My review of the original puzzle game that started a whole new series. Enjoy!
Continuing Portal week, I take a look at the highly acclaimed and first entry to the series: Portal (1).
A Paladin’s Steam Review: Portal. The Game and Whatever Cake You May Find, Isn’t A Lie
- Genre: First Person Solo & Co-Op Puzzle Game
- Developed & Published by: Valve
- Platform Support: Windows, Mac, Linux, Android, Xbox 360 and PS3
- Business Model: Base Game
- Copy purchased by myself
Portal was included in the Orange Box, a package of titles that not only included the latest Half Life 2 episode but Valve’s new class based FPS title: Team Fortress 2. Portal was a new idea from Valve that they included in the box to see how much response it would get. I don’t think they counted on it being a cultural phenomenon. Portal was an unexpected surprise for gamers and a groundbreaking hit for Valve. Leading to memes, references and a whole new genre of gaming. For me to review this long afterwards the release is a little daunting. Will I say anything new or interesting? Well, I guess there’s only one way to find out. So, let’s take a look at the simply named: Portal.
Overall Gameplay Thoughts
Portal’s main mechanic is the portal gun, which shoots two portals creating doorways on portable surfaces. These allow the movement of objects to different places around the environment. Each environment is a series of rooms and chambers that you have to get past in order to progress forward. Usually, each room has an objective which ranges from putting a companion cube on a switch to delivering an energy orb to its collector. But there will be obstacles such as glass windows, unportable walls and more that will block your way. Your main objective is to figure out a way to use portals and the objects in the environment to get past the obstacles and move on to the next room.
There’s around 19 individual levels that contain their own unique objective or set of objectives for you to get past. How you achieve this is up to you. After the initial set of levels, which are designed to introduce you to Portal’s main mechanics, the game opens up and becomes more free-form, allowing more than one solution to each room. In all, it’ll take about a couple of hours to complete the game. Which I consider to be the right amount of content for what the game has to offer.
Puzzle Difficulty and Mechanics
Portal is probably the easiest entry into the series but its still a challenge for new players. Each puzzle is designed to build upon the previously introduced mechanic in new and potentially strange ways. It works to Portal’s advantage to prevent the player from being overwhelmed. There’s companion cubes, switches, energy pellets, acidic water pits, portal flinging and more. All of which gives you obstacles and objectives to keep you busy. Unfortunately, Portal lacks replayability. There isn’t much of a reason to replay the main campaign outside of listening to developer commentary or achievements. There are extra challenge modes in the bonus section to extend the game a little farther if you need just a little bit more out of the title.
Overall, I’d say Portal is easy enough to solve without needing to look up a guide but challenging enough to keep you guessing. It does a really good job of keeping each mechanic satisfying, subtly teaching you every step of the way on how to use the new mechanics. Much of the challenge I found with Portal (1) was with the portal flinging mechanic. Which is where you jump into portals and build your momentum up to reach new heights or portable areas. As it requires split-second decisions and mistakes are harshly punished (requiring you to reset the entire sequence over), it can be as frustrating as first person platforming. But it’s really my only complaint I have with it.
Story & Characters
The story is centered around the interactions of Chell, the protagonist you play as, and GLaDOS. The AI overlord whose only interest is “science” and Chell’s constant completion of the tests. She’ll make quips about your progress, comments about Aperture Science and a few humorous statements now and then. Which I like because we don’t get enough humor in games as-is. Well, not without it being over the top or forced. And don’t worry, no matter how good (or bad) you are at Portal. You’re still bad in GLaDOS’ eyes. But you get to live so long as you continue to work for the betterment of science. Chell has no choice but to continue the tests. All the while, looking for a way out of this rat’s maze. I should mention that Chell is a silent protagonist but the writing is done well enough to keep the story moving. It’s not exactly the most expansive plot or story but it’s simple and sweet in its own way. If you’re looking for a more complex/thrilling plot, there’s the sequel for that.
PC Settings, Visuals and Audio
Portal’s setting menu is very similar to Half Life 2 in look and function. There’s portal assisted aiming and rendering options. Mouse settings include sensitivity adjustments and acceleration if desired. The Keyboard can be fully rebound though most of the controls are standard. Controllers are supported as well with the option to adjust sensitivity and swap sticks. Audio sliders, speaker configurations, captions and there’s multiple languages to choose from.
Video options include, well, a lot of things. Model, Texture, Shader, Water and Shadow details can be set from low to high. There’s color correction too. Anti-aliasing mode has multiple settings including CSAA and MSAA from 2-16X. There’s also anisotropic up to 16X. V-sync is a simple enabled/disabled along with motion blur. Multi-core rendering is also featured as well as HDR and bloom. The field of view slider goes from 75 to 90 and while 90 is a bit on the skimpy side, it should be enough for most players.
Visually, Portal 1 has a slightly grimier and dirtier look than it’s sequel but still maintains a clean aesthetic. What impresses me about Portal is how good it still holds up after all this time. Even compared to its sequel. I have little doubt that Portal will continue to age incredibly well as the years go by. The soundtrack is ok, it’s an electronic set of tracks with a more atmospheric and computer-like feel to it. It’s not exactly the most memorable but it does work.
Portal is about thinking puzzles through, slowly and methodically while having moments of high-speed thrills. I prefer to think of Portal 1 as the shorter but sweeter predecessor to Portal 2. The game length is near perfect. Every puzzle has their place in the game and the difficulty ramps up at a steady, reasonable rate. Portal is good at introducing new mechanics, building upon those mechanics and reminding you subtly how they work. And there are some genuinely funny moments, which is all too rare in gaming. What still impresses me that Portal still holds up today, even after the sequel. I can’t think of a reason you shouldn’t play Portal 1 before getting into Portal 2. The ideas and game mechanics started here would go on to create a much better sequel and an entirely new genre. A genre that I think has only begun. For puzzle and FPS players, Portal is a good introduction to the series and genre and worth giving a go.
Thanks for reading!