The 4th Floor's Podcast

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

The Original Portal: A Puzzler that Delivers as Promised

I know 2007 was four years ago, but I just recently completed my first play through of Portal on the Orange Box.  Portal was originally a student's thesis and Valve thought the idea to be original and game play unique enough to develop the game professionally.  When I had first heard about Portal the game was simply too intriguing.  Given my situation, however, I wasn't able to play the game and the game and the rest of The Orange Box was placed on my video game bucket list.

I bought the game Saturday, and within a few hours I had already gotten through a significant portion of the game.  Sunday I got to test chamber 17; Monday I got stuck on test chamber 18, but managed to push through the problem.  Finally on Tuesday I beat the game.  The fact that I used not one FAQ or video to solve any of the games puzzles is one of my top achievements in gaming this year, and the sheer knowledge that I was able to confront that challenge boosted my gaming ego significantly.

For anyone who hasn't played or heard of Portal.  Portal is a puzzle game in which you are given a gun that can shoot portals.  These portals will make up the basis for how you solve the various puzzles in the game, and being able to figure out how the gun and portals work is not only challenging, but surprisingly incredibly fun to learn.  The story for the game pits the test subject against the super computer GlaDoS, and the test subjects escape from the Aperature Science lab.

The test subject doesn't say a word, and the real star of the game lies in the maniacal super computer.  Throughout the game you are treated to fantastic dialog as the super computer falls further and further into madness.  If you don't find yourself laughing at some of the dialog, then you have a serious issue with humor.  Even the gun turrets provide great sources of comedy as you proceed through the lab.  The world is presented as mechanical and sterile, and yet because of the dialog from the turrets and GlaDoS the world never feels dead.  This sense of life becomes greater during the final chapters of the game as you make your way through the test chamber factory.  The palette change and new obstacles provide movement and a greater sense of desperation, then was previously given.

Controlling the test subject is enjoyable and makes sense, but there was a lack of shadows in the game that made certain jumping puzzles hard to get through.  In some instances you have to fall from a height to jump through a portal, in order to launch yourself further ahead.  Without shadows, on several occasions I found myself not being able to adequately judge where I would land, which lead to having to retry jumps over and over again until I got it right.  A minor inconvenience, but something that doesn't lead to any excitement for a second play through.

The problem with doing a second play through, unless doing a speed run, is that you already know how to solve the puzzles.  This leads to destroying that lack of discovery, and those great triumphs from figuring out the puzzles.  A small complaint to say the least, but something that you should be aware of.  Luckily the disc continues 4 other games, which will assuage any lingering buyer's remorse.

Overall, the game is a definitive must play for anyone who considers themselves a gamer.  Even if you only have a slight interest in gaming, this game can easily provide enough entertainment.  I give Portal 5 AI incinerators out 5 for being the definition of solid game play mechanics mixed with a story that keeps you entertained.

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