As will be endlessly discussed in a thousand Best Games of 2007 lists, Portal was more than the sum of its parts. It's just a puzzle game about jumping through holes, if you ask me. Of course, there's no question that Valve's baby could have ended up technically impressive yet emotionally bland in lesser hands. Instead, excellence in the form of a sharp, witty script and an inspired design aesthetic (collapsing brilliantly from order into chaos in parallel to the sanity of your nemesis) nailing it on the head perfectly.
You can probably tell this isn't going to end with a great score if I'm harping on about Portal before we even get started on the game I'm meant to be reviewing, can't you?
Anyway, what I wanted to get at is how easy it is to distil the essence of games down to rote mechanics - Portal is all about jumping through holes, Pokemon is about using big numbers to defeat small numbers, Virtua Fighter is pushing buttons at the right moment, and so on - and how that doesn't necessarily have to be a bad thing. Once you learn the techniques to win, and then translate those into an easily replicable formula of success, it can still be an excellent experience, as long as the game's smoke and mirrors are impressive enough not to shatter your immersion. The above examples attest to that. When you peek behind the glitz and see the bare bones structure there, sometimes, hey, that doesn't matter because the decoration's so brilliant, and other times, well, welcome to Paradise City. Excuse me while I now start on the meat of this review before valiantly tying all this up at the end somehow. Go me.