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The Rundown

For the approximate 5 people in the world who haven’t heard about this game, on October 10th, 2007, Valve released this little game named Portal, as part of a package known as The Orange Box. Published and developed by Valve Corporation, it was released on Valve’s own digital store, Steam, and it was also available for the XBox 360 and the PlayStation 3. Originally, I only wanted the Orange Box for the game Team Fortress 2, a game I had been eagerly awaiting the release of for years, as I played the original mod for the game Quake. However, since Portal came with it, I decided to give it a shot. Once I started playing, I ended up staying up all night and completing the game. Portal is by no means a very long game, but it lasted long enough to be a very enjoyable experience without overstaying its welcome.

Plot

Portal revolves around the player character protagonist Chell, who wakes up from stasis to warnings and instructions for the upcoming tests in what is called the Enrichment Center. Chell then proceeds through these test chambers, which get increasingly dangerous. Despite promises of counseling (and cake) from the AI known as GLaDOS, it becomes clear GLaDOS does not regard human life as very valuable. As the story progresses you obtain the use of a Portal gun, which allows you to project 2 portals on to various surfaces.  Each portal created can be used as an entrance, and after entering either one, you’ll then exit at the location of the other portal.  This allows you to travel instantaneously between them, but you also keep your momentum as you pass through them, allowing you to do a variety of physics tricks that can help you reach various locations.

Now it is hard to really go into the plot without spoiling things, so without ruining the surprise, the plot revolves around your fight for survival as you travel through the world alone. The game provides you with mostly inanimate objects and verbal abuse from the aforementioned GLaDOS.  Humans are reduced to guinea pigs as GLaDOS pits you against various rooms that force you to solve puzzles on how to reach certain locations, as well as a variety of other challenges,  such as moving objects around to hold down buttons, all while trying to stay alive.  There are many dangers that you’ll encounter, and they can be as simple as avoiding a deadly liquid, to dodging military droids that track and shoot you when moving within their view.  Somehow, through all of these fairly empty chambers, you will find the most compelling of stories. By design, you will get attached to the most unlikely of companions.

“Somehow, through all of these fairly empty chambers, you will find the most compelling of stories.”

Gameplay

Portal is a mix of first person shooter and puzzle-platformer, and in my opinion, it is probably one of the best games ever to mix those genres. Instead of shooting things to kill or destroy them outright, you use your Portal gun to navigate a series of test chambers by moving between locations you would not be able to reach by normal means, as well as move objects that can be the key to opening the path to exiting these chambers. Luckily you are equipped in such a way that keeps you from taking any fall damage, or else each chamber would be even more dangerous and deadlier than they already are. There is often more than one way of using your portal gun and items in your surroundings to reach your goals. In fact there are additional challenges in the game, separate from the main story line, that pit you against a time clock, or have you complete specific chambers with the least amount of portal use as possible. After the main story I wanted to play Portal so much more that I went back and played through these challenges as well.  I was surprised that I was able to complete a deceptively vast chamber with literally 2 portals. I’m even fairly certain that I completed a test chamber in the most unique of ways; using a wall that opens temporarily by placing the exit portal on it while it was open. In short, the gameplay is wonderful, with the use of tight controls, physics, and a bit of creativity, the things you can do are amazing. Being able to think through a puzzle and execute the motions required to finish the chamber results in the most satisfying feeling!

“Being able to think through a puzzle and execute the motions required to finish the chamber results in the most satisfying feeling!”

Environments

The test chambers feature a very clean aesthetic that starts out simple, but become more complex over time. It seems clear that the chambers were designed not only to convey the situation you were in, but also to allow the player to easily gauge their portal shots to effectively navigate each puzzle presented. They have a mix of artistic style and practicality that I wish more games effectively accomplished. Various things are added to the simple world as you progress, but hidden around the corner from the sleek walls that you see are things that break up the otherwise very similar surroundings of each test chamber. As you progress, and perchance get tired of the solid colors and shapes of many locals, the game changes the surroundings, dramatically keeping you engaged in what is a fairly linear path. The aesthetic is so well liked that it has been copied in many other places, such as a map in the game Killing Floor. I personally enjoy it a lot and seek to play other games that have levels inspired by Portal. Most of the game has a non-lyrical, ambient music that is made to match the mood of the environments, and in the ending credits there is a song called “Still Alive” which many adore. The song’s execution and humor is hard to adequately describe, but I can say that it has been praised and played in various places. (source)

More Info

Portal is a spiritual successor to the freeware game Narbacular Drop, which was a 2005 independent indie game developed by Nuclear Monkey Software. Robin Walker, one of Valve’s developers, saw the game at the DigiPen Institute of Technology annual career fair, which then lead to Gabe Newell, CEO of Valve, seeing the game and offering the entire team jobs at Valve. (source) (source)  The Portal universe is actually set in the Half-Life universe, another game created by Valve. There is also an official comic called Lab Rat that connects the story of the original Portal, to its sequel, Portal 2. Portal is now also available to enjoy on OS X, Linux, and Android. The game’s popularity has lead to a wide variety of merchandise associated with Portal, such as coffee mugs and plush toys (source). There is also an on going internet meme relating to the phrase “the cake is a lie.”

Performance

From my perspective of the PC version; the game runs very well, as it should on fairly modern systems due to the fact it is built on Valve’s Source Engine, which has been used in many games such as Counter Strike: Source, Left 4 Dead, and Half-Life 2.  It does not even require a gig of RAM or a multi-core processor, so even older PC’s or laptops can easily play this game. (source)

Bottom Line

I love this game, and I’m certainly not alone, as many, many, many others also love it. In fact, it received critical reception, as it earned more praise than Half-Life 2: Episode Two, and Team Fortress 2, which were both included in the Orange Box. It won various awards including Game of the Year, Innovation Award, and Best Game Design at the 2008 Game Developers Choice Awards. (source)  (source)

Great story. Great humor. Great puzzles. If you like FPS with a side of puzzles and dark humor, this game is for you!


The Rundown

6 word story

First Person Puzzler with unforgettable writing

Strength

Creativity

Weakness

Length

Pick it up

A Staple for Every Gamer’s Library


For details on release dates and other related info, head to Portal’s game page.

** When is it worth the price? — In lieu of review scores, we opt to give our opinion on whether the game is worthy of it’s release day price, or if you should wait for a patch or a sale. **

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In lieu of review scores, we opt to give our opinion on whether the product is worth it's release day price, or if you should wait for a sale.

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