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Portal

Developer / Publisher: Valve Corporation
10 October 2007
Portal - cover art
Glitchwave rating
4.07 / 5.0
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5.0
 
 
4,583 Ratings / 10 Reviews
#108 All-time
#4 for 2007
A woman wakes up in Aperture Science's laboratory and is instructed by a mysterious artificial intelligence named GLaDOS to complete a series of puzzles using the Portal Gun.
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Woefully short. I blew through it in just a few hours. It's unfortunate that the game doesn't even begin to spread its wings until the final level, and then it's over. Outstanding concept for sure, but with such a vast amount of obvious potential left on the table, it's hard to give this game, as a whole, the praise that its core mechanics certainly deserve.
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CSly 2016-04-03T02:27:06Z
2016-04-03T02:27:06Z
4.0
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This is a game so obviously good it's probably a waste of time to prattle on about in a formal way. Instead, I'll just share some of my experiences with the game and how I think it holds up on my playthrough of it yesterday, the 12th of August, 2019.

I first played through this game in the most abominable way possible - by way of the console port of The Orange Box for Xbox 360 back in 2008. Although the controls limited some functionality and it wasn't nearly as pretty or smooth as the PC original, I was utterly obsessed with the original Portal and how unique it was. It took the industrial horror influence of Valve's previous Half-Life series and painted over it with a pristine, hostile white, letting it slowly chip away and erode along with your feelings of security and comfort. Portal is not about being tested, it is about the nature of testing - being a pawn for some hidden authority, the isolation and disconnect from reality, the helplessness and desire for escape.

What helps sell the setting of Aperture Science is not a lengthy campaign with rigorous puzzles and world building, it's actually how far GLaDoS goes to prevent you from figuring out what's going on, and how fantastic the pacing of this "paint peeling back" occurs over the utterly cinematic 2-hour runtime of the game. There are essentially 3 acts of the game: 1) simple puzzles and building the Portal skillset, 2) being confronted with the fact that you are being misled by your AI companion by way of the Ratman's lairs and her gradual accumulation of lies to you, and 3) executing the escape when you are left with no other choice, using what you have learned to break out of the facility. This is done so goddamn well that I still can't believe this isn't a film yet, and none of it is accomplished through cutscenes or scripted sequences. Your perspective is never altered, and it is up to you to make these events happen in real time. When you're finally in control of your escape and on your way to freedom, you find that the reason for your particpation in this sadistic game was simply to test this tech so Aperture Science had more leverage in corporate warfare with Black Mesa over DoD contract work. You, the individual, were nothing but a disposable tool for profit margins.

The most underrated portion of this game to me is the sound design. Outside of one of the actual best ambient soundtracks in the history of music, with tracks that knaw at your insecurities as a test subject in a confined space and amplify the sci-fi thriller pacing, every sound effect is outstanding and leaves a mental impression. I think many people who have played this game can remember the sound of a Portal being deployed, of a switch being depressed, of the energy ball keys flying around the test chambers, of the off-kilter moan of the elevator moving you to a new floor. Of course, just like its mechanical evolution and story twists, the music abruptly hits a stride and becomes HL2-inspired adrenaline pumping electronica that lets you know that you are in DANGER and need to act. Above all else, Valve managed to make a game that was carried plot-wise by a single character with voice lines in GLaDoS, who is outstandingly written and conveys her gradual loss of control in a very convincing and creepy way. The mechanical hum of her voice and Microsoft Reader-esque way that certain words are always enunciated gives a serious HAL-9000 vibe to her character. The way her voice flips when you melt her morality core is also just sinister and incredible voice acting work by actress Ellen McLain. From an audio standpoint, Portal might top Valve's already outstanding resume of sound design.

The only things that hold this game back from being completely flawless for me are the omnipresence of the janky Source engine when interacting with stuff like cubes that regularly remind me this is not just a game but an old one, and the overall low difficulty of the test chambers before they let you loose through Aperture, as the puzzles after you receive both ends of the portal gun ramp up slightly and then plateau. Outside of those minor complaints, I don't think you'll find a better 2 hours of game anywhere else in the world. Despite being published by a major force in the industry in 2007, Portal's success and popularity was a sign the gaming world was ready for the avant-garde and surreal. This is one of the most developed concepts and executions in gaming history.
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the_lockpick 2017-12-31T07:10:06Z
2017-12-31T07:10:06Z
4.5
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Remember when Valve was once the Daniel Day-Lewis of the video game industry? They didn’t churn out games annually like other triple-A developers, but the titles they did release once in a blue moon became some of the best of their generations. Nowadays, Valve is more like the Apple of gaming, a giant gaming conglomerate known for digitizing video game commerce. Steam has become Valve’s most significant priority for quite some time now, leaving them no time or incentive to put any effort towards developing video games anymore. Since Valve has shifted its focus and priorities, many gamers have been clamoring for their triumphant return in the realm of developing video games. It’s a shame that such an esteemed developer has decided to ascend to broader horizons, from a gamer’s perspective at least. Above all else, the core principle that made Valve the juggernaut game developer was their strides in innovation. Half-Life may not have invented the 3D first-person shooter, but the seamless cutscenes and 3D ragdoll physics changed the genre forever. Its sequel expanded on these aspects to significant effect and arguably still stands as the greatest FPS of all time. Portal carries this same point of innovation but far beyond the realm of the FPS genre. The FPS, 3D platformer, and puzzle genres are three wildly different video games with polar audiences. Valve presents Portal with this pitch: why not make a game that includes all of them?

