An unexpected gem in Valve Corp.’s The Orange Box, Portal is just one part of the blockbuster set of games that the company released in October. This review is obviously a bit late, but I couldn’t let this game go without being reviewed here on 2404. Portal is fairly basic and somewhat short, but because of its premiere feature, the creation of portals, combined with a quirky and humorous story, this game has quickly gained in popularity and many people have come to the conclusion that it is the highlight of The Orange Box.
The game’s development team was comprised mostly of new Valve employees that were former Digipen Institute of Technology students. These were the same students who created the award winning independent game Narbacular Drop for their senior project. Portal, which is somewhat of a successor of that indie game, is a more expansive exploration of the team’s portal-based gameplay ideas. To be hired by Valve fresh out of school is a huge achievement in and of itself, but to have the game included alongside one of the most popular and respected franchises in PC gaming is quite an amazing feat. After playing Portal and reading about the game’s success, it’s obvious that Valve knows what they are doing and made quite a wise investment.
, you take on the role of Chell, a test subject for Aperture Science Laboratories. At the beginning of the game, you awake in a sleeping chamber in the “Enrichment Center” and are instructed to begin the orientation tests. The only other “character” in-game is Aperture’s artificial intelligence system, which is named GLaDOS (Genetic Lifeform and Disk Operating System). The rest of the lab seems to have been completely abandoned. The game’s environment and plotline seem very reminiscent of George Lucas’s first major film – THX 1138
. There are several differences, but I would conclude that the movie likely had a major influence on the development team. Besides the lack of additional characters, the main difference in the game is the sarcastic and dark sense of humor that is expressed by the voice GLaDOS, which basically gives you instructions and acts as a narrator throughout. It provides constant feedback and is continually reminding you of the promised cake at the end of the tests. Its corrupt intentions, however, seem to be quite set on bringing you to your demise.
|"Its corrupt intentions, however, seem to be quite set on bringing you to your demise."
The gameplay is somewhat similar to other first-person games, but the major difference is, of course, the special “Aperture Science Handheld Portal Device,” or portal gun. Portal is basically a puzzle game where you have to figure out how to make it to the elevator to the next puzzle. The puzzles increase in difficulty as you move on, and most of the challenge comes when you have to figure out how to launch yourself or fall across the room and land in another area correctly. As GLaDOS puts it: “speedy thing goes in, speeding thing goes out.” You are also faced with the task of putting cubes on big red platforms, which open doors, even when getting the cube through to another room seems impossible. Chell is equipped with special springs on her ankles, so you never have to worry about falling a great distance, but you do have to watch out for the toxic water that is present it many of the rooms. You also have to watch out for the half-singing turret guns (hilarious), and the standard Half-Life 2 “energy balls” that fly across the rooms. While we like to bash linearity here at 2404, Portal does contain linear gameplay, but the innovative new portal gameplay and humorous storyline completely make up for it. This feeling of playing a linear game also dissipates as soon as you begin your escape from certain death.
One surprising thing that I didn’t realize until I did some more reading is that there are subtle hints of a Portal
and Half-Life 2
connection through Black Mesa. The Aperture Science Lab was originally formed to create shower curtains, but after the founder became unstable from mercury poisoning, he created three new R&D programs. One of the programs was the portal technology, but the other two projects were unsuccessful. Apparently, after receiving funding from the government, work on GLaDOS began in response to similar projects at the Black Mesa research facility. There is also a mention
of Aperture Science in Half-Life 2: Episode Two
during the discussion of the Borealis. Wouldn’t it be interesting if this connection was pushed even further in Episode Three
? Could there be a merging of storylines? It’s difficult to predict, and I’d guess probably not, but it’s something to keep in the back of your mind.
Despite the rather plain environment, the graphics go a long way in creating the sterile, laboratory feel. As far as quality goes, it’s of course on par with Half-Life 2 since Portal runs on the Source Engine. The turrets and the portal weapon look slick and the mousehole-like sections of the maps, where other test subjects have written prison-esque things on the walls, sometimes pointing you in the correct direction, work well.
Sound in Portal is what really enhances the dark undertones and really creates the humor in the game. From the deadpan humor of GLaDOS to the singing turrets to the ending credits song, this game would really not be the same without the music, voice-acting, and sounds.
|"...this game would really not be the same without the music, voice-acting, and sounds."
I was completely impressed with Portal
. It’s a great game that’s innovative, fun, and contains a humorous storyline. My only real complaint was that it was too short, and I want more. Thankfully, Kimberly Swift, lead designer behind the game, confirmed a sequel
at the end of February. If you’re desperate and aren’t able to wait that long, there are add-on maps out on the internet that are available. The new folks at Valve have come up with a great idea that has been successfully implemented. As the fantastic ending credits say: “This was a triumph. I’m making a note here – huge success!”