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Have you played... Portal?

Bit drab, wasn't it?

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Have You Played? is an endless stream of game retrospectives. One a day, every day of the year, perhaps for all time.

Is there any greater testament to the power of writing in games than all the fandom that spilled forth from Portal? Valve’s first-person puzzler recently turned ten years old, and when I think back on it, so much of what I remember is otherwise plain and functional.

Portal was made by a small team and runs for about three hours. Its test chambers were mostly small, grey, with boxy architecture. That serves the game well, when players need to focus on mind-bending physics puzzles, but it still makes the experience of playing moment-to-moment less memorable.

Example: do you remember test chamber 14? No, probably not. You remember the general fun of flinging yourself about with the portal gun, and you remember the moment with the plot twist, and you remember the ending.

In between though, there’s the writing. More specifically, the jokes. GladOS’s insults, the turret’s sad lamentations, the visual gags. I’m not saying anything that hasn’t been said a thousand times before, but it bears repeating a thousand and one times. Portal is a great puzzle game, but it’s a best-of-all-time comedy game.

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Graham Smith

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