Quick Debriefing: Portal

It’s safe to say that Portal is the first game whose ending credits prompted me to play it. I first saw the YouTube video of “Still Alive” back in November, and I’ve had the song stuck in my head ever since — even though, for most of the time, I’ve had no idea who Aperture Science and Black Mesa are. (Note: You may not want to watch the video if you haven’t played Portal and don’t want to be spoiled. Seeing it didn’t lessen my enjoyment of the game, however.)

The minute, the very second, that The Orange Box was released for the PS3, I immediately waited a few months until someone I knew had finished it and could lend me a copy. (Thanks, Tom!)

After weeks of reading about it in reviews and on forums, the consensus seemed to be that Portal is fantastic for a short, throw-in of a game. Turns out, Portal is fantastic, period. I’d argue that it’s worth a full 60 bucks on its own, and now I feel a little guilty for not buying it.

Though I’d spoiled the ending for myself, and I’d skimmed posts about Portal on the web, I’d managed to avoid much specific information about the game, itself. In case you’re late to the party, like I was, I won’t spoil any serious plot or gameplay details here.

I’ll just say that it’s a primarily a puzzle game, using first person shooter mechanics. There are some action sequences, in which your timing and aim will need to be pretty precise, but even a slug like me was able to accomplish everything. The script is hilarious. And the in-game music, though sparse, does a great job of adding to the atmosphere.

The game excels at teaching you how to play it as you go through its 19 tests. Because it’s challenging, but never feels frustrating or impossible, you feel smarter as you figure out the keys to solving each successive level.

The lying sack of crap reviewers at IGN bragged that they finished the game in about 90 minutes their first time through. What insecure assholes. I’d guess it takes most players — at least ones who come in knowing very little about the game and who like to explore and experiment a little — somewhere between three and six hours.

However long it takes you, the game is short. And that’s fine with me. I’ll take five hours of unforgettable near-perfection over 20 to 40 hours of merely good-to-great gameplay, every time. Plus, it helps clear out my to-play queue a little more quickly. That’s handy, especially when I’ve got about a half-dozen games in the hopper. Which is always.

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