Before I begin, I would like to stroke my own ego and say that, when it comes to first-person puzzle games like Portal, CastleVania (fine, it’s 3rd person, but would Portal really operate that differently if it were 3rd person?), or The Talos Principle (which you can do in 3rd person as well), I’m probably the expert. I know what to expect, I know how a puzzle platformer should function and handle, and since I’m quite skilled at many different puzzle games, even including titles like Bejeweled or Tower Defense games (loosely puzzle related), I know what a good challenge should be like versus punishingly difficult like Dark Souls or something of the like. The PUZZLE needs to be difficult, not its controls or interaction.
Preceding the review, I can say that The Talos Principle is phenomenal. I almost wanted to put puzzle games, including this one, in their own rating scale, but I knew that might be complicated for some people that want to play a good game versus wanting to play a good puzzle game. If you’re as addicted to games like these as I am, you understand the very bold distinction.
And as with all reviews, if you don’t see the score in the x/y format, it means it achieved the highest possible score. Please note that some of the objective categories are based on a subjective experience. I realized this too late and am reworking the grading accordingly.
How many times did I come back to the game? [How many times did I step away from the game and come back to play that game again instead of a different one?] Score: 95/100
I see this category as a rating of how positively (as in good, not affirmation) addicting a game is, so keep that in mind. I still play the game! I’ve beaten the game! I still visit it from time to time even though I have completed everything (except the DLC and gathering stars). I find myself redoing puzzles to which I already have the answer to see either what else I can do, or doing them if I had forgotten a particular puzzle.
There was only one point where I set that game down, thus resulting in the non-perfect score. One time did I take a break from that game before I binged on it again to completion.
How long did I play the game in total at the time of making this review? Score: 95/100
I played this game for 17 hours before making this review, and none of it felt tedious. Every hour was bursting with the content that I wanted from the game and more. 15 hours of which where solely on the first playthrough without going outside the ‘main’ missions of what you needed to do. Contrast that with the roughly 4-5 hours of main-gameplay I got with Portal 2 before going to community or co-op chambers.
How long would I put in a single session? Score: 100
This one is a little more sporadic since, throughout my time with this game, my responsibilities in life also changed. The least amount of time that I ever put into this game was 2.5 hours, then finishing up the last half of the game when things got more challenging, more addicting, and more intense in a 4 hour and a six hour stint without leaving the desk. I found that this is the second most addicting game that I have ever played where I just didn’t want to leave it without completing it.
It’s not structured in such a way where you have to play all of it in one go to get the maximum amount of x thing or the best chance at getting y drop. In many ways, this game is structured for you to take a little break with how chapters and puzzle rooms are set up; it has an overworld to explore (yes, a grand and beautiful overworld) and other things that you can do outside of puzzles that give you a chance to ‘rest’ your brain between each increasingly difficult puzzle, something Portal 2 does not do well without interrupting the narrative.
I also take into account that this game doesn’t have busywork. Everything that you do affects the progress that you have in completing the game. You’re not running to B from A, then backtracking to A so you can go to C to get back to B which is needed for D. Nuh, there’s none of that garbage. Everything moves forward and coherently. If a puzzle stumps you for a while, it encourages that you take a break from it and find back to it in a little bit so you don’t go crazy instead of halting all your progress until you try everything to power through it, ending up frustrated.
Besides optionally collecting things that have no outcome on the story, they are there for an added challenge, and they are very challenging to acquire. They are a puzzle in themselves (Gold Stars), and they are completely your choice to get. If you’re afraid that you have to collect the gold stars scattered throughout the different worlds, don’t be. I didn’t with my initial run and nothing was taken away from the final experience.
