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Portal06:53 PM -- Fri December 21, 2007

If you own a PC, and you don't own Portal, you should remedy this.

Portal is going to get a lot of Game Of The Year awards. I just read one right now, at Gamasutra. And it's going to deserve them! Even if you're not much of a gamer, it will rock you. Although it could make you physically ill. I know it got me very dizzy more than once. It is a very easy game to finish. Nothing in it is really tough. It's also very short. It has no fighting (though you do get shot!), and it's a puzzle game. But it's a first person view.

If you don't know, you play a test subject who is given a gun that shoots portals. You shoot one wall with a blue portal, and another wall (or floor or ceiling perhaps) with an orange portal, and you can walk through one and come out the other. That's the entire game. Well, you can also pick up boxes to set on things and use as a step up. And I suppose you can walk, jump, and duck too. That's the entire game. So using those capabilities, you need to get to the exit of each testing area, and it's an absolute blast. You'll make a hole in the wall and drop yourself through the floor to fling yourself across the room, you'll drop a turret out of the ceiling to knock out another turret, and so much more.

That's the gameplay, and it makes for a lot of visceral fun, just in flinging yourself around, as well as a lot of puzzling fun, in figuring out how to achieve your goals. But the gameplay is only half of it. The other half is the constant chatter of GLaDOS, the story, the humor, and the serious fun of it all (including Jonathan Coulton's amazing wonderful song at the end). It's not just funny, it's sort of oddly moving, and it's definitely among the best writing you've seen in a video game.

So far, I've played the game through once (with the wife watching the whole time, because it's that entertaining) just to finish, a second time to hear all the developer commentary, and I'm at the very end of my third run-through, hoping to knock out all the security cameras (a bonus achievement). I've also finished all 6 advanced maps, which are really cleverly done - they're regular test chambers, with one small change. But the one small change completely changes how you have to solve it. For example, in one level where you previously completed it by dropping out of the ceiling all over the place, the ceiling is now no longer a surface you can make portals in. So you need to come up with entirely new ways of getting places. Those are great. Then there are the challenge maps. I have not done much there. They are normal levels, but they give you a goal - do it with as few portals as possible, as few footsteps as possible, or in as little time as possible. The fewest portals one is really fun, because it's a tricky puzzle to come up with the least you can do. The fewest footsteps one is AWFUL and I hate it. Footsteps are very iffy. If you tap forward, you might get one, two, or three. If you jump, you might take 2 when you land, or one. And the required number is so insanely low that I can't even get bronze medals on those. So I hate that. I have not accomplished a lot on the challenge maps, and I don't think I ever will. But I don't mind, because the rest is awesome.

If you are not yet convinced to buy, consider this: you buy The Orange Box for the same price as any retail game (maybe $40 or so), and it contains Portal, Team Fortress 2 (the best multiplayer online experience ever), Half-Life 2 (I've been having fun with it, but whatever, it's just a regular FPS game), and Half-Life 2 Episode One and Episode Two (sequels to Half-Life 2, despite the name). That's 5 games! And I'm getting a lot of fun out of them. Portal is worth the price, Team Fortress 2 would be worth the price if I had decent broadband, and the other games are a nice little bonus.

This is one game where it truly has lived up to the hype, a completely unfamiliar experience to me. I try to hate everything, all the time, but I can only love Portal. "Where are you? Are you still there?"
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