I think we’re all in agreement that Portal was a great game, and (if indie games are the barometer) quite the inspiration to a number of developers. I’ve dished out plenty of admonitions right here on the site, to studios that have either lifted the storyline wholesale for their own use, or shoehorned the idea into their game when it didn’t even require it. Smudged Cat Games‘ Gateways (240 MSP) is probably the most blatant offender of them thus far. Scientist-type ‘Ed’ finds and uses a ‘gateway gun’, which is Valve’s portal gun in every way but name.
Though Ed isn’t content to take on a talkative sidekick and work with the standard portals. He wonders aloud why he’s being led to different parts of the facility to find his experimental weapons, bopping escaped monkeys on their domed-helmet heads, but the story never takes off. It’s just an impetus to drive the different gun types and equipment you’ll use.
They’re the real story in the game anyway, adding clever puzzle ideas and gateway attachments that Portal could only ever dream of, from the mod that shrinks or grows Ed to fit the environment, to one that bends gravity and rotates the whole level, or the time portal gun, that allows you (and plenty of ‘you’ clones) to be in multiple places (and on multiple switches) at once. The way they all work together is flawless.
The lab you find yourself in is one giant, seamless level, with areas and secret nooks filling in as you explore, Metroidvania-style. The mapping feature is tremendously helpful in Gateways, not only serving to track Ed’s location, but as an objective marker (a red arrow always points you to the next goal) and a record of unfinished business; for five orbs, the game’s scattered (and limited) currency, you can find out whether a puzzle is solvable with your current setup. If not, the map obediently marks it and tells you once you’ve found the requisite stuff.
And with puzzles popping up at every bend and intersection, you’ll work for each inch of ground covered. It’s definitely not meant for the easily frustrated; Gateways makes you look foolish time and time again, despite some obvious (well, in hindsight) solutions. This is lessened somewhat, in that you can literally buy yourself out of any puzzle that gets too… puzzling, provided you’ve saved up enough orbs. It’s not the most dignified way to play, but there’s no shame if the option is there. Later in the game, when you unlock the use of all the guns at once, ushering in multi-part puzzles that will stagger the stoutest of brains, you’ll give in as I did.
Oh yeah, this shit’s crazy.
So there is a downside, and, oddly enough, it’s that the puzzles are too good. The amount of effort it took to build them is duly noted; I considered it a victory just getting to the last puzzle (about five hours playtime). And after (spoiler!) watching the solution video, there’s no way I was even going to attempt it. You can’t purchase your freedom regardless of orb count. The last few puzzle rooms in general were stubborn, lasting over an hour from ‘hmmm….’ to ‘ah-ha!’, but that final one takes it, hands down. 98% completion is good enough.
Though don’t let my defeatist attitude sway you. I still consider it one of the more unique, exquisitely-constructed games around. Gateways handles its puzzles and open-world progression as skillfully as any arcade or retail game I can think of, and then some. It’s not only the best game to come out of the Uprising so far, it’s one of the best XBLIGs available. Do yourself one of the biggest favors you’ll ever do for yourself and plunk down the MSP for the game, play it, then come back and thank me.