It’s very hard for anything to come by and revolutionise a genre, mainly because such ideas are either few and far between, or some other clever bugger has already taken them. It’s also extremely rare for gamers these days to witness something so bewildering, so downright head-scratchingly genius that you feel your brain melting just by thinking about it. Once you get your hands on the Portal gun, things may not ever look right in a game ever again, and who else but Valve to be the ones to introduce this technological marvel to the gaming world. Not content with merely giving us the Gravity Gun, it seems that if no one else is going to take first person gaming forward, then Valve will just have to do it themselves yet again.
“it seems that if no one else is going to take first person gaming forward, then Valve will just have to do it themselves yet again”The game thrives on creating a constant sense of mystery and ambiguity to drive players forward, downward, in the air, and sometimes even all three at once. Portal takes place in the Aperture Science Enrichment Centre, where you’ve been specially chosen to perform 19 tasks designed to test your skills with the Portal gun, and generally just your common sense. The Portal gun works in two ways; you fire once for an entrance, and again with another button to create an exit (orange and blue in colour). This enables players to gain access to otherwise out of reach areas, for example, jumping from a great height into an entrance portal will bring you out an exit at a tremendous speed, allowing you to cross a gap surrounded by walls resistant to the portal gun. It’s not just a case of going from point A to point B. Players will have to stop off at every other letter of the alphabet too, before they can move on to the next room.
It starts off relatively simple, easing you into the experience and if you’re not too empty upstairs, players should find themselves well over half way through the game within an hour. It does get devilishly difficult later on though, and some rooms will leave you dumbfounded. The genius of Portal is that if you’re stuck, it’s never because the puzzle is so unclear or physically impossible to perform, it’s because you’re not – in the words of the game itself – thinking with portals. The solution will always be a logical one, which makes finally figuring something out all the more rewarding. The game doesn’t just lie down and let you progress as and when you please, however. The further you get into Portal, the more you’ll start encountering all kinds of ‘obstacles’. The gun turrets will be the bane of your existence; switches will open a panel essential to progression for just a few seconds; and small balls of energy will shoot out, killing you instantly if you so much as come In contact with them. While all the above and more are operating you’re frantically trying to figure out where to go next, and that makes for the real challenge in Portal.
While you never actually come in contact with anyone, players are always followed by an omniscient ‘machine’ by the name of GLaDOS. She – one would assume it was a female – will help you through each scenario, giving tips and advice for success, and it’s GLaDOS’ personality where portal shines. It’s not often that a game is genuinely laugh–out-loud funny, but Portal achieves this with consummate ease. It’s a credit to the writing staff in Valve really that a character with a monotonous, robotic tone of voice, can portray such personality and wit. Any game that can form a strong bond between a cube and player, and have them subsequently ache inside when something bad is seemingly going to happen to it, is quite an accomplishment indeed.
“it is one of the most inventive, original, and down right entertaining games you’ll play this year”The only negative you can level Portal’s way is its length. The first play through will last no longer than 4 hours, and even then, you could argue that Portal takes its bow before it’s outstayed its welcome. You’ll most certainly want to go through the game again, and if not, there are always the advanced maps for the clinically insane to try out. The briefness of it all is an easy pill to take considering Portal’s last 30 minutes is quite comfortably one of the finest last hurrahs of any game before it. As what was supposed to be just a side dish in amongst The Orange Box, Portal has become arguably its main attraction and as a stand-alone title – in a genre cluttered with mediocrity – it is one of the most inventive, original, and down right entertaining games you’ll play this year. Portal takes the cake, and that’s no lie.