I'm replaying the first Portal at the moment, so maybe I'm just extra-susceptible to the Valve man coming around selling tickets for his hype-train, but playing Aperture Desk Job was like sitting in a nice warm bath. It's a "playable short" - basically a 30-minute tech demo designed for the Steam Deck, to show off how to use all the little flaps and controller bits on Valve's new handheld PCxGameboy toy (like the Aperture Hand Lab for VR from a few years back). Crucially, though, Aperture Desk Job is: a) free; 2) playable on a regular PC; and iii) set in the Portal universe.
In fact, it has surprisingly large implications for said game series (no spoilers in this post, btw). And it just reminds me how good Valve are at, you know, making games. Please, Valve, make more games.
Aperture Desk Job puts you behind the - duh - desk of a lowly tester in the bowels of Aperture's facility. Almost literally, because your job is to stress test toilets (using the buttons on your desk, not... you know... manually). You are helped by a friendly personality core called Brady, who turns up to tell you what to do, and highjinks ensue. Aperture Desk Job exists to show off the stuff you can do with the Steam Deck's controls, which are obviously more controller-ish rather than mouse and keyboard-y. So the escalating highjinks are such that will make you use all the triggers, talk into the inbuilt mic, tilt the tilty motion controls, that kind of thing. The desk you sit behind is sort of set up to have the same shape as a Steam Deck, which is cool.
The Steam Deck is "an ambitious and impressive handheld PC", according to hardware editor James. It is both now out, but also sort of impossible to actually obtain for six months (reservations available now!). I, like many of you, don't actually have one, so I do genuinely recommend our video that answers readers' most pressing Steam Deck questions to see it in action and learn a bit more about it.
While you don't need a Steam Deck to play Aperture Desk Job, you do need a controller, cos a keyboard doesn't have any of those triggers and motion controls and etc., and it maps pretty much fine. I didn't feel I was missing out on the experience. You know what I did miss out on? A full-length Valve game!
Whenever they do something like this I'm like "Gaben can you stop trying to disrupt the tech space or whatever and just go back to making games??". Remember how good Valve games are? Remember Portal and Portal 2? And Half-Life 2? And Left 4 Dead?
Aperture Desk Job is so much fun! It has loads of jokes, and little bits of visual storytelling that it doesn't need to have, but it does. Grady is a treasure. At one point he says he wants to get a tattoo, and later on he just has one - little things like that, where Valve trust you to be smart enough to notice and appreciate what's going on, without having to point to the punchline with a bit neon arrow saying "PLAYER NOTICE JOKE PLS". There's a whole developing mini-arc with insects that has zero dialogue. Aperture Desk Job is set decades ago, and even the visual design of washing machines and tv sets and the buttons on your desk is cool and telling its own kind of story. This! This is what Valve should do! All the time! Make me nice games! You're so good at it! Maybe even the best! Valve, I beg you.
Aperture Desk Job is out now on Steam, for free, and is delightful.