Friday, July 10, 2009

This Was a Triumph: Portal

If you haven't played Valve's 3-D puzzle adventure, Portal, from a few years back, you really must. It's available in The Orange Box at retail, or via download on Steam, XBLA, and probably elsewhere.

I have been replaying parts of it lately, working towards a few XBox 360 achievements I missed my first few times through, and I am thoroughly enjoying it yet again. The physics, the atmosphere, the storyline and its sense of humor are top-notch.

What I really love about it is that it's one of the few 3-D games that realizes that "realism" need not be the end-game. It has a trippy core concept -- the Portal Gun that allows the player to, for example, punch a hole in a wall somewhere, punch a hole in the floor somewhere else, then fall through the hole here and come flying out of the wall there. It breaks all the traditional rules of 3-D gaming, because it's impossible -- and yet it feels completely real.

And the effect is tremendously well-implemented -- you can see yourself if you put the holes in the right place, you can carry or drop objects through them, and you can fall or run through an infinite series of complementary portals if you so desire. I have been listening to the in-game developer commentary and am learning what a tremendous amount of work it took to pull this off -- it's doubly impressive for its transparency.

It's also accessible even to my aging gamerskilz -- it's not a long game, and the puzzles are challenging but not frustrating at the default difficulty level (though the Advanced versions of several maps are significantly tougher. 4 down, 2 to go to close out that set of achievements!)

Plus, it ends with a marvelous Jonathan Coulton song sung by the game's omnipresent AI voice -- it's catchy, it's smart, it's very funny and it's infinitely memorable. Every time I think about the game and its world I start singing it to myself. Usually out loud.

Best. Ending. Reward. Ever.

But play it for the sheer joy of the game, too.

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