How much content is there? Did it feel like a complete, undivided experience? [Hours of playtime/things to do, etc.] Score: 85/100
This category is the main reason that I wanted to make an entirely different grading system for puzzle games. These kinds of games aren’t necessarily built with the notion that it needs an extremely powerful narrative or a variety of things to do to make a great game, and most of them remain a single-player experience. All in all, you really have 3 options with this game. Explore the overworld (of which there are 3.5 different levels that I’ll cover later), do puzzles (including the gold stars), and interact with terminals and u QR Codes that you find either next to the entry point of the level, or by exploring. Objectively, there really isn’t that much to do in this game outside of those three things, but that’s considering the context of gaming as a whole, not in context of the genre in which it resides. If I were to take that into account, this game would easily have a 100 score because this game excels at giving you choice while still being a relatively linear experience. As for the overworlds, there are 3.5. You have the world where you access the puzzles, above that you have the world that accesses the place where you solve the puzzles, then there is one more world that accesses that place. It’s hard to explain to someone that hasn’t played the game.
How few bugs were there? [Any glitches in the game negatively impact the score based on how much they ‘broke’ the game or ruined my experience. After first week only.] Score: 100
For this one I had to do some research since I never had any bugs with the game at any point (except launch day). I have to be honest with you, so I tried to take as many peoples’ experiences to give a more general score that reflects what you may have versus what I actually had. There were a few non game breaking bugs that were different among NVidia and AMD systems, but I never had that issue, so I don’t know what to tell you. Considering that this game has been out for a while and has had support since day one, I doubt very very much that you will find bugs that make this game unplayable or ‘immersion-breaking’ when you play it. Many of the things that I found were players doing something that the developer didn’t expect, something that wasn’t really meant to be done nor encouraged/discouraged to do.
Optimization [Size of the game-world versus size of the files. How it impacts performance on PC relative to the components. After first week only.] Score: 100
Sizes Score: 30
The best kind of comparison that I can give for why this is a category is because GTAV (60GB) is huge (though with a lot of content) versus The Witcher 3 (50GB) which HAS A LOT MORE and is crazy expansive. Then you have a game like Just Cause 3 (43GB) where there is a huge open world where you can free-roam and destroy a bunch of things. Comparing those games might not seem fair, but for this category, it most certainly is. If/When you play this game, you will find that you are given a lot of different things to see and a lot of space in which those things are laid. You have stunning graphics, a good narrative, amazing puzzles, multiple different overworlds and things to explore, tons of little details to see, eastereggs that can be mind-bending, textures and models that are fucking incredible…all at the price of 6.3GB. Yea. Whoever coded the engine, can I like, kiss you all over? It definitely feels like it should be taking up more space on my hard drive.
Performance Score: 70
I usually run stress tests before, during, and after I’m in game and try to observe how everything is functioning from input latency, framerate, etc. Then, I let my computer settle down and cool before I run the game while keeping tabs on my temperature and usages, as well as the basic framerate and input lag. This game really holds up. More kisses for Croteam. Then I try to run the game on a more dated system. Although it won’t be able to do things maxed out, it has no problem running on an older computer while still looking gorgeous.
How much were my senses tickled? Score: 90/100
SFX Score: 8/10
For this, it was difficult for me, but playing through it again, I found that there was one thing that really became distracting, and that was the sound of my own footsteps. It almost sounded like I was stepping on snow-covered gravel, and very artificial at that. Eventually you get used to it, but that’s what is knocking this down from what would be a 10. Everything else in this game gives you a physical feeling like when you step through a teleporter, and can sometimes initiate an emotional response like when you hear a floating mine start to activate behind you or when a sentry gun locks onto you. Good stuff. Everything should be like this or have really good sound design like what was previously mentioned…but those damn footsteps…
Soundtrack Score: 17/20
I’ll be honest and say that this was docked for two reasons: after a while it seemed repetitive (this is counteracted by the fact that there are often points where you won’t hear music), and there just wasn’t enough of it! What was there was very compelling and incredible and inspiring and really set tonality as to where you were very cohesively. There just wasn’t enough of it, and there were times that I felt it would be appropriate, or almost necessary to have music where there wasn’t any.
Voice Acting Score: 20
I can’t say too much without giving away the plot, but every voice-actor did wonderfully with how he/she portrayed emotions, how very well-enunciated everything was so you could understand it, and…buh. Just great. Everyone was cast perfectly for his/her role, and everyone shined in it.
