[GlaDOS voice] Hello and again welcome to the Aperture Science Computer-Aided Enrichment Center. We hope your brief detention in the relaxation vault has been a pleasant one. Your specimen has been processed and we are now ready to begin the test proper. Before we start, however, keep in mind that although fun and learning are the primary goals of the enrichment center activities, serious injuries may occur. For your own safety, and the safety of others, please refrain from … [/GlaDOS voice]
Portal is a new single player game from Valve. Set in the mysterious Aperture Science Laboratories, Portal has been called one of the most innovative new games on the horizon and offers gamers hours of unique gameplay. The game is designed to change the way players approach, manipulate, and surmise the possibilities in a given environment; similar to how Half-Life 2’s Gravity Gun innovated new ways to leverage an object in any given situation. Players must solve physical puzzles and challenges by opening portals to maneuvering objects, and themselves, through space.
Based on the place it has gained in gaming history in the past few years and the featured position as part of the Mac Steam launch, it is hard to remember that Portal was the ‘other’ part of the Orange Box: looking as least as much tech demo and gimmick as a genuine game, it blew everyone away – and for good reason, as Portal was quite possible the best part of the package and well deserving of the various ‘game of the year’ honors.
The game plays like a ‘first person puzzler’, with an increasingly more difficult challenges put before you until you reach the end. After learning the basics you get the ‘portal generator’ gun, which is your key to open teleport points between areas. This is the key to solving puzzles and progressing through the game. The worst thing is that end comes WAY too soon – after only a few hours for most players. But the challenge modes and bonus maps help extend that, and the desire to go back and complete maps faster with fewer portals and less time will keep you coming back for more.
When you start off you are solving simple puzzles, using your wits and occasionally a ‘weighted cube’. Soon enough you get the Aperture Sciences Portal Device – and gain the ability to open time-space portals. Later on you get the other side of the coin – the ability to dictate the start and end of the portal. Gravity and weight still factor into your reality, but your ability to place portals is virtually unlimited.
The Portal device is a huge amount of fun to use – made more so by the reactions of GlaDOS, the computer system controlling your flow through the test system. You can easily destroy monitoring cameras – and then get chastised for doing so. Even the gun turrets that try to destroy you talk as they hunt you down and are eventually destroyed.
The graphics of Portal remain amazing – Valve has continuously updated the Source engine, and we get the latest and greatest visuals with the Mac release. When the PC version was initially released there would often be stuttering in performance when starting the game, but I haven’t seen any of this on the Mac version.
There have been numerous glitches reported – disappearing text and menus for some – as new versions were iterated. This is largely due to the issues related to consolidating the codebase for interoperability, and Valve has been amazingly quick and efficient getting new patches out to deal with problems.
This is the most ‘kid friendly’ part of the Half-Life universe. Yet is it also fairly dark and sinister. The humor and overall tone of the game is definitely aimed at teens and adults, but the compelling gameplay is something kids absolutely love! I had had no issues with my 9 and 11 year-old boys playing through back in 2007, not do I have an issue now – they love the challenge, the brain-cramping alternate reality they can set up for themselves, and the psychotic humor of GlaDOS! I still agree with the T-rating for the game but feel younger kids will enjoy much of the experience – as always I advise parents to check these games out for themselves..
Portal is pure gameplay at its finest – while there is some story and other motivations contained in the game, it is ultimately all about using the portal technology to get past the puzzle immediately in front of you, to allow you to go on to the next. The humor, the danger, everything else that is going on serves the central purpose of advancing the gameplay without ever getting in the way. Portal is an awesome experience that really gives you that ‘WOW’ feeling that you are experiencing something unique that is bound to be copied but never duplicated. Nothing has been lost in the Mac release – this remains one of those games everyone should experience.
Where to Buy:
What I Like:
+ Great physics-based gameplay
+ Hilarious story and characters
+ Mind-bending puzzles
What Needs Improvement:
– Way too short