Portal Xbox Live, PC Review
As with most stories told by Valve Portal opens memorably, this time seeing the protagonist confined within a glass box, with no weapon and apparently with no way out. Then without delay you gain control of your character, and with a small glimpse to your right you see a digital clock counting down. You then hear a welcoming, albeit slightly condescending computerised female voice greeting you, and once the clock hits zero you are abruptly introduced the to main draw the game – the portals. With the first portal opening up right in front of you are left with no other choice but to walk through it. As you do you catch a stupefying glimpse of yourself approaching the portal from a side angle, which is of course the view from the corresponding portal you will exit from. It is at this moment that you can begin to get your head around what the game will be all about, but of course this is just the beginning of your world getting turned upside down.
As you then work your way through the subsequent rooms, totalling 19, which house the game’s many puzzles, the game starts to explain itself some more, telling you how portals work, and how you can use them to you advantage. At first you start to learn simple stuff, without your actual portal gun, and figure out how to use previously placed portals to cross seemingly impassable gaps, or similarly, to reach the heights of an unassailable ledge. At this point you also learn to use the portals to moves objects across rooms to help you solve puzzles. After a while you gain access to the ability to place one portal in the environment, and then a few rooms on you get use of the second one, and this is where the game starts to excel, as you are given free reign on how to tackle each room in whatever way you want.
From this point you go on to learn that if enter one portal at speed you will come out of the other at the same speed. With this knowledge you can then place one portal on the ground, and place another high up on a wall, jump into the ground portal and come shooting out of the other one at speed. To take this a step further you can then position another portal on the ground as you are falling and go through that to maintain the momentum you’ve built up, and thus shoot yourself across a room even farther. However, its not just you interacting with the portals, as some rooms house energy balls that have to be directed to a specific location. To move these about you can use the portals by placing a series of them in specific locations to move the balls to their indented destinations. Furthermore, the simple task of standing on a switch to open a door – which is a challenge seen in many a game – is made very compelling when you add forcefields, 100 yard gaps, and many more seemingly impossible stumbling blocks into the fray.
Thankfully, even with all of this immense complexity you never end up feeling overly confused by the puzzles the game presents you with. Sure, some of the puzzles are complicated, and most of the later ones needing some considerable thought to sort out the layer after layer of complexity, but once you take into account what the game thought you in previous rooms, and apply it to your current situation you should find out a solution without the need to resort to some FAQ, thus diminish you overall sense of achievement. That said, the game comes with a fair few rules and restrictions, but thankfully ones that keep the game fun by not letting you cheat through any of the rooms. The biggest rule is that there are many surfaces in the game that cannot support a portal, with black titles, moving surfaces, doors and glass been the ones the game brings to you attention very early on. Fortunately, you never feel restricted by any of these, and they all just add to the overall challenge of the game.
One aspect of Portal that I was not expecting to enjoy before playing was the games over arching, slightly deranged, but overtly humorous story. Yes, the game may be just a puzzler at heart, but without the comedic overtones of the well scripted narrative the game would not have been near as fun to play as it is. Most of this humour comes from GLaDOS, that same voice that welcomed you to the game when you were locked in the glass prison, and as you advance the disdainful manor of her disembodied voice changes into something more resembling black comedy, at times even getting overtly cruel. In truth, the game can also get a bit emotional as well, so emotional that you could in fact feel a tinge of sadness for a seemingly inanimate heart emblazoned mute object known only as a Weighted Companion Cube. In fact, I would like to take this moment to say that I am sorry to mine, truly sorry. You never did threaten to stab me little buddy. Finally, as you reach the end of game, all of this brilliant narrative and excellent humour culminates in one of the most memorable and theatrical endings to a game seen in years. Not only is the final level a triumph in design, letting you use everything you learned in the previous 19 chambers, but the final credits/cutscene is pure gold. Trust me, when it finally ends I guarantee you will race YouTube just to watch it again, that’s exactly what I did.
With Portal’s playtime totalling up to just around 3 hours, perhaps its only glaring flaw to temper excitement of that game is that it is a bit short. However, while on paper that length may seem less than spectacular it does not hold true in the game, and as you approach the truly spectacular, amusing, albeit highly fitting end you don’t ever start getting a feeling of being short changed. Sure, there is no getting by the fact that once you finish you will want more, but as with all great games this is a feeling you should hope to be left with, and a feeling that 9 out of 10 developers struggle in giving gamers. If you truly want some more Portal action, then when the main game is finished the option for Advanced and Challenge modes come available, thus offering levels with a greater challenge and restricting use of portals in others. Furthermore, when you consider the fact that you are getting four other titles as part of The Orange Box, you can’t help but be happy with the game as you technically get the tour de force that is Portal as almost an added extra, probably one of the greatest added extras ever.
A great idea realised with great execution – that is probably the best way to describe Portal. It is also an idea that is introduced well, explained excellently, and expanded on throughout the game with meticulous execution. You’d be hard pressed to find another review on this site with such praise for a puzzler, but it cannot be overstated how well Valve have done in creating Portal, explaining how such an intricate mechanic works, and still keep everything simple, well paced, and most importantly exciting for the player. All in all, there is no denying there is something very special about Portal, and as you play it, experience it, and enjoy the multipart puzzles as they develop there is a hell of a lot to like at just about every turn.
This was a triumph. I’m making a note here, huge success. It’s hard to overstate my satisfaction.