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“This next test is impossible.” Portal, the new game by Valve software. More fun than cake (and less painful!)

Valve has just (okay, a few days ago) released their ‘orange box’: Half-Life2 Episode 2, Team Fortress 2 (multiplayer), and the game I mentioned last December, Portal.

I’d been waiting for TF2 since I played the original back when it was a mod for Quakeworld (the online component of Quake). Of course, that was when it was going to be a mod for Quake 2, and then it was going to come out on Valve’s Half-Life engine, and none of that happened. Ultimately TF2 is very different than what we waited for. It’s a good game, but the reason I bought Quake 2 and the original Half-Life is a game that will never exist.

The newest release in the story of Gordon Freeman is a solid episode. It’s a cliffhanger, which hopefully means that we’ll see Episode 3 sooner than we saw this follow-up. It’s definitely got some nice touches and replay value.

But the gem of the three is definitely Portal. It’s a genius idea. Take the idea of the hazard course/test lab environment that we saw over seven years ago in the first Half-Life and combine it with a great new ‘weapon.’ On top of that they throw in the whole 2001: A Space Odyssey “HAL9000” element. The puzzles are great, and the humor is marvelous.

The difficulty is almost purely your ability to conceive the solution. There weren’t really any places in the game where I felt ‘hey, I don’t want to keep doing this, I get it but I’m just not capable, can’t I skip it?’ And to me that’s vital for a game.

A video game shouldn’t be about training me to some obscure combination of buttons or my reaction time. Above all it should be, can I think my way through this novel situation.

I haven’t looked at the bonus levels (challenges and advanced versions of some of the puzzles seen in the main game) or the commentaries of either Portal or HL2:E2 yet. The past commentaries have been wonderful so I look forward to those. Also, they’ve added a feature ‘achievements’ that keeps track of certain side-goals. Neat.

I don’t play that many new games, but when I do I’m pretty happy if they turn out like this. There are surprises and a general ambiance that almost feels like Quake 1 in terms of making a game where anything could happen. And in some ways, anything can.

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