Saturday, May 22, 2010
8.5 - [Excellent]
Publisher: Valve Corporation
Developer: Valve Corporation
Console(s): PC, XBLA
Reviewed on: PC
ESRB rating: Blood, Mild Violence
BMR rating: Blood, Mild Violence
Mind-blowing portal system - Fantastic puzzles - Causes players to think in new ways- Humorous and well-told story - Convincing atmosphere - GLaDOS - Portals are super cool!
Not so good points:
It's very rare that an entire game can be carried by a single concept; a concept that, at first glance, appears to be akin to a gimmick. However, the aptly-named Portal has such a brilliant mechanic going for it, you'll be thoroughly entertained from start to finish, even if the end does approach all too soon. It's not just the portal system that keeps things interesting, though: ridiculously clever level design, an interesting story, and hilarious writing sets Portal apart from the crowd. In fact, there's never been anything like Portal before.
After the stage is set, putting you in control of a nameless subject in a sterile company's testing center, you soon gain control of the Aperture Science Handheld Portal Device (or, if you don't feel like wasting your breath, the portal gun). The smooth, polite, disembodied voice of GLaDOS will guide you through your exercises, which is where most of the game's wonderfully dark humor comes from. Without spoiling too much, the story more or less feels like a slow descent into madness as you uncover terrible truths and wander the giant Aperture Science complex looking for cake. The atmosphere is foreboding as it provides a strange mixture of state-of-the art technology with total abandonment... except for GLaDOS. She is always watching.
Luckily, as previously mentioned, you have your portal gun to help you out. You can fire either a blue portal or an orange portal, but can only have one of each active at once. Portals can stick to most flat surfaces and are just large enough for you to hop through. The really crazy this is that they act as doorways to each other: walking into one will lead you out the other. For example, if you fire your orange portal to a place you can't currently reach, and then fire your blue portal at a nearby wall, you can walk right through the blue one and come out through the orange one, transporting you right up to that unobtainable spot. It works both ways, of course, so you could walk right back through the orange one and end up back on the ground. This simple technique allows for infinite player creativity, and forces you to think in entirely new ways.
If a picture if worth a thousand words, why am I even bothering to write this blog?
Finding new, inventive ways to use the portals is half the fun. You can use your forward momentum to send yourself flying through one portal and out the other; you can fire portals around the room, using them as portable portholes to get a better view of a dangerous situation; you can trap a deadly turret in a perpetual free-fall between two open portals. Anything you can think up (as long as the terrain permits it) goes. The levels are expertly designed in every possible way, always making you think without ever becoming frustrated. I'm no puzzle game mastermind, yet every time I got close to really getting stuck, I had an "AHA! I'll try THIS crazy idea!" moment It's insanely gratifying to think outside of the box and see your wacky plot actually work. New ideas are continuously thrown your way as the challenge ramps up along a perfectly paced arc, and there are plenty of twists to keep you on your toes.
The game looks and sounds great. Ambient music keeps things feeling creepy and technological, and the visuals are shiny and detailed. Everything on the surface has a very rounded and disinfected look, but the pockets that reveal the inner workings of Aperture Science paint a very different picture. This contrast becomes a fascinating artistic and plot device. The voice acting-- specifically GLaDOS'-- is topnotch, and the mysterious computerized voice delivers many laugh-out-loud snippets of dialog. At times I felt like I was actually trapped in a bizarre testing center, running around and trying to stay alive; and that's special.
Now there's something for you to think about
The only problem? The game is short; short like an under-grown Ewok, you could even say. Even at my rather leisurely pace, I finished the game in several hours. Replaying the levels is entertaining, but most of the magic is taken out once you know how to solve all the conundrums. There are some advanced maps and challenges to complete, which ramp up the danger level and give you certain objectives to complete, respectively. These bonuses are a fun and difficult diversion, but they obviously don't hold a candle to the story mode. Portal is easily worth the asking price, but it's a short-lived experience. Other minor flaws include some bumpy rides through portals every now and then and some messy physics here and there, but they hardly amount to anything worth worrying about.
Portal is an outstanding accomplishment. It offers some of the greatest puzzles known to mankind and presents its package with style, humor, and sophistication. It never lets up as it constantly shows you funny and interesting ways of playing a game. If only it was more lasting, Portal really would have exceeded all boundaries. It's exciting to think what else Valve could do with the extremely innovative portal gun in the future; it seems like they've only scratched the surface of the fascinating little device. I'm sure many of us await the sequel with baited breath, but in the meantime, I can certainly say one thing for sure: this is a triumph.