so important and illegal. Seriously, how did the crooks get a hold of time travel tech anyway? Are you honestly telling me the government doesn't use time travel, that they don't have some way of policing it, that, well, that the criminal organisations are really the only ones who use time travel, and the government can't or won't do anything about it? And that the only thing they use it for is disposing of bodies? Seriously, how completely devoid of imagination do you have to be to get your hands on a time machine and the only thing you can think of to do with it is dispose of bodies? I mean, come on, with that kind of power you could take over the world, or destroy it. There's no-one you couldn't kill, nothing you couldn't change, if you're smart enough. It's not like they're afraid to change the past; they are already actively meddling with it after all.

By the way, how did Joe figure out who the kid was anyway? Some random guy called him and told him that a random string of numbers would lead him to the guy? When did this happen? Clearly before his wife died, so who was that guy and why did he call Joe? How did he even get those numbers? How did Joe figure out that a long, random number string was three separate numbers that referred to a hospital and birth date? Instead of spending so much time focussing on young Akira boy, perhaps they should have spent more time on things like this?

Speaking of, if the kid hadn't turned out evil, old Joe wouldn't have tried to kill him, and so he wouldn't have killed his mother, and so he wouldn't have gone down the dark path? Well, he was evil, so either having his mother around doesn't stop him from turning evil, or somehow young Joe inspired him to not be evil (and as a result organised crime in the future will continue to operate unopposed)... or he actually does turn out evil anyway, or maybe he wasn't taking over crime families, he was taking them down because he wasn't evil. Who knows, I guess. I just felt that they never gave a reason why he "closed all the loops"; I assumed he had a grudge against loopers, possibly for killing his mother, but that doesn't happen in any version of the timeline so basically there's just no reason given. Maybe he doesn't need them because he disposes of bodies using his psychic powers?

One final thing, I want to talk about the weapons used in the movie. Single action revolvers? It's a movie set in the future about time travel and telekinesis, with people riding hover bikes and firing single action revolvers? Really? What's more, the revolver in question is a rather unique, somewhat expensive, 5-shot, large-frame hunting revolver (appropriately named the "BFR" - "Biggest, Finest Revolver"), so it's not like that's all they could get their hands on. Hey, maybe firearm laws outlawed even double-action revolvers, so in public they walk around with the biggest, scariest single-actions they can get? I don't know, we see people waving shotguns around in the street so that sounds unlikely. I just think it's a strange choice that's never explained.

My real issue is with the "blunderbuss". This gun is shown to be a pump-action repeater, but we never see any indication of how it works, what kind of ammunition it uses, where the ammo goes... honestly, it doesn't look functional at all to me. I get that it's supposed to look imposing yet rough, cheap, almost home-made. But still, there's just no thought gone into the functional aspect of the design. It just seems like lazy prop design to me. I mean, we never even see the (absurdly tiny) "pump" handle actually move, it doesn't look at all as if it can, even though we hear pump-action sounds and see the actors perform pumping movements.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Portal 2 Review

I finally played Portal 2. I've only played the single player campaign so far; I know there's much more to the game than that but for now I'm going to just review the campaign. But before I start I'd like to talk a little about the first Portal.

Portal was a work of genius. Not because it was a puzzle game about portals; at the risk of sounding unappreciative or offending people, I think that it was almost natural that a puzzle game featuring portals would be made before too long. Portal wasn't the first game to feature portals you see; my first experience with them was in Prey, which was released over a year before Portal, and already had a few environmental puzzles that involved the use of portals. Certainly Portal made excellent use of the technology, but the genius that I refer to was in the plot.

You play as a test subject being forced to complete tests. BOOM! Skip the backstory, no need for shoehorning puzzles into natural environments, just pure puzzle action. Think about this for a moment. They didn't need to come up with a contrived plot about using an alien portal generator to save the world. You start the game and start solving puzzles. They didn't need an army of artists to model hundreds of varied environments, they just used to same few tiles and props over and over, allowing them to make the most out of the time and resources available. And most importantly, they could put together any damned puzzle they wanted without worrying about how it fit in the environment.

