Portal
Gameplay 9
Graphics 9
Sound 9

Playing Portal is a awesome experience and while the earlier levels might feature a bit too much hand holding you’ll really be proving your skills towards the end. With only its length really counting against it, this is a great game that should be experienced by all gamers. Portal 2 can’t come soon enough.

Gameplay: A refreshingly different take on the genre and an absolute brain scrambler. You’ll love every second of it though.

Graphics: Minimal but stylish..

Sound: Outstanding voice-overs

Summary 9.0 Outstanding
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Portal

Developer: Valve | Publisher: Valve | Release Date: 2007 | Genre: Action / Puzzle | Website: Official Website | Purchase: Steam

Waking up in the “Computer Aided Enrichment Centre” of the Aperture Science Labs and being thanked by the friendly computer A.I, GLaDOS for your participation is a freaky enough way to start a game but things get even weirder. You are expected to take part in a series of increasingly dangerous experiments that make use of “Portal” technology. Wielding a Portal gun, your main goals are to reach the exit of each room alive while the “friendly” A.I spurs you on with promises of cake. This dark humour is maintained throughout the game and is one of the reasons why Portal is so memorable.

While the lead character, Chell, doesn’t have much to say, GLaDOS seems to like the sound of her (it?) own voice and will constantly barrage you with threats, promises, lies and if it suits her, encouragement. While Portal is a platform/puzzle game it didn’t skimp on plot and I found myself wanting to finish “just one more level” so I could see what is going to happen next. Sadly the game is quite short and my players will be looking at the (awesome) end credits all too soon. It’s a single player only experience as well, but there are some achievements and custom maps available to extend the longevity.

Gameplay wise Portal is very unique and while the Portal concept can be tricky to grasp initially the game does an excellent job of slowly introducing you to all the concepts. The downside is that it can make the bulk of the game feel like an extended tutorial with only the last few levels really challenging the players abilities to their fullest extend. Using the Portal gun to teleport around the test chambers is a breeze and you simply click where you want to create your portals. There’s no “entrance” or “exit” portals, simply two points that are connected both ways. There are of course some limitations; you can’t shoot the portal gun “through” another portal and not all surfaces can be used. Other than that you are free to create portals on any available and compatible surface which as you can imagine leads to some interesting scenarios. Create one portal on the floor and the other on the ceiling to jump down one end and fall out the other. Creating a portal on the other side of a pit to simply walk through a portal on your side provides you with a safe and easy way across. Things get a lot more complicated and physics come into play but half the fun is figuring out the unique ways in which to move around using the portal gun so I don’t want to say too much.

The game is set in the Half-Life universe, but don’t expect any new revelations about Gordon Freeman and his adventures. You’ll simply be making your way from one clinically white testing chamber to the next as GLaDOS spurs you on. Chell wears a pair of heel springs that saves her from falling to her death, but there are still plenty of ways to buy the farm. Besides the environmental hazards like caustic fluids and energy spheres Chell can also be killed by her own negligence. Standing underneath a portal while dropping a weighted cube through the other end resulting in being crushed is but one example. GLaDOS also sends you in the path of some very vicious turrets that can riddle Chell with bullets in no time. Since the portal gun is your only “weapon” you’ll have to use it creatively to retaliate or simply avoid conflict altogether. You can save at any time and Chell quickly regains her health if she escapes a dangerous encounter alive, so the emphasis is firmly on puzzle solving.

The graphics aren’t anything special, but the game runs on the Source engine so everything is solid. The portals themselves are probably the most impressive visual feature from a technical point of view. Seeing yourself through a portal is quite cool and you can end up in some brain twisting situations. Thinking in all three dimensions is definitely required. The latter half of the game sees some interesting visual changes and being able to see “behind the scenes” of Aperture Science is a neat touch. The “challenge” and “advance” chambers all take place on existing maps instead of new ones which is a bit of a letdown but they are interesting none the less. By altering certain elements of the stages you need brand new tactics to get through them and it’s here where you will make full use of the portal guns abilities. Trying to finish a level with the least amount of steps, least amount of portals or simply the quickest time is also a blast and much trickier than it sounds.

As great as all the other aspects of the game is I think the audio was the highlight for me. The GLaDOS dialogues are superbly written and perfectly delivered. I found myself constantly laughing out loud at her utterances. The music is pretty unobtrusive apart from the brilliant ending song which is impossible to forget once heard. A special mention should also go to the impossible cute voices of the gun turrets who will cheerfully slaughter you and will even forgive you if you take them out first.

Portal was initially released as part of the “Orange Box” but its subsequent popularity has ensured that it got a Steam and retail release as well. As part of the Orange Box its an incredible deal and even as a standalone product its well worth it. The short length is all that holds this product back from a perfect score in my books. I found myself playing to get all the achievements long after I’ve completed the main game. A copy of Half-Life 2 is required to play some of the custom maps and while fun the absence of GLaDOS is definitely felt. Steam has patched the game with a slightly altered ending in preparation for Portal 2 and there’s even a new achievement to unlock which might entice players into finishing the game one more time. With an engrossing and innovative gameplay mechanic, memorable plot and superb voice acting, Portal is a game that deserves to be in any self respecting gamers collection.

*Review originally written 2007.

System Requirements

  • 1.7 GHz Processor
  • 512MB RAM
  • DirectX® 8.1 level Graphics Card (Requires support for SSE)
  • Windows® 7 (32/64-bit)/Vista/XP
  • Mouse, Keyboard, Internet Connection
  • Pentium 4 processor (3.0GHz, or better)
  • 1GB RAM
  • DirectX® 9 level Graphics Card
  • Windows® 7 (32/64-bit)/Vista/XP
  • Mouse, Keyboard, Internet Connection
  • OS X version Leopard 10.5.8
  • Snow Leopard 10.6.3
  • 1GB RAM
  • NVIDIA GeForce 8 or higher
  • ATI X1600 or higher
  • or Intel HD 3000 or higher
  • Mouse, Keyboard, Internet Connection

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