Essential game elements: good writing and great puzzles – Portal

I went out and treated myself to an Xbox 360 during the week and based on the growing mountains of praise, the first game I bought was the Valve bundle The Orange Box. This includes Half-Life 2, a couple of extra HL2 episodes, Team Fortress 2 and most importantly of all, the game I’ve been hearing oodles about, Portal.

This is quite simply one of the most brilliant, entertaining and enjoyable games I’ve ever played. It’s not a long game – I got around 8 hours of gaming out of it but every moment is better than the last. It’s set in a slightly futuristic lab complex where you are asked by a friendly sounding computer voice to complete a series of puzzles using a portal gun that you use to move between otherwise unreachable areas.
If you complete the tests, there is the promise of cake at the end.

This video should give you the gist of how this works.

[kml_flashembed movie="http://youtube.com/v/TluRVBhmf8w" width="425" height="350" wmode="transparent" /]

The writing of this game is simply superb – your only interaction (as it is) is with the computer voice running the tests and some other robots along the way. There is a bitingly dark and funny edge to the whole experience which grows the further through the tests you get – a very corporate “you’re very important to us but this test will probably kill you” kind of thing. The strength of the computer character goes to show how important this is in making a good game.

The puzzles themselves get progressively more mindbending and force you to think about using space and physics in your environment in ways I’ve never had to before in a game. (Not that you need to be a science nerd or anything).

Most of all, it’s just a lot of fun and even the end credits are entertaining, with a specially written song by the computer that sums everything up nicely.

It’s not surprising that this game is popping up at the top of best games of 2007 awards all over the shop.

Best of all, I haven’t done the bonus levels yet.

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