Portal Review

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Portal Publisher: Valve Software
Developer: Valve Software


Platforms: PC, Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 (on some platforms only available as part of The Orange Box)
Reviewed on PC

Windows System Requirements: 1.7 GHz Processor, 512 MB RAM, DirectX 8 compatible video card, Windows Vista or more recent operating system

Aperture Science Laboratories is a serious contender for top contracts from the Department of Defense. Of course, to secure that kind of contract, it helps to have brilliant new technologies, and that takes testing. That's where you come in – by testing Aperture's brand new technologies, you might even be rewarded... with cake!

Rating:
Kyle Ackerman


Portal is a brief, but brilliant game. So I'll try to keep this brief, like the game. Portal marries an innovative play mechanic born of a student project to a simple plot with clever (and darkly hilarious) dialog, transforming a short and simple puzzle game into one of the must-play experiences of the decade.

A Portable Wormhole Generator


Portal jams players into the Aperture Science Laboratories testing facility, gradually teaching the game's puzzle solving skills until players find themselves in possession of a fully-functioning portal gun. The gun can open two portals, each of which connects to the other, allowing players to, say, enter one wall and exit from another wall in an entirely different room. The mechanism is simple, but it allows for tremendously complex behaviors. For example, at times I had to put portals on the floor and ceiling, accelerating to a free-fall velocity before firing a portal onto a wall, dropping through the floor one final time and being flung by the final portal over a barrier and onto a distant platform.

The portal gun is a tremendous innovation in play, allowing for incredibly complex puzzles that transcend typical game levels and require serious lateral thinking. Dare I say, Portal is almost... educational. In every case, play involves figuring out how to use the portal gun to overcome the environment. Some puzzles require reflexes, such as firing portals while in motion, but even when there are security turrets to contend with, this isn't a shooter. With few exceptions, the player can approach the environment at his own pace – turrets simply represent arcs the players shouldn't pass through – like the game's slime-filled pits.

"Please note that any appearance of danger is merely a device to enhance your testing experience."


But the innovative portal mechanic is only one part of what makes this game so impressive. Portal wouldn't be Portal without the portal gun, but, I ask you, would it still be Portal without moist, delicious cake? I think it would just be an impressively polished technical demo. The simple and darkly hilarious voice-overs in Portal establish conflict, a story, and dramatically magnify the sense of achievement that comes from finishing this game that clocks in only slightly longer than a longish feature film. It's the narrator that drew me through the puzzle levels, preventing me from simply putting down the game for a few days to finish at a later time.

The writing in Portal is brilliant, and is punctuated with the ultimate exclamation point, the final song "Still Alive" that provides more resolution than even the last moments of the game. And before you ask about plot, it's fundamentally the dialog that establishes character and the background writing that really lend Portal its depth. Wandering around through the bowels of Aperture Science Laboratories and finding a room projecting a PowerPoint presentation on how to compete with Black Mesa for government contracts really sealed the deal for me. Writing can make a game, just as much as innovative technology.

Try Portal. Really. You have to. Because you want cake.

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This page contains a single entry by Editor published on January 3, 2008 10:10 AM.

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