Graphics Score: 20
This game is really beautiful. Everyone agrees. Better than Crysis 3 or The Witcher 3 in my personal opinion. It’s awe-inspiring, jaw-dropping, and just incredibly realistic. Everything looks so meticulously well-done that I can’t imagine the work that went behind it. It’s so, so good. When I bought the game I asked my mother (48 at the time) where x scene was located. She was surprised when I told her that it was a fictional place from a game. [Disclaimer: I have a very powerful rig that can run and render everything at max settings, everything, and can get a very high framerate.]
I have found that nothing irritates me more or breaks my immersion more violently than coming to a point in a game where you try to do something that has to be done, yet being physically incapable for a time because the controls are so fucking shit. Like, I have to jump over x thing, but you can’t because it’s one fucking pixel higher than you can jump when you stand in the intuitive area. Graphics can suffer, the soundtrack can be sparse, but you have to have tight controls or everything is fucked. Yea, that shit doesn’t happen here.
How well were things explained? [Was the story captivating and the mechanics understandable?] Score: 75/100
Mechanics Score: 5/25
This took a turn, ya? Everything in this game requires certain knowledge in order to complete a puzzle, most of the time it is given to you well and fairly. There were a few instances in this game where there was something that you needed to do, that you had no idea was possible. I’m just going to give it away because there is a point in the game where you are greeted by a fuck ton of mines/bumpers. If you are elevated from the mine, you won’t trigger it. If you are elevated from the mine, you can place a box on it AND stand on the box after it’s placed. Boom, something that is never explained in the game that is crucial in at least two levels. I removed the amount of time it took me to figure that out from the final playtime because that would artificially elevate the score for no reason.
Story/Lore Score: 70/75
This was the most difficult thing for me to grade in this game. The truth is that you have to search for everything that describes your setting. Personally, I have no problem with this because the world itself begs to be explored. Everything is so beautiful you just want to see all of it. However, even when you do find everything, listen to every log and read every text, you still feel like you don’t completely understand. Most of what happened leading up to you being in the world you occupy (can’t spoil anything) isn’t well-explained, at least not satisfyingly to me. Although I enjoy this about the game personally, I understand that you’re not given any closure at all. Think of it as a colored canvas with the base paints and most of the painting done, but you have to finish it. I enjoy that about this game, but at the same time I would like to have something that is a bit more conclusive. This is still a complete and full game. I didn’t feel cheated out of anything at any point and this game can stand by itself, it’s just a little shaky. At the same time, this game feels like it begs for a sequel or prequel (not that I have an issue with that if it feels like a complete game, mind). However, the sequel would expand on the story, not at all could I imagine it expanding the current mechanics of the game. You’ll have to play it yourself to understand what I mean. The game has a satisfying ending, true, but it still leaves a few questions that aren’t answered in the game. This is a game where you get more and more investment. At first, you are just a little curious as to why you exist, where you are, what happened, what will happen, but later you start to get bits and pieces that really flesh out everything.
How engaged did I become? How much of an impact did it have on me? Score: 100
I understand that impact can be measured in many different ways, just as how engaged one became while playing a game. In all honesty, there was only one other game that affected me to the point where I thought that I needed to tell everyone about it and discuss it with others in detail. This is in a pretty prestigious club of being something that really stands out as a game that is, personally, the best game that I have ever played. From the backstory to the lore and the gameplay to the execution of everything…this is just an amazing game. It poses many philosophical debates (some are quite obvious) that it expects you to digest and procure your own interpretations. It even analyzes you from time to time and makes you have thoughts about who you are and what existence is. Overall, this is a very immersive experience where you don’t feel (at least I didn’t for a great time) like you’re playing an avatar in a game, but you are actually going through the trials and tribulations in the game yourself.
