Wednesday, March 30, 2022

Aperture Desk Job (PC)

Recently, Valve released the Steam Deck, a hybrid console similar to the Nintendo Switch designed for compatibility with the entire Steam library. To coincide with this release, Valve launched a tech demo called Aperture Desk Job, a short game set in the Portal universe designed to show off the features of the Steam Deck. Fortunately, for those who can’t afford the system, Valve also released Aperture Desk Job for free on PC, with the tradeoff that the experience isn’t as optimized. As one of those who didn’t get a Steam Deck, I can safely say that even if you only own a PC, Aperture Desk Job is still worth the half-hour it takes to complete.

You’ve been hired as a product tester at Aperture Science. Grady, a personality core, has assigned you the task of testing toilets. Everything goes smoothly until it doesn’t, resulting in one of the toilets getting filled with bullets. As Grady tries to cover up your collective mistake, he gets an idea that will forever change Aperture Science.

There isn’t much to the story, but it does add depth to the Portal universe. Players finally get to see what working at Aperture was like firsthand and their misadventure with Grady takes several hilarious turns as it builds up to its climax. At this point, the story presents a major twist that leads to some deeper implications about the company and the world of the Portal games.

As for the gameplay, each segment is clearly designed around emphasizing one or more features of the Steam Deck and its control scheme, but players still get a lot of variety. From menial button pushing to signing a certain document and even a shooting gallery, the experience never gets stale. Of course, the experience is optimized for the Steam Deck, so PC players won’t have access to the same buttons or features (the game even tells you at startup that it’s optimized for the Steam Deck). Fortunately, since a controller is still mandatory, the game compensates for the differences so players can still reach the ending.

The following adjustments are made if you don’t have a Steam Deck: During the document signing sequence, you can sign your name with either a mouse or drawing tablet. When prompted to speak with a microphone, the game will continue as normal after a few seconds if you don’t say anything. In a sequence that requires pressing the four buttons on the bottom of the Steam Deck, you can instead press the four shoulder buttons on a traditional controller (or the two bottom buttons on the Steam Controller). The gyroscope portion of a shooting gallery segment will still work with standard controls. Lastly, you can still take a screenshot with F12 when prompted.

Everyone has this screenshot, even you.

Since Aperture Desk Job was the first game that I’ve played that used the Source 2 engine, it looks very impressive and a major step up from the outdated Source engine. Better lighting and improved physics make a world of a difference and open up new possibilities for Valve going forward. Though the game also uses the same sound effects longtime players may be familiar with, it fits in this case for a semblance of unity across the Portal games. Within the minimal voice cast, Nate Bargatze perfectly captures Grady’s personality and delivers his dialogue in a very entertaining way.

If you’re a fan of the Portal series or looking for a quick game for your Steam library, there’s no reason not to play Aperture Desk Job. It’s fun, it’s funny and, best of all, it’s free.

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