I'm going to review a 2007 game called Portal, a single-player puzzle-platformer.
It was released for PC, Xbox 360, and PS3. The developer was Valve, who also did Half-Life, Counter-Strike, Left 4 Dead, and a bunch of other awesome first-person shooter type games. The game was actually based off of some students' senior project called Narbacular Drop.
I'm going to try not give away any big things about the story. When I played the game, a few things here and there were spoiled for me and it's really fun to find out things as they happen. The following trailer was released by Valve, so I don't consider it to have spoilers.
You play Chell, a woman we know nothing about. It doesn't matter; we never learn anything about her. The only other real character is an AI computer named GLaDOS who you hear talking to you from the minute the game starts. When the game begins, you awake in a stasis chamber, a tiny room with glass walls. GLaDOS welcomes you to the Aperture Science Enrichment Center. From here, you are taken to the first test chamber and introduced to the Aperture Science Handheld Portal Device (portal gun) and taught how to use it.
As you progress through the test chambers, GLaDOS talks to you, making you aware of the dangers present in the chambers, new things to do with the portal gun, and how there's yummy cake waiting for you. The atmosphere is creepy and surreal from the start and it just gets weirder from there. You're trapped in this empty testing facility with nothing but the portal gun and the AI's voice to help you (along with some tools they give you in order to advance, such as weighted cubes). The rooms get more and more challenging as you go, with new elements being introduced each room or so.
I thought the overall story was unique and amusing. The humor is great. It's cute, nerdy, and random, with tons of quotable lines. Even if you don't enjoy the humor, the gameplay will make up for it. You'll want to know if the cake really is a lie. This game is worth finishing.
The graphics are fairly simplistic, which is completely appropriate for the game. If you've ever played Half-Life, you know what the graphics look like. Plain gray walls and floors don't distract from the important part of the game - the puzzles. I thought they did a good job making the equipment and technology in the game look futuristic, but not really ridiculous. You can tell what everything is or what it might do, and you need to in order to figure out what to do next. The portals themselves stick out well from the rest of the environment.
One graphical thing that stuck out to me was when you shake the cursor around in game, your surroundings sort of trail along with you. It looks really nice and makes things more realistic. I haven't noticed this in other games, but then again, I haven't played many of the newest first-person shooters. The game has no visible health bar; the interface is very clean, letting you focus on the task at hand. The only things you see constantly are your gun and the 'crosshair' to aid you in creating portals.
|Chell has metal heel springs to prevent injury from falls.|
The portal gun is your main tool to getting through this 'nightmare'. If you're playing it for PC, the right and left mouse buttons control your two portals - one blue and one orange. It doesn't matter which color you create first; you can enter either one and you will exit from the other. You can jump through them, walk through them, throw stuff through them, fall through them. If you go through one in a wall and exit through one on the floor, you'll come out and land back on your feet. It's dizzying at times. Sometimes you will need to create new portals in mid-air, forcing you to pay close attention and move quickly. If you create a portal on the ground and jump into it from several feet down, you will gain momentum, helping you get to higher places. This technique of creating portals as you're in the air and gaining momentum will be necessary for much of the game. It's also really fun to experiment with.
As you'd expect from a first-person game like this, you will encounter enemies. You don't exactly kill them... More like break them. As I said, you have no visible health bar. You can get hurt from certain things, like turrets, and if you move out of the way quickly enough you will not die. Your health apparently regenerates itself after you are hurt, because if you are damaged again (after your health has gone up) for a short period of time, you won't die. There are indeed plenty of opportunities to die in this game, mostly from falling off of platforms as far as I remember, but there are other things that will instantly kill you. You'll just start over at the beginning of the current test chamber if you die. The game will auto-save when you reach each test chamber or a 'checkpoint'.
The way the game introduces the new obstacles while teaching you how to play flows perfectly. The levels are brilliantly designed. By the end of the game, using the portal gun feels almost natural. The difficulty is just enough for me to want to keep playing. Don't get me wrong, this game can be frustrating... I did end up getting a couple of hints, but if I had thought about it some more, I probably would have been able to figure it out myself. It feels damn satisfying when you finally solve some of the harder puzzles.
(Also, after playing the game for too long and you stop, you might get the same feeling you do after you play Katamari Damacy... You'll get the urge to teleport across the room with portals. After Katamari, you size up the objects around you to see if you can roll them up. Am I the only one?)
|It won't threaten to stab you.|
"...all the cake is gone. You don't even care, do you?"The lack of music for most of the game adds to its empty, surreal atmosphere. And then of course, there's the song, "Still Alive". You can look that up yourself. It's in the ending credits of the game.
Replay Value: 7/10
The game is pretty short. I think it took me about three sittings to beat the storyline, but it could be beaten in one, for sure. Plus, there are bonus levels and little missions to accomplish, like destroying all of the security cameras. I would definitely sit down and play through this game again. It won't be as fun as the first time; learning to play and finding out the story were awesome. If you haven't played this game, you're really missing out.
Portal 2 is set to come out on February 9, 2011.
"When the testing is over, you will be... missed."