How much did I enjoy the game? [Specifically involving gameplay.] Score: 100
Although most games are expected to have a narrative, I also grade the game on how well it performs if it had not been released with one. I can say that, although the game has an excellent story behind it, it would function exceedingly well without a story or any overarching idea behind it. If this puzzle game was nothing but a game about puzzles, then it would also be phenomenal at achieving that goal. There is nothing about this game that, in any way, makes me feel like one part of it would not function without the other, and that is something that is rare to find in many different games.
Did it run well/have few bugs at launch? [First week only.] Score: 20/25
On the day of release, there was a weird bug that caused my game to crash upon launch, then get into a loop of trying to launch itself from steam over and over again. This was only fixed by turning off my computer and restarting it. It was patched by Croteam within 6 hours. Damn. Still, it could be considered game breaking. Every optimization that they did within the first 4 days of launch fixed almost 100% of the problems that people were having. Croteam was very active in forums trying to figure out what was happening and they fixed many of the things in the first few days that would have been noticeable. Good Job.
Were there microtransactions, and if so, were they benign? Score: 25
Yep and yep! Excluding the Story/Puzzle addition DLC (which I think is fair considering the price of the released game and how much there was in it, AND that it was a full game) all of the DLC has nothing to do with how the game is played or how it affects you, the player. Everything in the DLC section is just a cherry on top.
How customizable/fluid were the settings? Score: 20/25
In the settings for graphics and audio, there was very few things that were left to be desired. I truly felt that I could tune everything that I needed to get the experience that I wanted. My only gripe would be to make the UI a little easier to navigate next time, perhaps tabs and sub-menus that were all visible instead of what was offered.
Final Score: 1,005/1,000
When you start the game, you are immediately put into a world that, although looks especially realistic, it’s almost surreal. Everything (although there are destroyed buildings and walls) just looks so serene. It was hard for me to process this game at first because there was so much life and beauty when the genre (including Portal) and other titles have been so reliant on gritty realism and toned colors and depressing landscapes to portray an emotion. This game is not devoid of color, nor beauty, but you still come to understand why everything is the way it is without sacrificing artistic integrity to fall in line with other grittier and less colorful titles.
You go through the game and access terminals, much like you would do in the Fallout games, and you learn more about your world and others that came before you. It isn’t long, though, that you are clued in to the fact that your world might not be real, and it raises many questions like who are you? Are you a scientist? Are you playing as yourself, your consciousness loaded into a computer and were injected into an avatar body? Is your avatar its own sentient being and you’re more of a passenger while you play the game? Since Portal has somewhat become the standard, it is difficult to talk about this game without talking about Portal. If Portal set the bar, then this game really exceeded it.
I would recommend it to anyone that had any kind of attention-span and didn’t shy away from a mental challenge. This game is fun, brilliant, intelligent, humorous at times, and the best puzzle game that I have ever played that is both hard and fair. It doesn’t hold your hand, but it doesn’t leave you stranded in the dark like many community chambers in Portal might. When you find things out, it’s because you figured it out by your own wit, not by trial and error, by following the breadcrumbs left behind that are necessary to solve the puzzles (except that one mechanic I warned you about earlier). Even if you have a hard time, there is a mechanic in the game that allows you to solve a series of less difficult puzzles to get hints to solve the one on which you were stuck, so you never feel like you were cheating the game by looking up the answer because a mechanic is available for you to earn hints! It’s satisfying, gratifying, and worth every cent. It’s release price was $40 USD, and is still less than what I would expected considering there is so much content that is offered to you. Then the DLC STILL keeps it under a $60 game, when I think it is worth that and more.
However, its replayability leaves a little to be desired as one cannot simply make his/her own puzzles for others to solve. Still, there is nothing for which you have to pay that would add anything to the game that’s necessary. There isn’t a feature or puzzle or anything that would take away from the full game locked behind a paywall or heavy hacking into the files. The final score of this game is a resounding 1,005/1,000. Perfect in every way necessary and going above and beyond what I would consider needs to be done by anyone to make a game even half as good as this one. The attention to detail by the developers is apparent and should be commended.