I claimed that the 3D platformer died in 2005. I wrote about this heavily in my review of Psychonauts, which I claimed was the creative peak of the genre that could efficiently lay the long-winded genre to rest. Since it came out, I’ve been familiar with Portal and never spoke of it in the same breathe as Psychonauts or any other 3D platformer. The game didn’t include any of the genre's tropes that I had come to affiliate it with, such as collectibles, varied worlds, or even a double jump mechanic. Portal, by comparison, is more minimal and restrained than the often vibrant 3D platformer game. I forgot that the core fundamental of the 3D platformer was jumping on platforms in a 3D space which makes up a significant amount of Portal’s gameplay. It’s interwoven so subtly with everything else in the game that even a 3D platformer connoisseur like myself couldn’t see it. This revelation unlocks a whole new layer of admiration I now have for Portal.

The aspect of Portal that threw me off initially was the fact that Chell, the silent protagonist, has the jumping ability of a dead jellyfish. If Portal is a 3D platformer title, Chell is the least aerodynamic protagonist possible. Nonetheless, she must find a way to get onto a series of platforms, similar to any platformer protagonist before her. This conundrum entails the puzzle ingredient to Portal’s eclectic gameplay recipe. In a traditional 3D platformer, the platforms or geographical land is used as terrain to get to the goal. In Portal, finding a way to get onto the platform IS the goal. Doors that lead to the next area are in hard-to-reach places and or locked by buttons that require a permanent weight on them to open. The player will also utilize energy balls, moving platforms, and velocity to place Chell on the desired course. The various numbered rooms that Chell completes one by one get progressively more challenging and integrate more of these devices. The difficulty curve of Portal is perfect, starting with the simplest solving of physics to multifaceted puzzles as the game progresses.

How does Chell achieve success with any of the various perplexities she faces? Why, with Valve’s successor to the Gravity Gun, the Magnus apparatus and namesake of the game: the portal gun. The first-person view naturally elicits the feeling of a first-person shooter, as Valve never developed a game that wasn’t in this perspective. However, Chell would be hard-pressed to make it through the halls of Aperture Science with bullets. Instead, Chell shoots differently colored portals that connect and serve as entrances and exits regardless of color. The player will start using the blue portal gun as the next few puzzle rooms will supply orange portals to work with accordingly. After that, the player will receive the orange half of the portal gun and alternate between the two colors. Offering the orange portal gun to the player should make things easier, but the lack of apparent trajectory makes things more complicated, and the player has to take some time to adjust. One might ask: wouldn’t have two portals that connect simply allow the player to shoot where the goal is from their location? Fortunately, Valve thought ahead of this predicament. The portals can only stick from a specific type of wall material, which the player will come to discern as the game progresses. The more solid-looking chrome walls will make the portals dissipate in a blast of color. Each puzzle in Portal has a precise method of solving it, and the player cannot cheese their way around it. Valve takes pride in their physics engine, and they’ll be damned if the player finds a way to exploit it for their gain.

Puzzle games typically aren’t narrative-based. They usually get more complex in small increments until the player has been bested. On the other hand, Portal puts the player in a science-fiction excursion disguised as a nightmare. The game never utters the protagonist’s name, and the name I’ve been referring to her is non-canon. Her name is but a complicated number like a prisoner, along with Chell wearing an orange jumpsuit. The player wakes up with Chell in a pristine-looking room with a robotic but feminine voice speaking to her about conducting some experiments (the various puzzles). The player is given no context as to where they are or why they act like a lab rat for this facility. All they know is that the place is called the “enrichment center,” and the robotic voice is a product of a corporation called Aperture Science. The “enrichment center” setting where the puzzles are conducted is eerily cold and sterile. The lack of context and the closed-off nature of the setting recalls a similar sense of existential dread seen in Cube or the Twilight Zone episode “Five Characters in Search of an Exit” that was an inspiration. They are two science-fiction stories that give little to no context to the “wheres” and “whys” to the setting or the characters. This type of story exudes a heavy sense of existential dread as the setting and ambiguity strip the characters of purpose and agency. The protagonist's identity would most likely be less clear if only the portal guns didn’t let the player see Chell. A reward of cake is given as motivation for the player, but looking through the center's deep crevices uncovers writing on the walls from previous subjects that repeatedly says “the cake is a lie.” It’s a creepy method of foreshadowing that gets under my skin.

