There's a small battle for the legacy of Valve's Portal 2 going on right now on review aggregation site Metacritic. While professional reviewers are competing to see how effusive they can be in their Portal 2 praise (the Metacritic score for the PC version is 95 out of a 100 right now), the reviews from actual, rank-and-keyboard gamers are less than outstanding (75 out of 100 for the PC version, at the time of this writing). What accounts for the discrepancy? At least partially, it seems due to gamers anger over some of Valve's out-of-the-game decisions.
While it's hard to assign intention to an aggregation of individual user-reviews, a look at the negatives comments about the game that have been added recently reveal what looks a lot like internet "protesters" driving down the final score of the game.
- RATING: Portal 2 Review
So what are the gripes of these protest user-reviewers? Here's how the broad themes break down:
- "Portal 2 for the PC is a direct port of the console version." Some gamers are convinced that Valve created Portal 2 for the console market, posting things like: "PC gamers really got the shaft. I mean it's obviously made with consoles in mind. You can't even change the amount of portals you can look through, and you're stuck with being able to see through them twice unlike the large amount you were allowed to set in the first game." Other evidence: Apparently, the text in the PC version of the game discourages users from "turning off their consoles" during saves, leading some to assume this means the game was developed for consoles, then ported to PCs. While the evidence of this contention is pretty thin, I contacted Valve and asked 'em, but haven't heard back. Hopefully, I will soon, and I'll let you know.
- "Portal 2's online store is a rip-off!" Some PC gamers are, it seems, pretty angry over being asked to pay for DLC, as well as expressing dissatisfaction in the prices they are being charged. Or, as metacritc critic Lehandyr put it: "Pay for gestures, pay for hats, pay for a 1 **** day DLC and pay for 4 **** hours of gameplay. It isn't a bad game but I don't wanna pay for things that I ACTUALLY PAID FOR. And yes, I liked Valve until this game but this is just pathetic. You lost all that users that trusted you Valve, all of them."
- "Portal 2's ARG promotion was lame!" The ARG, which called for gamers to download and play indie games from Valve's Potato Sack in order to unlock Portal 2 early, was not without its critics, who felt that asking gamers to buy games they don't necessarily want in order to play they game they do want was little questionable. When the end result of an entire Internet's worth of gaming effort only shaved a couple hours off the release of the game, many gamers were plenty steamed. As meta-critic user Douglas put it: "I wish I had bought the game and my internet was off until today, so I couldn't know anything about Valve screwing customers by a marketing scheme."
- "Portal 2 is too short!" Many metacritic reviewers are pointing to game-finishing times of under four hours. I think you'd have to speedrun it to do it that fast, if it's possible at all, but hey, when have facts ever gotten in the way of internet gaming rage? Here's an example of a "too short" quote, from gamer saulout: "It's a 50$ game that single player you beat in 2-3 hrs...coops another 2-3 hrs." Personally, I don't care about game length. Just as I don't think The Godfather would have been better if it was 5 hours longer, I tend to judge games based more on how good they are, as opposed to how long they are.
I'm going to try to remain as neutral here as possible, while not hiding the fact that I loved Portal 2 like a seal loves fish, so I won't point out what a bunch of whiners the Metacritic haters are. Instead, I'll say that connoisseurship is a good thing. Professional critics--people who take games seriously enough to make part of their living from them--are probably better able than anonymous internet dwellers to comment on the quality of a game, as they have their names attached to their opinions, as well as their reputation and future employment at stake. Plus, pros probably play a lot more games, a lot more "seriously" than some guy on the internet.
That having been said, if this "protest" thing continues to happen and negative scores continue to come into sites like Metacritic, I think Valve and other game manufacturers could learn a lesson from it. Specifically about how the touchy, shrill hivemind of internet gamers are likely to react to marketing "stunts" and changes in the way that revenue is generated in games.
As anyone who follows games already knows, Valve has a reputation for creating high-quality products and generally giving a toss about the opinions of the PC gamers who make up the core of their fanbase. But like many passionate relationships, the interplay between Valve and its most devoted admirers can get a little co-dependent. The PC gaming community has set expectations so high for Valve (and Portal 2) it's hard to imagine how the actual release of the game could measure up, in spite of Valve's Herculean effort.
- VIDEO: Portal 2 Easter Egg
When you add a profit motive to the mix, gamer-anger toward Valve is even more understandable. It's nice to think that the people who make games are doing it because they're cool gamer-guys/artists, and they just want other people to be happy. But at the end of the day, Valve is a company like any other, and its motive is to make money in order to meet payroll, make more games, throw awesome E3 parties, and fatten up owners' bank accounts.
We wouldn't have games like Portal 2 within any other economic system, so I'm not hating on Capitalism but pointing out that things like an online store full of two-dollar animations and silly hats pay the bills for Valve. It's not like you need any DLC to finish the game; it's all cosmetic. But still, PC gamers are less accustomed to DLC-for-money than console gamers, who have been dealing with it since at least the day's of Elder Scrolls: Oblivion's expensive Horse Armor.
- GALLERY: Portal 2 Screenshots
The takeaway: High expectations, anonymity and passion can add up to some very strong emotions being expressed on internet forums; emotions that don't necessarily translate into reasoned "scores" from amateur critics.
So where do you fall in this matter? Are you in the pro-Portal camp, or are you more like "Screw Valve! It's a rip-off!"