Portal’s superb gameplay and masterfully written story make it one of the best video games in years.
Originally released as part of The Orange Box, Portal is a single-player puzzle platformer developed by Valve. Its unique story, intricate puzzles and tongue-in-cheek humor captivated not only players, but also critics making it one of most interesting video games of the past years. In Portal’s universe, you are trapped in a mysterious training facility where you need to solve puzzles to move on to new sections. But you are not alone, since super computer GLaDOS is always giving you instructions and making witty remarks. Soon enough you’ll find the Weighted Companion Cube, which is one of the best characters in video games even when it doesn’t speak or performs any action. With this simple premise, the game became a huge success and if you want to find the main reason make sure you don’t skip the final credits.
The game begins with a short sequence as you wake up in the facility. You are trapped in a boxlike cell where an electronic voice welcomes you and opens a portal for you to leave the room. The game gets bizarre really soon, but there’s nothing like the first time you see yourself through a portal you just opened and find out you are a woman. At the beginning you probably won’t understand anything; you don’t know your motivations or goals as there aren’t any clear purposes besides solving the puzzles that are presented in front of you. You are only encouraged to move on via an elevator at the end of each section. The first few levels work as a tutorial of some sort, letting you familiarize with the basic elements of the facility and your portal gun. Yes, you have a gun that lets you open portals almost anywhere, I say almost, because there are certain places where can’t place portals. The puzzles are quite basic, but they quickly increase in difficulty. Eventually, not only do you need to open new portals, but also place objects into switches to open doors.
Probably one of the most fun and exciting things you can do is to retain momentum and get enough speed to make jumps that would be impossible otherwise. This usually means opening a portal facing the place where you want to jump, and then dropping off a cliff opening a second portal before you hit the ground. At the beginning, this is quite difficult to perform, but once you do it correctly, the process is pretty rewarding. What’s best about the game is that it leads to some unique moments even when you are not playing seriously, you may open two portals opposite to each other and this creates an effect where the two seem to reflect forever or you may do that on the ground and ceiling dropping forever. Besides this there are some hazardous elements like water or lava that can instantly kill you and you’ll need to make precise jumps to avoid these dangers.
The robotic voice accompanies you on your journey through the 19 levels, GLaDOS makes some of the wittiest remarks you’ll ever hear in a game and the sound is probably one of Portal’s better qualities. This often leads to funny and amusing moments that I wouldn’t want to spoil in this review, but let just say that the script is simply superb and some of the quotes are so complex that they make reference to the fundamental questions of humanity. What’s also amazing about the game is that not only does the computer make jokes, but it also provides immediate feedback, so after you successfully accomplish a difficult task it’ll say something like: “good job”, “very impressive” or even “you are doing quite well”. But for Portal to be great not only need you well written dialogues, but also a compelling gameplay. Fortunately, Portal’s controls are smooth and easy to pick up.
The only issue with portal is its shortness, since you can finish this game in 4 hours or less. Valve included new maps, developer commentary and additional challenges that you can play once you’ve finished the main game, but still, they are not good enough to add enough lasting value to the game. Portal has an active community that has been working on new maps ever since it came out. These maps are available for free and some of them are really intricate and fun to play. Also a flash based version of the game called simply: Portal: The Flash Version was released gaining praise for its convenient and interesting conversion. The Orange Box version has Steam achievements to extend the game’s lifetime but even if you decide to take on those challenging, the game’s still too short.
To be fair and even if Portal only lasts a few hours, the experience of playing it is fairly unique. The game certainly makes use of some unique ideas and there’s nothing even remotely similar to its gameplay. Even if it doesn’t last as long as other games, Portal remains one of the best titles in recent history.