While the protagonist of Portal lacks any character, the same cannot be said for Portal’s antagonist. The robotic voice that narrates the player’s progress through the center is a supercomputer called GLaDOS. She was a project developed by Aperture Science that became too powerful and usurped control over the entire facility. Her primary goal in testing these subjects seems not for research but her sadistic pleasure. She constantly berates the player in a condescending tone like a mechanical Nurse Ratched. She plays with the subject’s feelings of loneliness by offering a “companion cube” with a warm heart on its center, only to have the player dump it in an incinerator to progress. Her sardonic dialogue and passive, malevolent nature make her an entertaining villain. Once the player completes the tests, they go rogue and hunt down GLaDOS in a long section where the game will not hold their hands in the scope of a meticulously designed puzzle. It’s a long trek upward that utilizes the player’s ability to use both portals to progress. Once the player reaches GLaDOS’s chamber, they are treated to one of the most original final bosses in video game history, with a malfunctioning GLaDOS getting more and more discombobulated as the fight advances.

From what I stated about Portal’s aspects, one would expect this game to have blown me away. Sadly, something about Portal leaves me unsatisfied. Games of a shorter length do not deter me from playing them, but Portal’s pacing is the one aspect that slightly sours it. The two sections of the game feel uneven as a whole. Working the player outside the confines of the organized tests makes those tests feel like an extended tutorial, which is more than half of the game. The developers should’ve either offered a game with more tests or shortened their amount before setting the player loose on GLaDOS. As it is, the pacing makes the game feel unfinished. The extraordinary aspects of genre-blending, mechanics, and existential atmosphere make Portal a marvel. However, the “complete” product here feels more like a beta test and doesn’t unlock Portal’s full potential.
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Erockthestrange 2017-07-21T19:10:46Z
2017-07-21T19:10:46Z
7.5
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Portal's credits song, "Still Alive," was an internet hit in the late 2000s after this game came out. The song was such a ubiquitous hit online that people knew the song before they knew the game. After playing it again and watching the credits, it sounds like the Broadcast song that Broadcast never wrote. Listen to "C'mon Let's Go" and tell me that it doesn't sound like "Still Alive."
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I find the puzzles a bit weak, but the atmopshere makes up for it.
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de_arcade 2021-11-14T23:59:04Z
2021-11-14T23:59:04Z
4.0
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Insanely influential and iconic game that really shaped a lot of the landscape when it came to puzzle games, oh, and the game itself also is pretty cool. As tends to be the norm, it seems that the most iconic and beloved games know how to keep things simple and elegant, and Portal is a prime example of this philosophy. Few games feel more tightly focused than this, with a single core mechanic being all it takes to craft an array of unique and engaging puzzle stages to make your way through. Not only is the game so wonderful from a gameplay perspective however, but its atmosphere and storytelling are also huge aspect, if not the biggest one, which make this such a good and loveable game. In fact, the only real area in which this game falls short is in its execution of certain ideas.

The main mechanic in this game is frankly genius, the portal gun is one of the coolest puzzle solving tools out there, further reinforced by its wonderful visual design that makes the colours of blue and orange put next to each other have people thinking of it. It has some absolutely perfect constraints and abilities that make for interactions that are neither too free and hard to design thoughtful puzzles around, but also have such a wide array of uses that you're always being surprised and given a few different challenge types you're exposed to. The way portals carry momentum is a particularly interesting thing for the way it can turn this puzzle game into one that requires moments of quick thinking, positioning and reflexes to make your plan come to fruition. My only issue with its applications in fact, come back to the fact that I find these faster momentum based puzzles really, really hit or miss, with some paving the way to truly memorable moments, but others being downright aggravating, especially with the camera being a bit frustrating to immediately orientate after being thrown through a portal at different angles. This made some of the later portions of the game kinda frustrating and tedious since they became more prevalent by the end.