But the genius doesn't end there. Now, you might want to skip this paragraph if you haven't played the first Portal as there's some spoilers coming (hell, just stop reading and go play it already). Despite the clinical nature of the settings, the game was full of small yet brilliant touches of personality in the little animations and stickman figures, and in the messages from GLaDOS. You quickly grow accustomed to GLaDOS, but as the game progresses she evolves from just a bit of comic relief to a full-blown antagonist. She's a surprisingly personal nemesis, and it works really well. Likewise, after you got used to the idea that all you were doing was solving puzzles, suddenly you saw behind the curtain and the game changed. It's an amazing moment, when you break free of the maze and start running around the hidden spaces behind it all. What's more, it makes the fact that all the testing chambers looked the same actually work in the game's favour, as it supports the story.

If I was to rate Portal, I would definitely give it a 10/10. Obviously this creates a certain pressure on the sequel. Portal 2 is at a disadvantage you see; Portal came out of nowhere and sucker-punched us in the gut, taking our breath away. But now we're ready for it, Portal 2 isn't going to catch us by surprise, it's going to have a much harder time stunning us. Valve has stepped up to the challenge by making everything bigger, more complex and more impressive. But it turns out making a better game isn't just about cramming in more of everything.

Portal 2 takes all (well, most of) the puzzle elements from the original and adds several new ones. There's gels with various effects, hard light bridges, traction beams, boxes that redirect lasers, and launchpads that send you flying. Curiously the old floating energy spheres are missing, but I suppose they didn't lend themselves to any puzzles that can't be replicated with the lasers and the gels. Regardless, the new additions are all worthwhile and synergise well with the basic portals mechanic. I was especially impressed with the white gel, that I think has a lot of potential for more "sandbox" type gameplay.

What's more it has more characters and character than the first. We now enjoy constant voice clips from several characters who are all very funny. To be honest I think this is the greatest improvement in the game; I rushed through puzzles in my haste to hear the next audio clip. From GLaDOS' vindictive taunting to Wheatley's enthusiastic bumbling, I loved it all. Strangely there's still only one type of enemy, but that's not an issue since it's a puzzle game. The environments are a lot more varied and involved, with some really impressive design and architecture - the Aperture Science labs are the size of a small city, and we are treated to many impressive views of vast caverns filled with enormous machinery. The artists and designers really outdid themselves, it gives the game an entirely different scale, if that makes sense.

The plot is a lot more involved this time around; while the original was rather direct there's a lot more happening this time. It's not just the events that you're personally involved in either; there's a lot of history that you pick up from the environments and audio clips, overall the Portal world is far more fleshed out.

I hesitate to say it, but it feels as if... Portal has grown up. The first game was, well, to put it into context, I bought the Orange Box; on one single disc there was Half Life 2, plus Episodes 1 and 2, Team Fortress 2, and Portal. Half Life 2 is a full game, episodes 1 and 2 are short games by old standards (making them full single player campaigns by modern standards), Team Fortress 2 would not have been considered a full game back then as it was multiplayer only, and Portal was bundled in as well because it was, well, not a full game. It could be finished in six hours, every level looked exactly the same, there were only two characters and only one enemy. It wasn't, by the standards of the time, a full game. In contrast, Portal 2 came out on it's own, for the price tag of a full game.

So does Portal 2 work as a full game? Well, in addition to the new features and larger scale, the run time is a little longer, and it has a cooperative mode. It's also worth mentioning that there's a free level editor, meaning there's now a huge number of user-created puzzles to peruse - though it seems this was not released until over a year after the game came out and so it's not exactly part of the package that most people initially experienced. Plus it's not available on consoles; as far as I know, not even the user-generated levels are available on consoles, which I find disappointing.

Despite all this, I thought there were elements that just didn't scale up to "full game status" very well. First, and perhaps foremost, the lack of backstory is suddenly a problem. I'll leave this particular issue for the spoilers section, instead I'll just say that I found it wasn't as easy to overlook the complete lack of information about Chell this time. It didn't help that, rather than delicately side-stepping the issue, the game seemed to keep poking at it, like picking at a scar.

