Reviews: Portal

I guess there are worse ways to spend 3 hours.

I played Portal long after the Orange Box originally debuted. I originally bought the Orange Box for one reason, and one reason only: Team Fortress 2. So on the eve of Portal 2's release, I finally gave this little game a shot, having heard it's completely amazing from start to finish.

Eh. It was all right. I'm not terribly fond of physics puzzles, but the pacing is gradual enough that the game tends to build up slowly, adding a new fold to each puzzle, and that's pretty good. However, the humor was mostly lost on me. That's what happens when people repeat memes over 9,000 times and then you view the original work. The humor doesn't seem half as clever if you've heard it before. And while I liked that story largely wasn't forced upon you, the story itself is nothing you haven't seen before. Mad AI, sure. We've seen it in 2001, Marathon, System Shock, etc. The only thing that separates this one is that it's an excessively petty Rogue AI. I can't explain why people like the Companion Cube so much. It's just a box with a heart on it.

I think the people that initially played it went in with no expectations, but I went in with the expectations of this "perfect" game, and was disappointed. So I had sort of the reverse experience of others. I think Portal is one of those games you had to be there for to get the full effect- you're not going to appreciate it near as much as the people that bought it in 2007 and still rave about it because there were no expectations then. It's a decent game, but it's worth waiting for one of those days when Valve gives it away.

I don't regret playing it, but it's not special to me.

Portal is great and you should play it.

Portal is something different. At its core, it's a puzzle game where you have to use portals to reach a goal. The concept is pretty original, and the portal mechanic has surprisingly deep gameplay. At first you're just placing a portal on the other side of a chasm to cross a gap, but before you know it you're firing multiple new portals in mid-leap and doing all sorts of shenanigans with gravity and momentum and timing and layering everything together and let's just say it gets crazy and it's a lot of fun. The controls are great, the difficulty is curved well, the puzzles are well-designed, and the audio and visuals complement everything else perfectly; in fact, I'm having a lot of trouble finding something to complain about.

The game is short. That's not really a bad thing, though—the pacing is superb, and if it were any longer, it would risk feeling padded. This segues me nicely into the story, which is a perfect example of why we like Show Dont Tell. Some games pack a lot of epic drama into dialogue and cutscenes and whatnot. Portal does none of that, and yet it has one of the most compelling narratives of any game I've ever played. The story is in the scenery and in the gameplay itself. The story is the gameplay, really. The test chambers grow increasingly intense as the game progresses, and you start to see scraps of something strange. It all culminates in the Off The Rails final sequence and, eventually, spoiler, a climactic showdown with GLaDOS herself. (That counts as It Was His Sled, right?)

The puzzles (with some Brutal Bonus Levels) are the whole game, so it's pretty cerebral. If you do get stuck, there's not much you can do besides sit down and think it out...but that just makes it even more satisfying when you eventually figure it out. Still, as innovative as Portal is, it is that sort of game, and if you're not interested in that sort of might still like it, actually. There are enough fast-paced combat sequences and platforming-esque timed segments sprinkled around to get your adrenaline flowing, especially in the later levels, where it gets pretty hectic with lots of moving platforms and turrets and whatnot.

Bottom line, a great game, and it deserves its hype.

And if you were wondering, the cake is definitely not a lie.

...Or Is It?