The puzzle design itself is a bit mixed as well to me, as while the game introduces so many concepts to you in a thoughtful and effective way without ever feeling as if the game's talking down to you, it feels like that it only stops this teaching when there's barely any game left to play. In essence, Portal's brevity stops it from reaching its full potential and instead has the feeling that most of its content is a huge tutorial. Now the tutorial might be full of wonderful writing, with Glados being hilarious with her perfect balance of sarcasm and blatant lack of care for the player and many quotable moments making the perfect character to take you through this isolated, clinical nightmare. I feel like I'd also have thought a bit less of this game if not for the way the final act manages to be as good as it is, taking the concepts you've learned and applying it to more environmental problem solving that takes you through these harsh, industrial landscapes as you make your way through the inner workings of the test chambers you've been through.

Not only does this lead to a lot of more interesting problem solving that feels a bit more naturally integrated into things, but the atmosphere is so unbelievably strong as you feel like you're deconstructing the place that's held you throughout the rest of the game, no longer feeling like you know the direction to take, instead going in different directions with no semblance of an end in sight. The comedic elements are also toned down at this point as well, with a much more menacing tone to everything uttered by her to the point where it doesn't feel truly safe, her threats of violence going from funny jokes to something with some great tension behind it. Really the game is close to being an amazing little package despite some issues with puzzles either being finicky thanks to the physics not aging the best or some puzzles having long periods of waiting around, and I think that if it had another hour or 2 to really experiment with its ideas and go just that bit further with them, I'd consider this game to be a flawed masterpiece, but as it stands, I simply find it a pretty good game that had a lot of influence and paved the way for its masterpiece of a sequel. I'd definitely recommend checking this out if you somehow haven't, because despite my complaints and the fact that not all elements of the gameplay have aged the most gracefully, it's a classic for a good reason.
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Kempokid 2021-09-23T12:49:58Z
2021-09-23T12:49:58Z
3.5
1
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The product of Valve kidnapping ten college students under the pretense of "employment" for their concept of flinging people through circles. Such a simple idea that I thought was previously perfect through the invention of the doorway, yet this game proved to me that humanity as a whole is creatively capped for stopping at revolving door tech (the current apex predator of entryways). The nuclear monkeys who came up with Portal as a video game should be considered the evolutionary superior species.

Shooting portals with a gun helped confuse the dumb masses from playing WWII PTSD-sims long enough to accidentally trick them into using their brains. Anyone else who may have questioned this new Valve product was nevertheless enticed by the addition of the only Hero Shooter that mattered at the time (TF2) and their favorite unfinished sequel since Halo 2 (Half-Life 2) being brutally shoved into one incredible, orange-tinted package. I think it speaks volumes for this short little experience that over a decade later, it became the most significant video game in not this collection, but perhaps in all of videogame media (except the one about mining crafts).

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Now, Portal isn't a perfect game. I personally find this game quite short, and all of its mechanics and story were vastly expanded upon and perfected in the sequel. However, I still view this as an essential game in anyone's collection for one predominant trait it holds over its successor: GLaDOS. This hilarious deadpan and masochistic machine's quips and acidic condescension carry this game to a whole level above its contemporaries. Portal 2 relegates her to more of a comedic sidekick halfway through, and her backstory seems to get more attention than the actual present character does... Here she is given a spotlight to flourish as the game's most important character (the player character Chell is mostly notable for being a graciously non-sexualized woman without dialogue à la Gordon Freeman, though she's decidedly just an avatar at the end of the day).

I love the idea of a maliciously sarcastic AI just begging for you to die in this mouse-maze of obvious death-traps, and this bizarre concept of HAL, if he was programmed to be a petty high-school cheerleader, makes GLaDOS my favorite video game antagonist to date. She truly helps carry you as a player throughout these fun puzzle chambers and is an efficient narrative thread for the game.

Actually, without her, the game is quite barren on a storyline for me personally. There are the Rat Man rooms but those are purposefully left enigmatic, and the only other bit of lore would be an easily missed room connecting this to the Half-Life universe, explaining that Aperture is the Sega to Black Mesa's Nintendo. However, though the story would be developed far more in Portal 2, the fact remains that GLaDOS' dialogue is so good that this game is incredible WITHOUT a story anyway, that's how engaging she is as a villain.

I found myself not WANTING to defeat her at the end of the game, just to hear every last line of dialogue the game developers packed into each section of her fight. It's a pretty lame fight actually when you think about it, with a timer slapped on for forced pressure ... but by this point, GLaDOS' narration easily pulls your focus on defeating her that you don't realize how bare-bones the fight is.

I give a huge shout-out to Ellen McLain for her incredible performance in this role (hopefully she had as much fun here as she did wailing and screeching as L4D's witches). The mix of her emotionless timbre with text-to-speech synthetics makes her performance one without humanity, cold and technical, utterly perfect for the role of HAL if it was really passive-aggressive.

