“The Enrichment Center is committed to the well-being of all participants. Cake and Grief Counseling will be available at the conclusion of the test. Thank you for helping us help you help us all.”
“Did you know you can donate one or all of your vital organs to the Aperture
Science Self Esteem Fund for Girls? It’s true!”
Portal is probably this year’s most written about game, even more so than Halo 3. And for good reason. It’s the first game I’ve every played (and I’ve been doing this since 1982, roughly) that I would call perfect. This weirdly wonderful offshoot of the Half-Life franchise, feeling like the movie Cube, if it had been written by Charlie Kaufman, doesn’t take a single wrong step. The brilliant idea that forms the premise of the game gets the usual Valve polish, but it’s the script that turns this into something special.
Which is also why I’d rather show than tell. So, here goes, courtesy of YouTube:
P.S.: Portal‘s AI GLaDOS, who gives good old SHODAN a run for her money, is brilliantly written. The funnier she gets, the more disturbing she gets. And the song at the end makes me want to cuddle and cuddle and cuddle this game.
Videogame critics keep saying that there’s precious little humour in video games (or at least humour that isn’t unfunny at best and cringeworthy at worst). Now, it may be true that the humour in most games is made up of stale wisecracks and one-liners that make you groan… but then, most movie comedies aren’t really very funny, are they? There’s little good comedy in games as in films, but there are of course gems in both media. The games I’m thinking of, for instance, are many of the old LucasArts adventures (Grim Fandango, Sam & Max Hit the Road, the Monkey Island titles minus Escape from…), No One Lives Forever, Psychonauts – and Anachronox.
I never finished Anachronox when I originally played it; the pre-patch version was so buggy that it started to crash frequently halfway through the story. Now, thanks to some new tech and inofficial patches, I’m finally able to play it again, and in spite of the engine showing its age, I’m riveted. The game’s the strange offspring of Japanese RPGs, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and Raymond Chandler crime novels. It’s got some of the best writing and voice acting ever in computer games. Even though I don’t particularly enjoy the gameplay itself, I still can’t stop playing, no matter that I’ve got newer games waiting for me both on my computer and on PS2.
It’s a shame the game didn’t sell very well at all, since it was meant to be followed by a sequel. As it is, Anachronox ends on a cliffhanger, and it’s unlikely that we’ll ever get the follow-up. Which is roughly like ending Lord of the Rings on The Fellowship of the Ring, with Frodo and Sam going off to Mordor – THE END. NO, WE WON’T TELL YOU WHAT HAPPENS. It’s a crying shame that good writing sells less well in videogames than big boobs, big guns and uninspired franchises.
P.S.: Anachronoxis a good illustration of my theory that humour is usually funnier when the characters aren’t just Punchline Delivery Agents(tm), but are actually fleshed out. There are moments of surprising poignancy in the game, which make the comedy shine more brilliantly.
P.P.S.: Here are some more trailers of genuinely funny games – because it’s these kind of games the medium needs if it wants to be more than just adolescent (male) power fantasies. I also hear that the new game Portal, scripted by Eric Wolpaw of Psychonauts fame, is very funny, and very good.