Grab your companion cube and a slice of cake and jump back to 2007 with Victoria to take a look back at Valve’s physics-based puzzle masterpiece, Portal.
Back in the good old days of 2007, after backlash from fans about the wait for game developers Valve’s episodic masterpiece Half Life 2: Episode 2, Valve set a few of their guys to make two extra games to bundle in with it as ‘We’re sorry this is so late’ gifts – Portal and Team Fortress 2. All three games were released under The Orange Box alongside the original Half-Life and Half-Life 2: Episode 1, Portal however took on a life of its own. Almost immediately Portal receiving more critical acclaim than the game it was apologizing for and quickly created a whole cult fan base of its own.
As you may know, in Portal you play as Chell, a voiceless, mostly faceless first person heroine. As the game begins, you are awoken in a stasis chamber and given a minute or two to muck about in the room and trust me as childish as it may seem, breaking the mug on the floor and dropping the clipboard into the toilet will never not be fun no matter how many times you replay the game.
You’re instructed by a friendly informative voice to step through the orange portal provided to the test chamber and then the fun really begins… Through a series of fun yet super challenging physics puzzles you’re told the story of how Aperture Science Ltd. quickly turned to ruin. After filling Aperture Enrichment Center with paid subjects to test new and upcoming projects, Aperture created GLaDOS, an AI operating system to assist in running the testing facility, soon however GLaDOS became sentient and, after uninstalling her own morality program, she became homicidal and killed all Aperture Science employees via neurotoxin gas.
You and Chell learn all of this information through innovative gameplay, smart and well-timed dark humor and, frankly, a genius plot. Gameplay consists of a 16 ‘test chambers’ with amazingly well designed physics puzzles using only your Aperture Science Handheld Portal Device, gravity and the rules of perpetual motion to solve most of them. Your Portal Gun shoots one blue portal on a surface of your choosing and then shoots another linked orange portal at another surface, no matter the distance between them and this allows you a way of literally walking through walls. The puzzles revolve around your Portal Gun and manipulating them to your will to move to the next chamber and they are the fantastic kind of puzzles that when you figure out the answer to the puzzle, you best feeling of unadulterated joy rather than feeling frustrated and angry.
The humor adds a whole different aspect and feeling to Portal as well. As a voiceless protagonist, you never hear Chell so much as grunt as she jumps to the humour derives entirely from fantastically dark and clever one-liners from GLaDOS as you progress – starting as a kind voice the follows and pushes you to crack the puzzles and finishing the game outright insulting Chell. GLaDOS’s deadpan delivery and the well timed jabs takes the already clever game to another level. It’s amazingly rare to see a game do humor so well and not just humor, proper intelligent dark humor.
All in all an excellent game! As it was originally a PC exclusive, I personally feel it works better with a mouse’s flexibility of movement and control, but the physics puzzle format was perfected in the game that it is still enjoyable on Xbox. The mechanics and game play still stand up today nearly 10 years later and the humor is still funny and still clever.