GLaDOS is the cherry on top of this cake (sorry), but the presentation of the game and its iconography is just as essential to the experience. The orange-blue portal combo is true-and-tested color theory at its finest, and stand out against the mostly clean and clear white walls of the Aperture facility. We all love the companion cube, the cute designs of the turrets, the orange-jumpsuit Chell wears that you only get glimpses of unless you truly seek to see yourself ... and GLaDOS' feminine image wrapped in dark wires and an unsettling cycloptic eye ... not a single part of this game is without a recognizable style.

Red buttons stand out as obvious focuses of interest, and when the adorable-yet-deadly turrets blast Chell with bullets, the red flash of the screen immediately takes you out of the sterile, colorless comfort and paints walls with spatters of blood. Through its cold and compassionless presentation, it allows the puzzle-related objects and clever humor to shine through as standouts in your environment, like paint on a blank, malevolent canvas. It helps focus players on the puzzle-specific objects that matter as too many puzzle games falter by over-stimulating with pretty-yet-distracting imagery. This game cuts it down to the bare essentials, yet develops its own identity far more than any excessive paint palette would.

---

This is a near-perfect game that only suffers in its short length and relatively empty story. But it makes up for that ten-fold with the leanest, meanest design of any puzzle game ever. You get right into the world and puzzle-solving, while getting to enjoy narrative from the best antagonist in a video game ever in my opinion. Absolutely essential.

4.5/5
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georgerose Portal 2022-10-04T05:44:38Z
2022-10-04T05:44:38Z
3.5
In collection Want to buy Used to own  
Certicloss Portal 2022-10-04T01:27:46Z
2022-10-04T01:27:46Z
3.5
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plokSOS Portal 2022-10-03T19:24:24Z
2022-10-03T19:24:24Z
4.5
In collection Want to buy Used to own  
THE_SOUNDS_OF_THE_HILLS Portal 2022-10-03T11:44:56Z
2022-10-03T11:44:56Z
4.0
In collection Want to buy Used to own  
Barrkode Portal 2022-10-03T10:17:36Z
2022-10-03T10:17:36Z
4.0
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lvbldevil Portal 2022-10-03T09:47:21Z
2022-10-03T09:47:21Z
3.5
In collection Want to buy Used to own  
hiddenjem Portal 2022-10-03T00:57:47Z
Windows / Mac / Linux/Unix
2022-10-03T00:57:47Z
4.0
In collection Want to buy Used to own  
Steam
box123456789 Portal 2022-10-02T20:39:34Z
2022-10-02T20:39:34Z
4.5
In collection Want to buy Used to own  
5_dogwood_drive Portal 2022-10-02T19:21:33Z
2022-10-02T19:21:33Z
In collection Want to buy Used to own  
dar3sarn Portal 2022-10-02T14:41:55Z
2022-10-02T14:41:55Z
3.0
In collection Want to buy Used to own  
heyitsmeIII Portal 2022-10-01T23:00:40Z
2022-10-01T23:00:40Z
4.5
In collection Want to buy Used to own  
DaleEarnhardtSr Portal 2022-10-01T18:01:24Z
2022-10-01T18:01:24Z
4.0
In collection Want to buy Used to own  
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  • Previous comments (40) Loading...
  • lno579 2022-01-07 19:10:22.048308+00
    2 is too quirky and has too much dead space walking/find the place to put the portal in, the new gimmicks feel underexplored in the single player. this, though? terrific pacing, actually eerie AND funny, nothing feels underexplored
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  • Beaverball 2022-01-13 04:36:11.08398+00
    Yeah I lowkey like this game more than the second
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  • Erockthestrange 2022-02-25 05:03:08.453206+00
    Can any of my fellow RYMers affirm that "Still Alive" sounds like "C'mon Let's Go" by Broadcast?
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  • bcmandude 2022-04-21 02:36:10.129612+00
    Definitely a similar vibe, yes.
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  • ... 2022-07-07 22:34:29.747066+00
    the second game is amazing too but it's just not as perfect as this is
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  • hachedoso 2022-07-28 01:03:52.928864+00
    Perfect, but its literally like 5 hours of gameplay. What's next after beating the game? Obviously the jokes and the plot don't hit the same in subsequent. Anyways, perfect game.
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    • hachedoso 2022-07-28 01:04:19.085834+00
      subsequent playthroughs*
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  • hell_io 2022-09-20 12:59:36.244004+00
    The least steps challenges are actually evil
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  • hell_io 2022-09-22 21:33:34.676644+00
    just did the least step challenges, they're still very evil
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