Saturday, April 12, 2008


Well, I finally got around to playing Portal. Yeah, I'm slow. Oddly, the thing that motivated me was that they're releasing the ending theme song, "Still Alive", on Rock Band for free next week and I wanted to have beaten the game before I got the song. So, I bought The Orange Box and played through Portal (yes, I spent $60 dollars so I wouldn't feel guilty listening to a free song). And, well, it was pretty good.

I mean, I feel like some of the praise might have gone a little far, but it was certainly well done. For one, the writing really was top-notch. Definitely no argument there. I couldn't help but hang on to every single word GLaDOS said. In true Half-Life style, all the story is told during the gameplay, which would make the style more like Shadow of the Colossus than Assassin's Creed. Admittedly, since it's a first person shooter, I guess it's more of a hybrid since you get both player control and camera control (since they're one and the same), however, I'll say that it's closer to Shadow of the Colossus since the concept is closer to that one (retaining control of the player's eyes).

But the important thing was the words she was saying. It was beautifully extraneous, and yet perfectly relevant. Little morsels of information within tons of...well, talking. This is just about the opposite of most games' writing. They either separate important information from the filler or they don't bother with filler at all (my favorite is when they highlight important words, so the player can just read those). Nobody would dare to hide the important information within extraneous stuff because that requires players to pay attention. Even more, they would most definitely never only provide the information once. But, well, I guess that's how the guys at Valve roll. And you know what? I like it. I should have to pay attention when I'm playing a game, especially a puzzle game (admittedly, this is a fairly action oriented puzzle game).

Ironically, it wasn't GLaDOS's dialogue that I liked the most. It was the sentry units. Those things were amazing. I loved their little sing-song voices as they were searching for me, as well as the cries of fear when I picked them up. And, best of all, when I killed them, they forgave me. I mean, how often do you get that? Little childish creatures (well, inanimate objects, anyway) that are having fun trying to kill me, but are self-aware enough to be understanding when they lose the little game we're playing.

The other parts of the game weren't quite as awesome. Obviously, the game mechanic of creating portals is awesome. However, the puzzles were just okay. It really felt like the whole game was teaching me how to use the mechanic, but they forgot the part where they challenge me to come up with cool and clever things do with the game mechanic. They shouldn't teach me every trick they're going to make me use, they should eventually force me to come up with some of my own tricks. After getting out of the test facility, there was only one instance of this happening: a rocket sentry unit that can break glass and then using portals to get his rockets to the glass I want to break...and even this one was just teaching me a new mechanic that I'd use against the last boss.

Admittedly, I think their idea was to give players the opportunity to figure out awesome clever uses for portals with the level challenges (like trying to finish the levels using as few portals as possible), but teaching players to be clever shouldn't require playing the same areas over again. Well, I guess I'll just have to wait for the sequel for more challenging levels (I would love to have levels that require me to think for longer than 40 seconds to beat).

Also, what is up with people's obsession with the Companion Cube? I mean, seriously, how could anyone care about it at all? It's a box. With little pink hearts on it. A female voice tells you that you should love it because it won't hurt you and you use it for a grand total of, maybe 3 minutes, and somehow you develop some kind of emotional attachment to it? Why? It's just weird. Even in the course of using it, it gets all banged up and stuff, so do people mind having to do that to it too? I don't know.

I had a much harder time killing GLaDOS than I had incinerating the cube. By the end of the game, I had developed a relationship with her, not the cube. Admittedly, she's clearly psychotic and quite ready and willing to kill me, but it was a lot harder throwing her pieces into the fire. Especially how each individual piece had it's own personality. I really felt like I wish I could have just thrown away that angry, violent piece and kept the inquisitive and cute one (and, of course the morality one, that one would probably be useful to have around too). But no, I had to destroy her. She didn't deserve it. I wish there were a way I could have explored and eventually found the cake. The tasty cake. I was glad that, in the end, they revealed that the cake was not a lie. I just wish I could have shared it with her.

Sorry about that, I got a little sentimental there. I can't help but miss her a little. I was glad to know that she's still alive and doing science.

So, yeah, that's my reaction to Portal. Good job guys. Next time, can you add in the ability to actually throw objects? I really missed it.

That is all.


PS - What was the deal with the random scratchings in the office walls about jellyfish? I didn't really understand that part. Unless, maybe it's because GLaDOS is kind of shaped like a jellyfish, so the office workers referred to her as the jellyfish (and when she started killing them, they started referring to her as the bad jellyfish...). Hmm, food for thought, indeed.

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