Much like other big-name games of recent times, Portal 2 is much like a roller-coaster at times; that is, you're locked down tight and unable to move more than your eyeballs as you're carried along a set track. Uh, guys? Games are supposed to be interactive media; if you wanted to make a movie, why didn't you just go make a movie? Admittedly Valve practically invented the technique at the start of Half Life so it's not like they're borrowing it from newer games (I know it served a purpose, but I hated that train ride in Half Life, and had to sit through it several times for various reasons), but to my recollection there were very few such moments in the original Portal, and even in those few times they never actually took control away from you. I have no objection to the occasional in-game cutscene, but I find having partial control to be extremely frustrating, and Portal 2 overdoes it in my book.

Having said that, Portal 2 is an extremely linear experience. This was of course true of the first Portal as well, but since you spent most of your time in the test chambers it felt natural. Now you spend so much time outside of the test chambers, in a number of varied environments, that the whole "there is never, ever, ever more than one single narrow path along which you can travel" thing is a whole lot more obtrusive. I felt this was made even worse by the way that you had to keep moving between test chambers and normal structures; I felt as if once I was out of the forced-structure of the testing chambers it really shouldn't have been that hard to travel along what are meant to be human-traversable environments (office buildings, factories, laboratories, etc) before being forced to walk into another test chamber just to make progress. It just didn't feel natural anymore, and I felt that it broke my immersion. At one point we pass through a visitor's center; surely there should be some kind of usable exit?

Additionally, the fact that Chell is incapable of interacting with the world in any way except to pick up very specific objects and to shoot portals (she can't even sprint) isn't quite as easy to accept now that we are walking through more varied environments full of more natural objects, rather than the sterile test chambers we were mostly confined to before. I guess it all feels more forced, is what I'm saying.

I hate to say it, but I thought it was worse off in gameplay terms as well. Basically, there is a severe dearth of portal-able surfaces - which is rather surprising given the game's name. This echo's an issue I'm seeing more and more in games these days: if there's something there that it's possible to interact with, you have no choice but to interact with it. Basically puzzles become less about figuring out how to achieve things and more about figuring out which order to use the specific portal-accepting spots in. If you can't figure out how to solve a puzzle, chances are you haven't spotted a portal-able surface that's slightly out of sight. It just felt like a game of hide-and-seek to me; hell, I felt more like I was jumping through hoops than solving puzzles. Plus, with portals self-centering on the appropriate surfaces now - which are often marked to let you know you need to place a portal there - you don't even have to worry about accuracy anymore, and there's very few puzzles where timing or speed are real issues, making it all feel rather dumbed down. I was very disappointed, I rarely felt a sense of achievement for solving a puzzle - I can't remember many occasions when I was actually stumped for any length of time, and on most of those occasions it was simply because I hadn't spotted a specific portal-able surface.

One technical issue I ran into was loading screens. First of all load times were rather long, second when not in test chambers the loading screens felt very obtrusive. After some uneventful travelling through normal levels, you'd open a door and be dropped into a loading screen. When the game started again the following environments would not feel any different from the preceding ones, and as the narrative was not doing anything particularly interesting and you weren't coming right off a particularly difficult puzzle the result was that the load screens often just felt random and out of place.

OK, some of my issues are really just nit picking and should probably be ignored - after all, games should focus on their core mechanic and not worry too much about features that don't actually enhance the experience. The fact is though that there were elements of both story and gameplay that I did not enjoy and would consider a step backwards for the title.

So what's the final verdict? Scoring sequels is tricky; if a game is exactly the same as it's predecessor, does it get the same score, or does it get a worse one for not innovating? How much better does it need to be to get the same score? I really don't know what to give Portal 2; the gameplay is technically more advanced than the original, but that doesn't mean it should get a better score, and while much of what the original did well it does even better, I had so many issues with the narrative that I just didn't enjoy it all that much. Balancing my issues with the things that impressed me, I'm going to settle for a 7/10: you might think that's quite harsh, but while there's some fantastic stuff here, there's some issues that really got to me, and overall stopped me from enjoying the game as much as I expected to. Remember, I'm only talking about the single player campaign and not considering the multiplayer and user-creation features, which I expect add tremendously to the fun and value of the package.


