ATB’s Best Games Ever: (7) Portal


There was even going to be a party for you. A big party that all your friends were invited to. I invited your best friend, the Companion Cube. Of course, he couldn’t come because you murdered him. All your other friends couldn’t come, either, because you don’t have any other friends because of how unlikable you are. It says so right here in your personnel file: “Unlikable. Liked by no one. A bitter, unlikable loner, whose passing shall not be mourned. Shall NOT be mourned.” That’s exactly what it says. Very formal. Very official. It also says you were adopted, so that’s funny, too.

This is the list of At the Buzzer’s top 25 games of all-time, as voted on by the main ATB cast members and other friends of the show. We’re now getting serious in the top 10. For more information on how this whole thing works or for the other games on the list, check out the Related Links at the bottom of this post.

7) Portal (360/PS3/PC)

Chris: Portal was so good that it became not just a successful video game franchise, but a cultural phenomenon.

TF2-EApcSLP03Think about it. After Portal started to get a groundswell of support behind it, you suddenly heard random people talking about cake, or thinking with portals, or how adorable the Companion Cube was. And while I’m sure a small part of that was due to Portal’s innovative gameplay, I have to think that the large majority was the game’s excellent script, specifically the work of Ellen McLain as GLaDOS.

On the surface, a game where a silent protagonist solves puzzles in a laboratory doesn’t sound all that exciting. But once you establish a strong villain like GLaDOS, that all changes. She seems helpful at first, guiding you through test chambers of increasing difficulty and slipping in the occasional verbal jab. Then she starts to try to convince you to quit as you make some serious progress. Then she just starts trying to kill you, abandoning any and all pretense along the way.

Portal is on a short list of the most innovative and unique games of the last decade (along with other titles like Katamari Damacy). It was also the game that appeared the most in our lists — six of the seven panelists included it in their top 25, and Nick listed it as his top game of all-time. No other game received that much widespread love from the panel.

Dave: A mere afterthought to The Orange Box, Portal ended up being the breakout hit of the Orange Box, and rightly so.

Portal really changed the way I could think about first person shooters (though I was only shooting portals) and incorporated mind-blowing puzzles with a hilarious dialogue. I really could even throw it out there that GLaDOS is the best villain of video gaming history, and some people out there would agree with me. Now that I’ve blown your mind, we can see if it’s even remotely true. GLaDOS starts out as just your instructor to help you deal with the reality bending levels that the portal gun helps you maneuver through, but as you continue to play, you realize that she’s the reason you’re stuck there…and wants to make you feel really bad about yourself. Oh yeah, she killed everyone in the Aperture Science facility too. The hilarity of GLaDOS’ dialogue is the only reason I could get on board with her being the best villain ever. Maybe it’s the dry humor fan in me, but with lines like “That thing is probably some sort of raw sewage container. Go ahead and rub your face all over it” or “Your friends didn’t come to your birthday party because you don’t have any friends, oh, and you’re adopted. That’s funny too” said in that monotone voice, it cracks me up every time.

The puzzle aspect of the game would have been good enough to get this game in my top 25 on originality itself. But with the wonderful writing (really the foundation for any good TV show or video game), it’s way up on my list. The only thing that ended up making Portal better? Portal 2.

Shaun: I think what really sticks out to me about Portal is how it continually surprised me at every turn. Like Dave mentioned, it seemed on the surface like a fun addition to the Orange Box that I thought I’d check out one afternoon for kicks. Turns out I was in store for one of the most engaging, immersive gaming experiences of this generation.

When people complain about no original game ideas this generation, I want to throw Portal at them and watch as they choke on it. Shooting your own portals to navigate through the levels is something that hadn’t been done (well) in gaming before, but what a lot of people don’t realize is the attention to physics — conservation of momentum played a key role, and they nailed it. The way Chell moves, falls, and flies through the environment is completely intuitive and smooth, and rewards players for thinking outside the box. The puzzles are brilliantly designed as well, and achieve the perfect level of difficulty — hard enough to make you think, but not frustratingly tough. When you complete puzzles in Portal, you feel like a genius. When you chainsaw random alien #732 in Gears of War, what do you feel like? Acceptable answers include “meh” and “largely apathetic.”

Of course, the best part of Portal is the story and, more specifically, the writing. In most games, these elements supplement the gameplay, and it’s a bonus if they are well done. For me, it was the opposite with Portal — the writing took center stage. The portal gun and physics mechanics were top notch, but it was the plot, pacing, and characters that make Portal so endearing. As you attempt to figure out the mystery about why Chell is a human lab rat, you witness the gradual descent of GLADOS’ demeanor from “neutral test administrator” to “sadistic, manipulative AI.” She’s as threatening as she is hilarious, and is the perfect foil for Chell’s fight for survival, a villain so incredible that the protagonist is characterized despite saying nothing. Portal was a huge step for storytelling in games, and that’s why it’s our seventh best game of all time.

Whew, made it through without mentioning cake. Job well done.



(8) Final Fantasy VI

(9) The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker

(10) Super Mario 64

(11) Kingdom Hearts II

(12) Persona 4 Golden

(13) Super Mario Bros. 3

(14) Halo

(15) The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past

(16) Super Smash Bros. Melee

(17) Super Mario Galaxy 2

(18) Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney

(19) Final Fantasy IX

(20) Star Fox 64

(21) The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword

(22) The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask

(23) Fallout 3

(24) StarCraft

(25) Bioshock

Best Games Ever: #50-26

Best Games Ever: #75-51

Best Games Ever: #100-76

Honorable Mentions


4 thoughts on “ATB’s Best Games Ever: (7) Portal

  1. AMAZING game! And what about “Still Alive”? Tell me that’s not one of the best and most memorable songs associated with a game from the past decade.

  2. I’m currently playing Portal, and one of my friends gave me Portal 2 for Christmas this past year. I’m kind of bad at puzzles, but I think the game is really engaging. I can see why so many people like it.

    1. That’s true. I’ve even had a couple of friends who weren’t big on 3D gaming give Portal a shot just because of how much they liked the story and setting. They were willing to suffer through the confusion of dual joysticks just to see what would happen next.

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