I’m pretty sure if news got around that I’d never played the original Portal game, there’d be a demand to revoke my gamer’s license. It was just one of those games that I’d heard good things about but never got up enough interest to check out. But now with Gamefly, I’ve been steadily going through older games that may have interested me in the past but not enough to make me shell out money for. But with my expectations already set so high, would the actual game live up to my expectations?
It’s a little strange talking about Portal’s story when I’ve seen it used in so many user-created plots since. Particularly if you watch a lot of Minecraft maps like I do. It’s a bit surreal to play the game that started it all. Portal’s story follows an unnamed (but I looked up that her name is actually Chell), silent female protagonist who wakes up in a sterile testing environment, seemingly all alone. But alone isn’t the right term, as she finds herself accompanied by her omnipotent host, Glados, an artificial intelligence that guides her through the chambers. Chell must find a way to survive the various test chambers & hopefully make it out.
Portal is a puzzle-platformer through & through, & its signature gameplay mechanic is the Portal Gun. This gun allows you to link two portals, creating a dimensional door of sorts to progress through the various challenges. So, for instance, if you place one portal on the ceiling & the other on the floor, stepping through the floor portal will send you falling through the ceiling. But there are obstacles in the way, such a turrets, power orbs, un-portable walls & acid (or what I assume to be acid) making things difficult.
Story: As I said earlier, it’s a bit strange talking about the plot when I knew going into the game what to expect. It’s like watching the Titanic; you know how it ends, it’s just the in between parts that are the mystery. The story is a bit sparse & definitely feels more like an unseen driving force. A lot of the backstory is left up to the player’s interpretation. That being said, I always wanted to see what happened next. A large part of that, I think, was Glados’ dialogue. Portal is renowned for it’s pitch-black humor, & that was certainly true. Glados’ comments always brought a smirk to my face. And while I found the story sparse, I though it was actually well-paced. It doesn’t take long for you to realize things aren’t all on the up-&-up, but it isn’t until about halfway through the game that you start finding secret room & everything starts to feel sinister. At times I found myself making the story darker than it seemed due to the situations. In particular, on the 360 when you destroy the companion cube you get the achievement “Fratricide,” which means to kill your brother. That, combined with the way the turrets talk, gave me a horrible image of them having been previous test subjects. Score: 5
Gameplay: The puzzle mechanics in Portal are very well done. I liked that the game starts out easy with teaching you the different portal mechanics. In the beginning you can only place one portal, with the other being stationary, limiting your options. But later you get an upgrade gun to place both portals. It was after Chamber 14 that things started to really get challenging, combining everything I’d learned to solve multiple stages. I also liked that none of the puzzles ever felt impossible. There were certainly moments when I thought, “How the hell am I supposed to do that?” & had to sit & plan my strategy, but never did any of the puzzles feel unsolvable. I also liked that there was some leeway on how I solved them. For example, in the first level with the turrets, the game clearly expected me to place a portal above the turrets & drop a cube on it. However, I found it easier to just place a portal directly under the turret, knocking it off-balance. I also have to say that I was glad you couldn’t die in one hit (short of falling into the acid). Really, my only complaint is that it could get disorienting coming out of a portal. A few of the later stages required that I place a portal as I came out of one, but you have no control over how you come out of the portal. And since there’s no guarantee you’ll come out the same way twice, I couldn’t even set myself up to be facing the right way on the next pass. But while annoying, it was never a problem enough times to detract from the overall game. So overall, Portal is one well thought out, tightly implemented, puzzle-solving package. Score: 5
Visuals & Audio: Because it’s from the same engine, Portal has the same graphical style as Half Life 2. I wouldn’t say it was anything spectacular, but it fit the setting well. The test chambers have a stark, sterile feel to them, consisting of fluorescent white tiles, cold gray slabs & stainless steel. Even the turrets have a sleek, white design. This contrasts excellently with the rooms at the end of the game, where you’re crawling through the belly of the beast. All rusty steel, glass tubes & pistons. As for the audio, while there’s no music during the game (unless you find the radios), Glados’ voice deserves special note. The cold, metallic quality adds to the distrust. Like it’s all forced pleasantries. Even at the end, despite the automated quality, you can hear the frustration & maybe even panic in her voice. I especially liked how Glados’ voice changes at the beginning of the boss fight, revealing her true nature. And I really enjoyed the turrets’ voice. They just sound so cute & childlike when they politely ask me to move back into range so they can shoot me. Even their screams are cute when you knock them over, making me feeling kind of bad. Score: 5
Replayability: Moderate. On my version of the Orange Box, completing the game unlocks bonus maps for the later levels. Personally, I don’t feel the need to play it again, but I can certainly see how other people may enjoy it enough to play multiple times. Score: 3
Overall Score: 4
Final Word: If you’re like me & haven’t played this game yet, I highly recommend it. It’s an excellent puzzle game. Even if you’re not the best puzzler, you’ll still likely enjoy the dry humor. Short & sweet, it’s worth a look.
Console: 360, PC & PS3
Release Date: October 9, 2007