I thought the Portal clone died already, you know.
When The Turing Test came out, offering intermediate puzzles, and a philosophical and understandable story of what it truly means to be human, I figured that was it. There was no going uphill from here, Bulkhead have created the quintessential follow-up to Valve’s sleeper hit. But no, that’s a dream too vain for others, so here’s ChromaGun, which is a Portal clone as much as it is unfunny.
The dish of the day comes to us from Pixel Maniacs, a team of 7 from Germany who have been drifting through Ludum Dare with their ideas, and only releasing three of them thus far. The quick thinking Can’t Drive This and todays’ ChromaGun have been on the market for a while, but Escape The Loop, an endless 5 minutes, will be on Early Access markets in Q4 of 2017. A stupid move, if you ask me, there’s no point releasing a five minute game to Early Access, it’s like eating the feces your dinner will soon be.
You are a random schmuck, here to test out ChromaTecs’ latest esteemed item, the ChromaGun (Patent Pending), which is basically a pretentious paint gun. On a promise of 10 dollars, you arrive to experiment with the gun, which is used primarily to mix primary colours around on walls that can only be mixed on specialized walls. Sound confusing? Well, don’t worry, it isn’t.
Upon further inspection, it’s no longer a Portal clone, but a Portal 2 clone. The ominous voice calming you as you progress is clearly modelled after Cave Johnson, the enigmatic entrepreneur from the sequel, albeit not as funny. Where Portal worked was its pitch-black comedy and the effort Valve made in writing light out of the dark. Here though, all Pixel Maniacs can fall back on is the same Star Wars “These aren’t the droids..” reference you’ve seen in memes since 2010.
After that, the game struggles to find an identity of its own, constantly flickering between different puzzle games, hoping to get comfortable. For a few brief moments, it tries to be Q.U.B.E., then there’s a flavour of Quantum Conundrum, the original Portal comes into play when the anonymous voice chuckles at your failures, it simply cannot sit still.
For all its “inspirations”, the strongest comes from Q.U.B.E., Toxic Games’ fantastic puzzler that was the stepping stone for The Turing Test. With that comes the primary colour puzzles and the upgrade of being able to mix colours, and by upgrade, I mean a botch job. Puzzles are insultingly easy to complete, and when you do die due to the games abysmal controls, the game gets too big for its own boots, mocking your ineptitude.
ChromaGuns’ use of colour is probably the most polished part of the game. When you paint a wall, it’s a lovely matte finish, as opposed to the muddy and oil-slicked world that you’re surrounded by. When you meet the receptionist at the start of the game, she looks like a Play-Doh character set by a fireplace for 8 hours, it was disgusting to look at.
What annoys me when it comes to ChromaGun, is that when Pixel Maniacs decide to throw a curveball at you, it’s magnificently designed. It’s out of nowhere but the game still respects the rules it set itself up with. And when the solution hits you like a 40-ton freight train, it’s satisfying. But for the most part, it’s all filler, no killer.
Again, this is where Q.U.B.E. and Portal worked. A tight and right focus on the mechanics which matter, whereas ChromaGun keeps see-sawing between pre-school set-ups and one major payoff per chapter. Pixel Maniacs treat you like a child, and it makes me physically angry, like my Subway footlong turned into a wet log.
The voice that patronizes you throughout the game is rage-inducing. His giggling contempt for your tutorial mishaps and typical mistakes don’t make me want to complete the game. It makes me want to throw a molotov at the TV, begging for him to shut his mouth for just one second. It’s clear they wanted GlaDOS, but instead they got an ominous King Joffery from Game of Thrones.
From the constant nursery-like treatment of the player character, to the puzzles that Forrest Gump could solve while playing ping-pong, there are few moments of elation when playing through the 5 or 6 hours this game takes to complete. There is not a single “congratulations!” throughout, that sounds genuine instead of alienating.
As for the ChromaGun (Patent Pending), I have just one question. Why was it made? Final Portal reference, I promise, but the implementation of the Portal Gun in real life situations would work, it would be a fantastic breakthrough. The Turing Tests’ 3-shot energy rifle has real world implementations. What would the ChromaGuns’ purpose be in the real world? 60 Minute Makeover? No, thank you.
I didn’t leave ChromaGun with a smile nor a frown, but a sense of relief. A sense of relief that the game was over and I didn’t have to go back to it for the rest of my life. The game is barely smart, it’s one of the most alienating titles you’ll play all year, and the Portal cake (Okay, I’m sorry) that you find, and what follows, is so mind-numbingly cringy, that I should have stopped playing right then and there.
In the end, Pixel Maniacs have created an experience that makes me want to drink paint.
A patronizing experience that doesn't know whether it wants to be a solid Portal clone or a comedy title. It fails at both prospects.