I mention in the review that I had issues with the plot. I'm going to try to list them here. Admittedly some of these are subjective, in fact I believe some are quite minor and individually I would not have had a problem with most of them, but somehow they all added up to undermine the experience for me. Yes, I get that the game is very tongue in cheek, but the problem comes from the game trying to operate on a bigger scale and fit in the Half Life universe: "it's supposed to be funny" isn't really enough anymore.

First of all, who is Chell? Where did she come from and how did she end up as a test subject? It didn't seem to matter before, but now that more questions are raised during the game and the plot is inherently more important as it is now considered canon with the Half Life games, it's not so easy to just say "oh, she's a test subject, that's all we need to know". It seems now that there have been vast numbers of people subjected to these tests for decades (when before, for all we knew she could very well have been the very first, or at least one of only a small number of subjects), so how come Chell seems to be the first person to escape the test chambers and in fact the facility itself - what makes her so special? How did she get out when no-one else could? And most importantly, how did she end up in the "relaxation center" after escaping at the end of the first game?

I mentioned that the game wouldn't leave the issue of Chell's origin alone. The way that Wheatley spoke about Chell, and the pictures we find depicting Chell's confrontation with GLaDOS, don't explain why she's here, rather they just keep reminding us to ask the question - instead of wondering about it just once at the very start of the game, we essentially are led to think about it another couple of time. But mainly I was referring to how GLaDOS taunts Chell by hinting that her parents are also test subjects, and talking about her file and such like. This naturally makes us ask questions about Chell. Hell, we even learn who GLaDOS used to be and how she ended up here (although not how she ended up a psychopath, not that we need a reason, just saying), but never anything about Chell.

Now it's suggested that Chell has suffered brain damage due to a lengthy hibernation and is actually incapable of verbal speech. But that doesn't explain why she didn't say a single word in the first game, and as such it highlights her muteness rather than explaining it; in other words it interferes with our suspension of disbelief rather than supporting it.

What about the person who's been leaving incoherent messages and deranged scribbles here and there? It seems now that he was still around after Chell left, that he saw her somehow and knows about her showdown with GLaDOS? Did he also escape the testing chambers? How did he manage to survive so long? How did he know about Chell - he drew a pretty good picture of her so clearly he knows what she looks like? How did he manage to get around - did he have a portal gun? Why did GLaDOS never mention him? Whatever happened to him in the end? Was that his portal gun that we pick up at the start (assuming Chell took hers with her when she escaped first time) and why does it only fire one type of portal? I'm not saying these question should all be answered, that we can't infer or hypothesise answers to many of them, but somehow the things I saw in this game made me feel less satisfied with what little we know about him. If they had not shown us more of his scribbles, or shown us a little more and given us a little more information about who he might be, I would have preferred it. As it was we saw evidence of his presence in one room, and that was it. Or did I just miss it? Was there more about him that I just didn't notice or find or pick up on? I've just discovered that there was a webcomic that tells us more about him, but that didn't help me much when I was playing the game, did it? In fact, if the comic would help us understand the game better, why didn't Valve bundle it in with the game? What little I've read about the character online only makes the game make less sense to me, not more.

So the portal gun has been around since the 60s? We know this because we had to go through test chambers that were designed to be traversed using the portal gun while listening to Cave Johnson's voice recordings welcoming astronauts and others, then later we hear voice clips talking about the "missing astronaut trials of the 60s". I find it very hard to believe that the portal gun, and the leg supports for that matter, were invented that far back, and that Aperture Science has been sitting on the technology for that long without doing anything with it. What's been happening all this time?

And another thing; what about these tests? Initially I thought they were testing people, since the capabilities of the portal gun itself seem to be quite well understood and the test chambers seem to be set up to challenge human puzzle solving abilities. But the fact that the testing dated back to Aperture Science's early days, when they were in theory a technology firm developing technology such as the portals and gels, suggests that they were - or at least should have been - testing technology, not people. But even though we hear recordings about how they are testing the effects of radiation and things on people, the portal tests were always set up the same way: to test if people could bypass the obstacles set before them using the portals. So I guess the answer is just that Cave Johnson has always been stark raving mad (and I guess after he died GLaDOS followed in his footsteps)? Fair enough I suppose.

