Game Pile: Gateways

Science! Holes in space that let you move between two unrelated places as if they were directly connected! Violations of laws of physics and conservation of energy! Science! A laboratory full of mind-bending puzzles with no good reason to exist the way they are! Monkeys in robot suits! Science! A price point under five dollars! A quirky ending sequence which is just a text scroll while music plays! Science!

Gateways is a pastiche game, taking elements from a number of well-established games and pulling them together to form a single, cohesive whole. The core elements that comprise the game may seem a little obvious, but it’s worth talking about them anyway.

It’s like Metroid

Gateways is designed in the Metroid school of world design, trying to avoid loading screens, and it succeeds admirably. You will move smoothly from puzzle to puzzle, with save points scattered throughout the map – presuming, of course, that you can finish the damn puzzles.

You collect power-ups that let you advance to new areas of the map. If you go back to earlier parts of the map with those tools, you’ll sometimes unlock new areas, or new bonuses. Rather than let you hit hard walls and find yourself lost, or a puzzle you can’t execute, the game lets you spend resources – blue orbs – then either tell you whether or not you can solve a puzzle, or, if you can, solve it for you.

Remember how I brought up conveyance? Well, welcome to an object lesson in bad conveyance. While the game presents you with a large world, and occasionally shows glimmers of awareness that players need guidance onwards, a game all about teleporting, a device for travel, has no better way to encourage you onwards than a great big map and arrows pointing at things you haven’t yet done. “Go! Get it sorted!”

It’s like Shuggy

Let’s not talk about game mechanics for a minute, let’s talk about aesthetics.

Gateways has pleasant visuals that show well most of what it’s trying to do, and that’s almost all you could ask of a game in this style. Laboratories look like laboratories, most elements that you can interact with are distinct from their backgrounds and anything you’re meant to interact with has a very consistent appearance to indicate what they do. That is to say, all the aesthetics are competent. Heck, I’d almost say that the animation is the best element in this game, physics engine be damned.

What’s a greater problem than the visuals of the game is what the game is choosing to show you. You’re stuck in an elaborate laboratory full of ridiculous puzzles and scattered scientific devices. The professor uses a gun that creates gateways. The professor loves science. There are posters for other games on the walls. You have to fight laboratory monkeys.

It all feels, much like The Adventures of Shuggy, that it’s trying very hard.

It’s like Portal

You knew I’d mention it.

Portal was short, and punchy, and didn’t wear out its welcome. Gateways is for those people who played Portal and thought to themselves, ‘you know what, I wish I had another sixteen to eighteen hours of that.’ It’s not that any part of it is bad, but at a certain point, ‘more stuff’ pulls you further away from good.

I don’t necessarily think that Portal is the natural evolution of the puzzle game, but it sure as hell broke the formula we were used to. You used to get games advertising themselves on having numbers of levels. The original Wolfenstein 3D, games like Paganitzu, Laser Tank, and so on, all boasted of their levels, about how much game you bought for your money.

The issue is that mediocrity is relentless. Gateways isn’t a bad game, but it’s also not really a good game. It’s just a game, and it’s a lot of game. It’s a game that strives to recapture old game design ideals with new game engine technology. The result is a mediocrity – not a single thing about Gateways is exceptional or remarkable. While I can speak endlessly about things the game could do better, none of this game’s flaws are flaws of commission.

Verdict

Gateways is available from Good Old Games, and probably other places too.

Buy it if:

  • Your fine-control/platforming skills need a game where you can be patient with your jumps.
  • You enjoyed Portal 2 more than Portal.
  • What do you mean you haven’t played Portal yet!?

Avoid it if:

  • You need a game to give you any strong hook.
  • You’re looking for a puzzle game with a narrative and characters.

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