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Portal 2 backlash: Critic reviews vs. user reviews

by Steven Williamson on 20 April 2011, 15:42

Tags: Electronic Arts (NASDAQ:EA), Action/Adventure

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With Electronic Art’s lifting the embargo date yesterday for online press to release their reviews of Portal 2, the internet was flooded with high scores and positive praise for Valve’s puzzle-platformer.

Currently, Portal 2 ranks at an average of 95% based on 19 reviews on review-aggregation site Metacritic. However, the user review score is markedly different, with Portal 2 all three platforms receiving very average scores based on user response.

Here’s the breakdown…

PS3 Version - Critic Score - 95%, User Score - 68%
PC Version - Critic Score - 95%, User Score - 73%
Xbox 360 Version - Critic Score - 94%, User Score - 67%

The vast difference between critic and user scores indicates that there's clearly something that’s upset the gaming community. The low user review scores appear to stem from a number of issues. Some players criticise Portal 2 for its short campaign mode, which some are claiming only lasts four of five hours. I’m currently in the process of playing Portal 2 for the HEXUS.gaming review and it’s taken me 8 hours to reach Chapter seven, and I still have three chapters to go. So I don’t understand how anyone is managing to complete it so quickly on the first run. Secondly, Portal 2 also has a co-op campaign, so after you’ve completed it solo there are dozens of new, more challenging puzzles to tackle with friends. I just don't buy the fact that people are angry about Portal 2's lack of content.

Others complain about graphics, saying that Portal 2 looks dated. Portal 2 does look rather like the first game and it does use the same engine, but when the level design is so good the fact that most of Portal 2’s gameplay takes place in barren, enclosed test chambers doesn’t affect its playability it all. This is about puzzle-solving, not exploring lush environments. What were people expecting…Crysis 2 quality? Like the unfounded complaint about Portal 2's short campaign, the graphics really shouldn't affect the review score that much at all. And, if you played Portal, you'll know that high quality graphics is not what the game is all about. Anyhow, it doesn't look that bad.

What these low review scores really appear to boil down to is Valve's unpopular decision in the lead up to launch to release the ARG (alternate reality game) promotion, which encouraged Steam users to splash out for a pack of indie games dubbed “Potato Sack” in exchange for Portal 2’s early release. These gamers then had to put a lot of man hours into these indie games, which included Super Meat Boy, to be able unlock the game early. The more players that purchased the games and played them, the closer Portal 2 got to release.

As a result of the ARG, Portal 2 was released on Steam on 18th April. For those in the U.K. that was quite a decent reward because the game isn’t due out until Thursday, but in the U.S. those who had bought the indie games and invested a lot of time in them, only got hold of Portal 2 a couple of hours before it went on release there anyway on Tuesday. Therefore, the time wasted on these games and money spent on making it happen just wasn't worth it for the incentive offered. It seems that EA and Valve’s decision to take advantage of players looking forward to Portal has back-fired due to this aggressive marketing tactic - some would say this is a stroke of genius by EA.

One user review on Metacritic appears to speak on the behalf of some of the disgruntled gamers

“Just pathetic. 45$ for a minigame, useless potato collecting (for which you paid 30$ more), extremely shallow and predictable dialogue (monologue?), and what's worst, a finished game READY FOR LAUNCH held back for a week, just to profit from those useless potatoes, which didn't even bring us to the original launch date. Absolutely no replay value, very short, very easy, very stupid and a console port (hell, this last one pretty much sums it all up). I'll give it a 1 because it's pretty fun for a couple of hours,” writes one reviewer.

Nonetheless, there's no way the game should be judged for how it was marketed. So far I’m thoroughly enjoying every second of Valve’s brilliant sequel on PlayStation 3. Personally, the ARG was ridiculous. I wanted to get my hands on Portal 2 as soon as possible too, but there's no way I was going to fork out for a set of games I didn't want just to get it a couple of days early when I'd already been waiting for years. Those people who did pay out for the set of indie games got some great games, there's no doubt about it, but I can see how they feel they may have been coerced into buying them. But, ultimately it was those individuals who handed over the cash, they were never forced. As far as I see it, there's absolutely nothing that's really worth complaining about, yet alone trying to bring down the score of a game that deserves to be one of the highest rated games of 2011 thus far.


HEXUS Forums :: 38 Comments

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If they don't score it well they get no more review games. I expect that will be the main reason.
Those idiots didnt get robbed. They paid for a bunch of quality Indie titles, and that's what they got. At no point should people expect anything for free or anything ridiculously early released. As Totalbiscuit put in his latest audioblog, people paid for quality Indie games and that's what they got, if they got Portal 2 1 month or 1 minute early, they got a bonus.

For all the reasons you've stated, I will be buying Portal 2 and I will be enjoying it. I dont care how they market it, a 4-7 hour single player campaign, plus a solid co-op campaign is easily worth the price.
Jay, Have a listen to this:
http://www.cynicalbrit.com/cb-blog/honesty-in-games-journalism/

The whole concept of rate a product highly or you dont get a review copy again doesn't hold up any more, as the public tend to listen to people with honest critical reviews and opinions, rather than yesmen.
How many of them played the original?

Did people buy it expecting Half-Life 32 or something?
I haven't played it - but Stepson came down last night gushing over it.