MAN I KEEP THINKING ABOUT HOW GREAT PORTAL IS. Both games had really, really great moments that stick out as the best parts of any game I’ve ever played. Both of them are the points where the game transfers you from learning the mechanics of portals to using them for your own purpose, and not what an AI wants you to do.
The first one being when you approach the incinerator. That was the moment when GLaDOS stopped having any designs for your placement of portals, your testing was over, so you take it onto your own. You slide into that room and after chambers and chambers of obedience, you look at it and just go NOPE and you filter through the rising flames along the walls to find the white, and it’s like (buzz lightyear voice) NOT TODAY
And the other is the end of the second game, when you’re looking up at the moon. Which is in itself painful, because you can only see it because the building is collapsing on you, moments from exploding. It’s the first thing in this game you’ve EVER seen of the outside world and you could easily just die, right there, having glimpsed freedom and the world beyond Aperture. You think back over everything you’ve been through, dragging yourself back up here from thousands of metres below ground, enduring futile, inept tests, and reconciling with GLaDOS just for this. The immensity of what you cause to happen at this point reflects a kind of emotional, empowering outburst, that you refuse to take this any more. I looked up at the moon and I knew I could put a portal up there, because the game already told me so. I actually hesitated as if I was bracing myself for what was about to happen. Just like in the incinerator when you look around and realise you are not powerless, you have a portal gun and the means to use it, you look at the moon and you KNOW you’re not finished, not then and not now. It’s a glorious moment of savouring how the balance of power is about to change.
And since we know the most important part of Chell’s character is her tenacity, it’s also two moments where that quality is the most apparent, and when you were completely aligned with her by directing her portal placements out of persistence to not let it end there, on anybody else’s terms. I don’t think I’ve ever been emotionally invested in anything as strongly as I was when I OPENED A HOLE TO SPACE IN THE MIDDLE OF A ROOM OUT OF SHEER DETERMINATION JUST HOLY SHIT IT’S AMAZING