Have you played… Portal?

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.


  1. Grizzly says:

    It’s a meme.

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    Drib says:

    Man, at this point, who HASN’T played Portal?

    For that one poor sod, go play it, damn.

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      Qazinsky says:

      *Raises hand* I just really don’t find puzzle games interesting.

      (I also own Portal from back when they gave it away for free, I really have no excuse, I am sorry.)

      • alphager says:

        It’s not just a puzzle game; it has a very strong narrative. I recommend you try it for half an hour.

      • Don Reba says:

        Play it for the cake at the end, if nothing else! It’s delicious!

      • Saarlaender39 says:

        I also got it when they gave it away for free.
        In fact, it was THE game, that made me create a Steam account.
        I started playing it the moment, it was fully downloaded – and didn’t stop, until I was through.
        Really – give it a go.
        It isn’t so much a puzzle game – but a really enjoyable journey.

      • Spuzzell says:

        Don’t worry about it, just play. Honestly, dive in.

        It’s not puzzelly puzzelly, they’re just there to make you feel clever.

      • Sin Vega says:

        It’s well worth a go. I hate puzzle games, and almost never come anywhere near completing them. Portal isn’t anything like most of them though, it may even be the only one I’ve ever completed. I’m certainly struggling to think of another example.

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        alison says:

        This is also me. Except i don’t have a free copy, so i have many other alternatives that aren’t puzzle games in the same price range. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

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    Ninja Dodo says:

    It’s also a masterclass in teaching the player mechanics through play, building on what they have learned, then applying that knowledge in unexpected ways.

  4. Turkey says:

    “The cake is alive.”

    Heh, yeah, you might say I’ve played Portal.

  5. GrumpyCatFace says:

    This was a triumph.

    • Replikant says:

      I am making a note here: Huge success.

      The part of the game I replay the most.

      • GrumpyCatFace says:

        It’s hard to overstate my satisfaction.

        This is one of the great video game experiences of all time – up there with Super Mario.

        • Sarfrin says:

          Aperture Science
          I have this song as my ringtone.

          • gunny1993 says:

            We do what we must
            because we can

            Hum this to myself in the lab sometimes

  6. Mecha_Rocky says:

    This, the Orange Box… what a magical time to be a PC gamer.

  7. tehfish says:

    Wierdly, the most notable thing about portal i remember now is the epic long wait before i could talk to any of my local gaming friends about the gameplay/story at all…

    They all got fed up of the memes and refused to even try it, it took me 2-3 YEARS before i got any of them to actually play it so i could chat to them about it in the pub X.X

    (They all thought it as awesome as i did when they did *finally* play it too)

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    phuzz says:

    It was the first (and still pretty much only) game I played that had a specifically recorded song for the end credits, complete with vocals.
    (Apparently hiring a trained opera singer for voiceover work pays off), but for that one person that hasn’t played it, I’ll leave that wholly unexpected joy for you.

    • Ben says:

      “wholly unexpected” – not anymore.

    • hoho0482 says:

      If not done so, immediately go and play the original original (as i think the updated original is now micro transaction riddled) plants vs zombies….

    • Phasma Felis says:

      The other one that comes to mind for me is Prince of Persia: Sands of Time, with Time Only Knows over the end credits. I probably can’t judge it objectively, but basking in that after the game’s bittersweet ending was so very very satisfying.

      Sands of Time was great.

    • Top Hat Zebra says:

      You’ve yet to experience the pure awe of the end of Broforce clearly.

    • April March says:

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    particlese says:

    Yep, and I let it keep me up way later than I should have (3am-ish?) the day it was released, thanks to that large transition partway through. Totally worth it!

  10. Laurentius says:

    Wow, it is really has been 10 years since this gem came out? Yup, it’s fantastic game and I repaly it from time to time to feel that magic again.

  11. E_FD says:

    I played it fresh, before the memes became so prevalent that everyone already knows the best lines, only knowing that it was apparently a very good puzzle game and had some witty dialogue. In fact, I got the Orange Box for my birthday. Decided to try Portal briefly before heading to bed, ended up finishing it at 3-4 AM completely hooked. Ironically, I’d just had a black forest cake before that.

    Portal still comes to mind whenever I see another “Are games art?” discussion. I don’t know if it’s art, but Portal’s a creative work every bit as effective and worthy of praise as a solid Hollywood movie, and that’s good enough for me.

  12. PseudoKnight says:

    I definitely remember chamber 14. It was part of the challenges that I completed (and I missed in Portal 2). With a little trick you can bypass the whole chamber in about 4-5 seconds.

  13. Sin Vega says:

    I found it weird how almost all the most famously regurgitated lines from it were also its least funny and clever. But fortunately even hearing them all parroted to death long before I played it didn’t seriously undermine the experience.

    I mean, you need only compare it to, say, Monkey Island, which was extremely mildly funny at best.

    • Edski says:

      Fun fact! The sword fighting quips in Monkey Island were written by Sci-Fi author and confirmed Mormon wingnut Orson Scott Card.

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    Aerothorn says:

    Like E_FD, I’m extraordinarily grateful to have played it the day it came out, with no hype. A group of people at my college spouting Portal memes for a full year would have been enough to ruin it had I not beat them to the punch.

  15. Edski says:

    I wanted to but my companion cube said no.

  16. Rainshine says:

    Yes. I don’t really like puzzle games, but Portal (and 2) were amazing. Dialog alone… Despite me not being that bright, I don’t recall ever having to consult the internet on how to solve any of the puzzles in the first game. The second one ended up having one stumper the first time through, and a couple sections where I wasn’t sure what I was supposed to be doing in the first place, but still, excellent.

    I’m just sad I can’t find my audio files of the game anymore. I had an interview, I think it was, with the main voice actor, and most of the ingame clips, like from the last timed sequence.