Why weren't the gels used in the more modern tests that we saw at the start? GLaDOS mentions that Wheatley is using some old tests of hers, and those use gels, so why didn't the others we'd seen up till that point? Hell, if you consider the first game, why were there any other tests anyway? This is a bit of a leap of logic, but I feel as if GLaDOS wouldn't have tried to kill Chell if there were more challenging tests sitting around that she could run her through.

So how exactly did GLaDOS just wake up? All Wheatley did was flip a few switches. Even assuming he is subconsciously making the worst possible decisions and thus was pretty much trying to wake her up, how did flipping a few switches do it? It just feels like, if it was that easy (it took something like 20 seconds to reactivate her), then why didn't GLaDOS trigger a repair mechanism before? If those AI modules weren't important, why was destroying them such a big deal before? Remember that this is after years, possibly decades, of neglect, with clear signs of destruction and decay everywhere.

By the way, how did GLaDOS grab Chell so easily as soon as she woke up? Why couldn't she have done that before? Why didn't Wheatley use the grabber arms in the final confrontation later? It seriously undermines the game, I feel as if all my victories were lies. Very disappointing.

This was made worse by the way GLaDOS is portrayed as being practically omnipotent early on. At one point she disintegrates a companion cube that's actually in our hands. If GLaDOS can disintegrate anything she wants anytime she wants... then how the hell did any of it make any sense? What was all that crap with the really slow neurotoxin and the turrets, if she can can just make things cease to exist at any time? For that matter, how were we able to get anywhere at all if every single panel in the entire facility was completely under GLaDOS control at all times, as we are often lead to believe? Basically the threat was severely inconsistent; they quickly established that we had no chance whatsoever and so anything we did achieve didn't make any sense.

There's mention of a euphoria reaction when a test is completed. So where did this come from? I can just about believe that the scientists that Cave Johnson forced to endure life-threatening tests were compelled to put GLaDOS in charge of the facility, but why would they create a system that would encourage her to keep running people through tests? Can you say "plot device"?

I spoke positively before about the scale of the environments. It does take some suspension of disbelief to accept that such a huge facility could exist at all, much less be almost completely devoid of any solid structure, being made up mainly of elements that are modular, mobile, and typically articulated - especially hard to believe when you remember that we have giant pipes of gel being diverted into rooms that are supposed to be nothing but collections of configurable panels in movable frameworks. Where did it all come from? How much did it cost? How did no-one notice? How was something so... transformable actually designed? How can it be so self-sustaining with no human intervention? If you can suspend your disbelief, it's well worth it as it's such a cool scenario, but I didn't find it easy.

Why didn't the energy fields destroy the potato module? Potato modules are authorised objects, but nothing else is? Perhaps it was recognised as an AI module, and those were allowed?

But the biggest problem I had was the end. I liked the fight against Wheatley; he had made intelligent preparations and yet, being inherently stupid, had forgotten about one important detail, making the fight believable (if you forget about the disintegration thing, the configurable panels, and the grabbing arms - plus I never understood how the potato managed to take over the control harness thing on it's own). And of course the bit with the moon was very cool. But what happened after that was just... I'm sorry, I didn't come all this way, fight for every single centimeter of ground, have to figure out ridiculous ways of using portals and physics to get past every single deceptively sturdy (and inexplicably locked) door in the entire city-sized complex, three times, just to have my life spared by my sworn enemy. That is not a satisfying ending. How is it even possible to start with something as well-written as Portal, and end up with such a mind-bogglingly bad ending? Yes, I get that GLaDOS is popular and they wanted her around for Half Life 3, but that's no excuse for murdering Portal 2 with such an insanely retarded ending. If, hypothetically speaking, I had been sitting around with some friends back before Portal 2 came out and we decided it would be a fun game to try to write deliberately bad endings to videogames, my first idea for Portal would have been to have GLaDOS kill Chell at the end. Then I would have dismissed it as being too obvious, and my second idea probably would have been for GLaDOS to decide to spare Chell's life and just let her go; it would be the ultimate let down and a soul-crushing insult, that she's not even worth killing. In other words, if I spent time and effort thinking about the worst possible ending I might have come up with what Valve actually went with! Come on Valve, what the hell is going on in there? What are you playing at? Who the hell thought that ending was a good idea, and who the hell authorised it?