Sunday, 2 February 2014

Well-Rendered's Games of the Generation #6: Portal

Portal, Valve Corporation (2007) 

Spoiler alert

Portal, as I have said many times before, is a brilliant metafictional twist on the entire puzzle genre in which the lab rat gets the better of the scientist.


I have discussed the metafictional aspects of the game indepth in my Character Select article on GLaDOS, so rather than retread old ground I will briefly explain why it is the original game rather than the larger Portal 2, that makes this list (Spoilers! Portal 2 is not on this list).

Firstly, Stephen Merchant as Wheatley greatly dented my enjoyment for Portal 2. He has an incredibly distinctive voice which yanked me out of the fiction of the game every time Wheatley spoke. Celebrity voiceovers* should be used with restraint if at all, particularly in worlds that are supposed to be so removed from our own. If I gave marks out of ten on Well-Rendered, Merchant's involvement would have pushed Portal 2 from an 9 to an 8.


Secondly, the reason I love Portal so much is the way the player slowly realises that there is a world behind the test chamber that they're not seeing and the thrill they get when they finally break through. There can be no such reveal in Portal 2, and while the latter game is probably a better overall package (the puzzles are peerless), it can never compete with the first in terms of uniqueness or memorability.

Portal is one of the few games that game me nightmares. The claustrophobic horror of the test chambers pushed down on me long after I'd stopped playing because a puzzle game had never before asked me to empathise with the wordless avatar endlessly bashing themselves against the walls of the levels. The thrill I had when I smashed those walls down can never be matched because it's been done, and Portal was the game to do it.


*The worst culprit for this by far is Fable III, which blew a large chunk of its budget on A-list actors for bit-parts, including Stephen Fry, John Cleese, Ben Kingsley, Naomie Harris, Zoƫ Wanamaker and Simon Pegg. I can just about forgive these because they are all actors, which is more than can be said for Jonathan Ross.




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