Talk about late to the party…

Platform: PS3 (via Orange Box)/Xbox 360 (via Orange Box)/PC* (via Orange Box or standalone via Steam)
Genre: FPS
Players: 1
ESRB: Teen (Blood, Mild Violence)

Portal has garnered a cult following in it’s time since being released with the Orange Box. Being a Playstation gamer myself, Orange Box wasn’t even available to console gamers for a long time. I finally got the chance to play it on PC, the place of its birth.

Let’s jump right into the fire, shall we? (pun intended)

Portal is a very unique game in today’s world. It’s a puzzle first-person shooter in which the main character is a test subject for a gun that creates blue and orange portals on flat surfaces that the user can pass through. After completion the player is promised mediation and cake by the tests’ executor, a computer system named GLaDOS, but as most of society today knows, the cake is a lie. There’s really not much more to it than that.

Portal caught main stream attention despite the short play through. The plot is not particularly thick, nor is the emotional attachment, something sarcastically addressed with the short-lived companion cube. However, Portal is extremely fun at heart, which makes it a joy to play anyway since it is so short. It is what it is, nothing more nothing less. It doesn’t try to be greater than that. The puzzles are intriguing and really draw you in, creating an awesome experience that can’t be missed.

The writing for the only speaking characters is very humorous. GLaDOS is as amusing as intimidating and grants the game a light overtone in an industry where many of the blockbusters are dark and intense. The turrets second that with their sympathetic and forgiving nature. “I don’t blame you.”

The lack of a dialog in the main character and the consistent first-person view outside of a glimpse through a portal gives it a sense of the every-man (existentialism? Albert Camus?) as opposed to a lovable character to remember. Where many games end and a player thinks “Man! Nathan Drake is so cool!” or “John Marston is such a beast!”, this game ends with a sense of personal accomplishment as the player assumes the role of the test subject. “Look what I did!” A joyous feeling. 
Some people may be really turned off by the lack of depth, but really I didn’t find myself disappointed.

It’s unfortunate that the majority of the game takes place in the bleak passages of the test chambers. It’s not until the very end of the game when the player lands outside that you really get to see the Source engine show off. The fire looks great, the grass looks great, the colors are vivid – it looks fantastic.

The learning curve is pretty light, which is nice. The player is eased into the process pretty well, even when it gets difficult in the later levels. The answer is pretty obvious and well laid out. However, once the player has escaped the chambers, it starts getting a bit awkward. After playing through the entire thing with goals pretty well established, working one’s way through the depths of Aperture Science’s facilities can be frustrating. The goal is not obvious and objects must be manipulated in new and unfamiliar ways, creating a sort of functional-fixedness dissonance. Where platforms were once obvious, it becomes time to start sort of making them up.

Not that this makes it extremely difficult. Most players won’t be frustrated by the game even when it gets tough. Sometimes the goal even gets accomplished through accident – an exciting occurrence!

With such simplicity, bugs are hard to come by. Flaws are minimal. Valve has produced a solid product here that everyone should play.

Bottom Line: 9/10

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