Monday, June 4, 2012

Top 50 Video Games: Number 7

Platform: Xbox 360
Absurdly Specific Genre: THE CAKE IS A LIE, LOOOOOOOOL
Difficulty: 5 (both of them featured puzzles that generally made me sit and look at them for a while, and both of them featured at least one that made me wonder what in the hell i was doing wrong)
Beaten: Yes (at least three times a piece - and co-op twice on the second game)

My friend Branny's then-girlfriend (now fiancee) knew all the memes to Portal. It was kind of annoying, actually - I pulled the game out, and she talked about companion cubes and cakes, but when she asked her if she had ever played the game, the response was a meek 'no'. Within tem minutes, she was hooked, and it was all we could do to not spoil every puzzle for her by pointing it out.

It's my opinion that Portal is the perfect game - maybe the only perfect game.

That's an odd thing to say, considering I have the pair of them at number seven, but hey, there are a lot of factors in considering these things. All of the remaining games on this list might be more dear to my heart that this pair of games, but none of them can say that they're perfect - Portal and Portal 2 can.

The first game, in particular, is the only game I can think of off the top of my head that is absolutely perfectly paced. The second game can't say that - there's a couple a points toward the end where the player is kind of ready for the whole thing to be over, no other game I know can say that. The first game has nothing I would cut, and nothing I would add. Every other game is either just a smidge too short or too long, Portal is perfect.

After this test chamber, the game's done what it came to do, anyway.
My wife might be the only living human being that hates the GLaDOS character. In her defense, she really just hates robotic sounding voices (it sounded way more robotic and artificial in the first game). When the second game's trailer came out and was shown on TV a bit, I was ecstatic. Linds just sighed and said "so I guess I have to hear her voice again". I just laughed and started saving my money.

Speaking of the things this series does right, the voice acting in both games is perfect. Sure, in the first, the only voice acting you heard was Ellen McLain's fantastic turn as the homicidal GLaDOS (she did the turret's too, if you want to be really specific), but she created a classic character. I'll wager that there isn't another voice acting job done as well in video game history as Ellen McLain did in the first Portal game (full disclosure: I haven't heard Jennifer Hale's acclaimed turn as the female version of Commander Shepard in the Mass Effect series, and judging by how I've liked her previous characters, I'm likely to enjoy that a ton).

Following up that performance in a way that lived up to it would've been a difficult thing to do. Getting three voice actors to equal it? Impossible. Until Ellen McLain, Stephen Merchant, and J.K. Simmons teamed up and did just that. The writing was top notch (the writers for the dialog have to be some of the best ever assembled), but all three actors seriously brought it, and the result was an experience that rivaled the first game's brilliance.

Demented, mildly psychotic brilliance
At the WGoM caucus in 2009, I attended without really knowing anyone. I don't even know how it happened, but I got on the subject of Portal with a guy with some crazy sideburns, and before too long, we were talking and laughing like lifelong friends. I keep in contact with him to this day.

I've gotten this far into this overview without even mentioning the gameplay in passing, and that's sort of untrue to this series. Without the gameplay, this series would've topped out in the low 20's probably. The writing and pacing and voice acting and everything in the Portal games are perfect enough to get the series by, but the games are backed up with some great first person puzzles. The whole "portal" idea is brilliant, and allows for some great puzzles (co-op really brings that out. playing alone is a blast. playing with another person in the same room while you're both trying to figure out just what in the hell is going on? completely brilliant), and the second game's addition of different gels adds a fun element to an already solid experience. Choosing between the two games would be a futile exercise, both are two parts of a whole; both are inseparable from each other..

Really, when it all comes down to it, though, this series ends up being a shared experience. It's the type of game that you want to tell others about. Great moments are shared, fun memories exchanged, it's the perfect sort of gaming melting pot, and it's hard to find another series like it. It's no wonder Portal brought about so many memes. It's the perfect breeding ground for such things. It's the perfect game, after all.


  1. Can't disagree with anything you've written here. The first one is indeed perfectly paced.

    I'd also have a hard time comparing the two for a ranking, but rest assured when these sideburns do a list there won't be any cop outs.

  2. Alright, fine... what do I need to play this game? I have a computer (with only a mouse/keyboard, no fancy equipment) and a Wii. I am unable to add hardware. Can it still happen?

  3. I played both on my pc with the same equipment you have

    1. Good to know. I have a gift card from my birthday. It may have just found a use.