Not everyone enjoys puzzle games. They can be slow, frustrating and elicit some major yawns – not good recipes for a gaming session. So on the surface, Portal may not have seemed like the game for you. Valve might have considered it an afterthought, as well.
Valve’s first-person platformer originally got packaged as a bonus for gamers who bought the Orange Box to get their hands on Half Life 2: Episode 2 and Team Fortress 2. But despite its brief length, Portal’s addictive and innovative gameplay quickly made it one of the most critically acclaimed titles of the year, and for good reason. Playing as Chell, a test subject stuck in the massive Aperture underground testing facility, players use a portal gun to shoot oval shaped portals in walls. This lets the player navigate through the level, traversing huge gaps and solving puzzles with a variety of clever solutions.
Portal’s brilliance owes as much to its level design as its addictively fun portal gun action. Jumping down from huge heights, players can shoot portals into the floor just before impact, using redirected velocity to fly out of exit portals and traverse huge distances. Objects can also be placed in portals, another element that is important to solving the puzzles.
The sterile Aperture testing facilities where the game takes place are devoid of cosmetic elements and fancy backgrounds, taking away the confusion of having to find which objects can be interacted with. Instead, the gameplay focuses on easing the player into solving puzzles with increasing complexity. Because of this, Portal has a pacing designed for much less “I don’t know what to do” moments.
After getting an immensely positive reception from fans and critics, alike, it didn’t take long for Portal to get its own standalone release. You can pick it up right now on for Windows, OS X, Linux, Playstation 3, Xbox 360 and Shield Portable.
It also bears mentioning that Portal, while a short game, has a very funny and memorable storyline. After awakening from a stasis state, the protagonist Chell is guided through increasingly dangerous test chambers by a seemingly benevolent, yet very sinister AI companion, called GLaDOS. Turret guns are given their own AI personalities, as well, which offer empathetic comments in innocent, child-like voices when you deactivate them.
Portal’s sequel Portal 2 should also be mentioned. This was a highly-anticipated sequel, given the immense fanfare for the original Portal. If you enjoyed playing Portal, or are simply curious to try out a Portal game, Portal 2 is highly recommended.
The sequel builds off of the original concepts of the first game, adding a number of interesting new elements. Continuing where the storyline of Portal left off, Chell navigates through various test chambers, now with more novel concepts, like lasers and gravity-free beams.
As players learn more about the origins of Aperture, they discover other technologies the company had been “testing,” like a series of liquid-like gels that can be used to solve puzzles. Blue gel, once stained to the ground or walls, allows the player to bounce off of hard surfaces equal to the momentum they strike them with. Orange gel enables players to speed up their running to an incredibly fast velocity, and white gel allows players to create portal-compatible surfaces on almost any flat surface.
Along with all these new elements, Portal 2 introduces a co-operative game mode. This is one of the most acclaimed features added to the original Portal, as it enables two players to solve very complex and challenging puzzles through sheer team work and skill. Players can also design their own Portal levels and share them with the online community. In fact, numerous mods of the game have been popularized, as well, including a flash version of the original game that has also been critically acclaimed.
It’s hard to convince someone who doesn’t like puzzle games to spend money on one. This is one of the most enjoyable and memorable video games you will ever play. It’s also perfect for casual gamers, as individual levels don’t take up much time and are perfect for enjoying one at a time, though we doubt anyone can play Portal or Portal 2 piece-meal. It’s simply too much fun. If you haven’t already, do yourself a favor and try this game.