Monday, November 12, 2007

Gaming goodness

I had class this weekend, which means that only one weekend and two classes are left in total. My adviser finally got back to me to let me know that my thesis is interesting and well done, and only a few minor changes are necessary before submission. So on the whole it looks like somewhat smooth sailing from here on out, and therefore I treated myself on Friday evening to The Half-Life Orange Box.

I have not bought a game in several months, and part of the reason behind this purchase is that I had heard so many outstanding reviews that I couldn't stand to do without it any longer. This package contains Half-Life 2 (which I've played) and two mini-expansions (which I haven't) as well as some multi-player stuff that I don't much care about. And finally, there's Portal:

Many reviews have been written about Portal, but it's not the professional reviews that did it for me; it was Lore Sjoberg, a very funny guy who writes "The thing about Portal is this: it’s very funny. ...As a puzzle game, Portal runs way too short. As a comedy, it’s perfect." And it was "Yahtzee" Croshaw, whose great review of the Orange Box deserves to be watched and heard in full.

Yahtzee's a hilarious reviewer, and anyone who likes games will have a great time watching all of his regular weekly videos. He's also a very sardonic and pitiless reviewer, which is why it was especially meaningful when he said: "Lastly, there's Portal, and if you're a regular reviewer you'll understand how insane these words feel coming out of my mouth, but I can't think of any criticism for it. I'm serious. This is the most fun you'll have with your PC until they invent a force-feedback codpiece. ...Absolutely sublime from start to finish, and I will jam forks into my eyes if I ever use those words to describe anything else ever again."

Well, "sublime" is a very good description of the game. It is not only fun gaming, it also has brilliant writing, and it is alternately extremely funny and very, very, creepy and unnerving. Fun, amusing, and scary. Those are pretty much my three gold standard criteria for good games, and this hit them all exactly right.

Ben loved it too (and the scary parts were partly derived from uncertainty and the ability to read, so they weren't too scary for him). When you play the game, some puzzles require you to jump from a great height into a portal on the floor, so that you'll build up a lot of momentum before you shoot out of a wall going in a different direction. As we played together, we both started saying "Wheeeeee!" every time we jumped. Well, a minute later, the computerized trainer voice also said "Wheeeeee!" along with us.

Ben cracked up and kept laughing for several minutes. The afterwards, he wanted to know how the computer knew what we were saying. I had a hard time convincing him that it was a coincidence.

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