Platform PC, Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 & Mac
Things You Might Like
- Innovative gameplay
- Beautiful graphics
- Complex plot
- Creepy ambient soundtrack
Things You Might Not Like
- Can get pretty difficult later on
- Space-defying physics aren’t nice on the inner ear
One of the most intelligent games yet, Portal is a brilliant combination of the first person shooter and puzzle genres.
5 out of 5 Companion Cubes
Jonathan David Lim
The cake is a lie.
If you’re currently breathing, have access to the Internet, and are roughly somewhere between the ages of twelve and thirty-five, you’ll most likely have heard this phrase. But where does it come from? And what’s with the associated sense of intrigue, pleasure, and scandal?
Portal is the name of the game here. An instant classic from Valve Software – the same developer who brought us some of PC gaming’s greatest hits, like Half-Life and Counter Strike – Portal might well be considered the first ever puzzle-shooter. Sure, there have been plenty of first-person shooters with puzzle elements in them, but this is something else.
Originally released with The Orange Box – which included Half Life 2 and Team Fortress 2 – Portal is the most innovative game released in recent years. You play as Chall, a test subject for Aperture Science’s latest development, a handheld portal device. For gamers familiar with Half-Life, it should be noted that Black Mesa and Aperture Science are bitter rivals, the former having attempted their own experiments after hearing of Aperture’s portal technology breakthrough. Of course, where and when Portal takes place is up in the air. But that’s not the point. Though they share a similar setting, Portal is the complete antithesis to Half-Life. Instead of hordes of aliens, Chall is faced with a long series of test chambers of ever-increasing difficulty that she must pass with only the use of her portal gun.
Accompanying Chall throughout her trials is GLaDOS, an artificial intelligence designed to assist test subjects to their ultimate goal: cake. Ah, but the cake is a lie. Isn’t it? What at first seems like a straightforward puzzle-shooter ends up being a deeply complex plot with plenty of interesting twists and turns. By the end of it all, you’ll feel like you have stepped out of a Terry Gilliam film.
But the real icing on the cake (the one that does or does not exist) is the song over the end credits sequence. This alone has stirred up about as much fan appeal for the game than the actual gameplay — not to mention giving Jonathan Coultona few new listeners.
As for the nitty-gritty, Portal has smooth controls, boasts beautiful graphics, and the disturbing ambience of the game’s soundtrack really adds to the overall tone. But it’s the portal technology that really stands out. Originally developed by a group of students from the DigiPen Institute of Technology for a freeware game called Narbacular Drop (which is still available for download here), the ability to shoot a pair of portals at walls and have them sync directly to their in-game locations brings endless amazement. Unlike Prey – which utilised scripted locations for its portals — Portal allows the player to set up their space-bending holes wherever they like, with fascinating results. If one portal is on the floor and the other is on an opposing wall at a completely different angle, Chall will right herself to the floor no matter where you ‘fall.’ It’s like outer space; up and down is entirely relative. And there is nothing quite like opening a pair of portals between the ceiling and the floor and literally falling into yourself ad infinitum. It’s even more mind-bending when the player realizes the only way to catch a glimpse of Chall is by using the portals to make a sort of ‘mirror effect.’ The game’s difficulty is pretty standard, though some players may find themselves frustrated at the complexity of many of the puzzles. Furthermore, this all might take its toll on players with a low tolerance for ever-changing perspectives, so play carefully. We wouldn’t want you getting hurt.
Still, Portal is nothing short of incredible.
If you want to get in on the gag, this is definitely worth the free download. And with the sequel looming just around the corner this December, the anticipation factor is running high. Get in on this while you still can!
Jonathan David Lim
Review by Jonathan David Lim, editor-in-chief.