Writing a review of The Swapper by Facepalm Games—a studio surely named after the gesture you’ll perform when you finally solve the tougher challenges in this space-based puzzle scroller—is a bit like trying to talk about The Prestige to someone who’s never seen the film. If that’s you, it’s best you just go ahead and skip this review. Our guilt would be too great if we accidentally spoiled your cinematic enjoyment.
Note: This review was originally featured in the September 2013 issue of the magazine.
When you say the words "Class Project," most folks flash back to tedious research papers, MLA-style references and boring talks about Shakespearian characters with Oedipus Complexes. In other words: BOOOOOORING. But school doesn't have to be a snooze-fest! Case in point: Penn State's Advanced Mechatronics class, which sounds like it may just be the coolest course ever. One enterprising mechanical engineering student went after his final mechatronic project with gusto and built a working, talking, tracking and firing replica of Portal's gun turret -- then put it up on YouTube for the world to see.
Last year, Valve teased gamers around the world with the promise of eventually releasing a level editor for Portal 2. The company's been frustratingly close-lipped about details since then -- until yesterday, that is. Valve announced that the level editor is shipping as a DLC offering called the Perpetual Testing Initiative, coming to PC and Macs on May 8th for the low, low price of absolutely free.
I am frightened. I am alone. I feel like there are eyes following my every footstep, stripping away chunks of my calm, collected guise as though clawing open a Christmas present. I don't think I can keep it together for much longer, but I can't run. My legs maintain a disarmingly leisurely pace, like they're trudging through a quicksand-flavored Jello mold. Will I spot a ghost first, or will it spot me? Where? When? How? I'm like a child who's afraid of the dark. The suspense makes me want to toss a blanket over my head until a Real Adult chases the Bad Things away. Unpredictability, as it turns out, is terror at its purest.
This is my third playthrough of Dear Esther, and it's the hardest hitting yet. I still haven't figured out this amorphous, ever-shifting puzzle of an island, and I don't think I ever will. Moreover, I'm not some improbable mix between a Ghost Buster, Rambo, and Wolverine. I'm not even sure if I have hands. I feel utterly powerless – all at once breathless with both awe and fear. This world doesn't revolve around me. I am not its master. I can only speculate as to what it all means and why I'm here. In a word: incredible.
Then the peanut gallery chimes in: “Wait, I can't shoot stuff? This clearly isn't a real game. Yuck.” And now we have a very, very serious problem.
Are you one of those geeks who have just about everything? Your life is difficult I know, but while I’m busy playing away on the world’s smallest violin in your honor, I’m just going to mildly suggest you probably could never have enough Portal paraphernalia. Now, thanks to the kind folks over at ThinkGeek, you can finally fill that Aperture Science Handheld Portal Device sized hold in your life with dozens of game inspired goodies.
Game characters talk too much. Unless, of course, they're J'zargo.
I like shirts. I enjoy owning them, wearing them -- pretty much everything you can do with shirts, really. Which is mostly just those two things. So I recently visited a custom T-shirt website, because why not? And then -- because I'm oddly proud of my exceedingly embarrassing geekiness -- I searched for Skyrim apparel. What I discovered made me laugh like a hyena that'd recently eaten a live clown. Then it made me deeply, deeply depressed. Mere days after the game had launched, there were shirts emblazoned with phrases like “You tried mercenary work? It might suit you” and “My cousin's out fighting dragons, and what do I get? Guard duty.”
If you've played Skyrim for more than two seconds, those phrases probably haunt your nightmares -- perhaps uttered by deeply unsettling images of your disapproving father as a giant praying mantis. Why? Because Skyrim's all-too-talkative denizens bellow them every time you're within bellowing range. Dovahkiin shouts? The Voice? Those are nothing compared to these all-powerful, sanity shattering sentences. And that's a rather large problem.
We love free things, and we like them even more when they're awesome. Those two don't go hand-in-hand nearly enough, but for a short while, they both apply to Portal, a single-player first person puzzle platformer that was born out of Valve's Orange Box bundle and quickly gained notoriety as a hella-fun standalone title.
Portal was something different. It was compact, flawlessly designed, witty, and unexpected. There wasn’t an ounce of fat on it. Sure, it was a puzzle game, but in the process of ushering you gently through the puzzles it gradually transformed into a wickedly funny piece of sci-fi storytelling. The genius was in the thrill of this discovery, as a puzzle game flowered into something amazing and unpredictable.
Have you ever heard of some awesome class about Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, or why Lord of the Rings is totally better than Harry Potter, so suck it, losers, and thought, “Man, I sure went to the wrong college”? Well, you're not alone. Because unless you count yourself among Wabash College's proud few, odds are, making GlaDOS eat her hilarious words isn't doing your GPA any favors.
“Alongside Gilgamesh, Aristotle's Politics, John Donne's poetry, Shakespeare's Hamlet, and the Tao Te Ching, freshmen at Wabash will also encounter a video game called Portal,” wrote professor Michael Abbott, who you may recognize as creator of the fantastic Brainy Gamer blog.
The course, titled “Enduring Questions,” is one of a few freshman seminars required for all freshmen. Its main focus is on the nature of humanity as depicted by a number of “classic and contemporary works from multiple disciplines.” And so, what better work for brainy college students than one of gaming's greatest brain-benders?
“My very first thought was Portal. Accessible, smart, cross-platform, relatively short, full of big ideas worth exploring. I played it again to be sure my impressions still held. No problem there. If anything, I admire the game more now than when it first appeared. A beautiful design,” Abbott wrote.
So, best college course ever or greatest college course ever? Now then, if only we could get our “Crowbar Physics Taught by That LHC Guy Who Looks Kinda Like Gordon Freeman” class off the ground. The practical applications are – as you'd expect – innumerable.
Hello there, non-existent reader! Yes, that’s right: you don’t exist. After all, you can’t. You’re reading this site, which means your rig’s probably a feral monster – more beast than machine – but this article caught your eye, which implies you don’t own Portal yet. To say that someone of that description exists – why, that’s just silly.
Let’s say, though, that hypothetically you’re a real flesh-and-blood human being. And you don’t own Portal because – we don’t know – you just came out of a coma or something. And you’ve spent every waking second reconnecting with your family or whatever. We guess that’s a valid excuse. If that’s the case, click here, and then give the big red button a press.
And presto! Now you own Portal, and you didn’t have to spend a dime. Wasn’t that easy? Almost as easy as changing the television channel or closing your Internet browser so you can—hey, wait!