There’s a small but powerful genre present in modern gaming that has been able to put out a very powerful repertoire of games. These games focus on a simple but strange theme of science testing. These games place you as the test subject in an oftentimes wacky and twisted world of scientific discovery gone wrong. In this genre you can find games full of humor, unique gameplay, and a deeply meaningful works of art.
To start off I would like to talk about the most well-known series in this genre, one that was developed by Steam’s own parent company: Valve. That’s right I would like to take the chance to talk about Portal. Portal began its life back when the Half-Life series was in full swing, back when Valve was busy focusing on the adventures of Gordon Freeman and not Steam Machines and DOTA 2. Back then Valve was concerned with making games and they were at the top of their game. They had just finished up the first episode of Half-Life 2 and were busy working on the second episode, though not as quickly as the fan base would have liked. As a bit of fan service and as an apology for releasing part two so late, they released ‘The Orange Box,’ a compilation of Half-Life 2 and its two expansions as well as two other games: Team Fortress 2 and Portal. Episode two was considered to be a great game and a great addition to the Half-Life series; surprisingly the two add-on games were received with equal, if not better, reception, which caught even Valve by surprise. Portal was never meant to be anything spectacular; it was a short game that explored an interesting mechanic from a much earlier title, Narbacular Drop. For those of you who don’t know, Portal is a game where you are a test subject in the Aperture Science Testing Facility. You explore testing chambers and solve puzzles using the aid of a ‘Portal Gun,’ a device that allows you to build doorways between two separate points. Along the way you are guided by the strange and mysterious GLaDOS, an artificial intelligence obsessed with testing and progress. Throughout the game you discover the terrible secrets of Aperture Science and its testing facilities in a world full of dark and twisted humor. Portal was widely received as the best game of the year and one of the best games of all time with its unique story and gameplay. Four years after its release, Portal received a sequel with a new story and the addition of multiplayer and level creation. This sequel, while not as well received as the original, was still thought by many to be an altogether great game. There are so many elements that contribute to Portal’s success from the unique story full of humor and mystery to the unique gameplay that is not found anywhere else in the vast history of gaming. Now I’m sure many, if not all of you, have heard this speech countless times before, but if you haven’t than you deserve to try the Portal series because these games will have you smitten from the very beginning. You can pick up Portal for $9.99 and Portal 2 for $19.99 or together in a bundle for $24.99 on Steam.
The next game I’d like to talk about is perhaps the least known of all the games I’m going to cover today. Q.U.B.E. is a game that once again takes place in a testing facility. You play as a silent, unnamed protagonist who wields a magic glove that lets him alter the environment through a variety of different colored cubes. The levels involve puzzles where you must make your way to an exit or guide a series of spheres into colored holes. This game benefits from a unique set of game mechanics in an interesting environment, though unlike Portal it lacks the humor and personal element that helps you connect with the characters and the game. So while it lacks a lot of spirit, it is still an interesting game that you could do a lot worse than in the oversaturated game market. It is available on Steam for $9.99, though I would recommend that you wait for it to go on sale before you buy it.
The last game I have for you is perhaps one of the most strange and original games I have ever seen. It is a game that takes the commonalities that most gamers take for granted and turns them around on the player. The game I’m talking about is Antichamber and it is unlike anything you’ve ever seen. In Antichamber you are immediately given free roam of a world with a time limit of just 90 minutes to do what you will. In Antichamber you are given free roam of a seemingly simple world with secrets hidden everywhere. To play this game you must throw out everything you’ve ever learned about gaming. You learn things like sometimes the most progress is made by taking the time to go backwards as counterintuitive as it may seem and that things are not as they always appear. Antichamber takes traditional physics and geometry and throws them out the window. You will find stairways that lead nowhere and walls that don’t really exist on top of that you will find doorways that lead you on endless loops through impossible architectures. This game changes the way that you look at everything and says that everything you know about gaming and how games are supposed to work is a lie that many have simply chosen to accept. Though you are only given 90 minutes to complete the game you will find that you explore it for dozens of hours more in a strange attempt to discover every single little secret held within this game because it is highly satisfying to find something you hadn’t seen or noticed before even though it may not contribute to your progress in the slightest. When Portal first came out many people said that it revolutionized the way that people thought about conventional gaming, well Antichamber does this as well but it does so magnitudes of power more. Antichamber can be bought for $19.99, which I consider a bargain for what this game offers.
I have by no means covered all the games that exist in this genre but merely covered a few of my favorites. Take from these games what you will. Be sad at the fact that these games explore impossible scientific discoveries, but be glad that we live in a world where such severe and darkly comedic testing does not take place.