First posted on 15 December 2012. Last updated on 15 December 2012.
|GLaDOS struts in all her artificial glory!|
|Chell finds the portal gun in a test chamber.|
|The trusty cube serve many purposes.|
|The automated turrets will cry afoul when they are deactivated.|
|Strange cryptic messages are hidden throughout the facility.|
Portal was inspired by a student game project named Narbacular Drop that was created in 2005 by a team of students at the DigiPen Institute of Technology. That game attempted to combine the gameplay style of first-person shooters with physics based puzzle elements. Valve took notice of the project and eventually hired the team to create a similar game that would fit into the Half-Life universe. Portal was first released as a bundle package in 2007 as part of the Orange Box compilation of Half-Life 2. The game surprised many critics and garnered instant critical acclaims. Finally, in 2008, Portal was released as a standalone game for the PC.
In Portal, you take control of a female human named Chell. As the game begins, you are awoken only by the sound of a radio. Upon emerging from your bed, you notice that you have actually been living inside a sealed glass cell with little more than a bed, a toilet, and a radio as amenities to keep you company. Soon after, a robotic sounding overseer named GLaDOS introduces herself and begins urging you to proceed through a series of test chambers. In actuality, the first few test chambers are designed as a tutorial to ease you into the game by teaching you the various techniques needed to interact with objects and to create portals in the environment. However, this easy ride does not last for long. Soon, you are thrown head first into the more challenging test chambers that ultimately involve you risking your life in the name of science. As the game progress on, the story takes a rather large twist, shaking up the tempo considerably and enticing you to continue playing until completion. Alas, the game is rather short, racking up only about 4 hours of gameplay even if you are playing it for the first time.
Visually, Portal looks good. The Source game engine which Valve has been using and continually tweaking since 2004 works extremely well to power this game. Even though the rendered environments do not look as spectacular as those in other games (namely Half-Life 2) created by the same game engine, the sterile look of the test chambers are perfect environs to set the mood for this game. Shadows cast beautifully onto objects, and the industrial yet minimalist look adequately captures the atmosphere of a modern science facility. All of these elements succeed in immersing you into the game's unique experience.
Audio plays an extremely important role in Portal. This is because the game's entire storyline is singlehandedly narrated by GLaDOS's continual verbal rambling against Chell. Valve has crafted a great script to give GLaDOS a twisted but witty personality which you cannot help but fall in love with. Even the automated turrets, which are introduced later on in the game, speak with child like voices that give them a whole lot of charm despite of their purpose of trying to kill you. Their sympathetic last words and screams make you feel guilty for destroying them. The song Still Alive, composed by Jonathan Coulton, is only played during the game's rolling credits and serves as a fantastic surprise and rewards for finishing the game. Other sound effects include the standard pops and swooshes that you expect while flying in midair and flinging through portals.
Even at the risk of borrowing a tired cliché, Portal is truly a thinking man's game. The game consists of 19 test chambers, each requiring a good amount of common sense and ingenunity to solve. Many of the test chambers have very clever solutions. Accompanying you through these test chambers is your trusty portal gun that allows for instant transportation of any object or person across a tunnel in space (so claimed by the game). The portal gun works by creating a blue portal and an orange portal that represent the entry point and the exit point of the tunnel respectively. These portals can be fired by clicking the left or the right mouse button. By using your portals effectively, you can bypass otherwise impassable obstacles and reach otherwise unrealistic heights, ledges, or faraway locations. You will also need to make use of objects provided to you around the facility, such as the Weighted Companion Cube that works like your tag team partner to help you survive through the test chambers. The cube can be used to press buttons, destroy turrets, and shield you from dangerous weapons such as bullets and rockets. The test chambers varies from simple button pressing puzzles to challenging time based momentum puzzles. In addition, there are 6 Advanced Chambers which you can unlock that are harder versions of the test chambers you have already completed. These test chambers often have more obstacles that require very precise and well-timed maneuvers to solve. As a bonus, you are further tasked to solve these more difficult test chambers within only a certain time limit or by using as few portals as possible. These added challenges really help to extend the time you can spend to finish this game and offers an incentive to replay the game every now and again in order to try to improve your scores.
Overall, Portal is a game with very clever and unique game mechanics and puzzles. The complexity in learning how to place the portals may feel a little overwhelming at first, but it does not take long before shooting portals out of your portal gun becomes natural to you. Moreover, you will enjoy the memorable and fun storyline that is told through a brillant script and great characters. The amount of enjoyment you get from this game will certainly be worth your time trying to survive, for the good of science.