Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Portal: I’m Late to the Party and the Cake’s All Gone

I had heard of Portal a long time before it was released, probably before most people, in fact.  My friend told me about a group of students at DigiPen who had created a small game known as Narbacular Drop.  It featured you as a princess trying to make her way out of a dungeon full of puzzles with a pair of magic mirrors you could travel through.  I found it, played it, and loved it.  It was simple, yet had a great feel to it and the portal puzzles were a really cool thing to experience.  I was also told that Valve had grabbed these students and begged them to help them make a proper game out of it.  Naturally, I was intrigued.  That must have been 2005 or so.  It is with some regret that I have to admit that 6 years later, I have only just played through Portal.  I started it last night and completed it today, finishing in about 4 hours.  It was fantastic, and everything I had hoped Portal to be, but I feel a little bit underwhelmed by the whole thing.  Not because the game wasn’t challenging and great fun, but because Portal 2 is on the same computer I was playing on.  From being a year ahead of the party, I’ve finally arrived several years late.  Still, it is without doubt worth talking about.
You could place mirrors through mirrors too, which was pretty awesome

Portal, if you haven’t heard, is a physics-based puzzle game where you progress through a computer-monitored testing facility for a portal generating device.  A pair of linked portals serves as your tool for solving the puzzles, as stepping through one brings you out of the other, wherever it may be.  This can often lead to some disorientation if your exit is upside-down or on the ceiling.  The only voice in the entire game is that of GLaDOS, the intelligent computer overseeing the test.  Suffice to say, she is fully justified with her place at the top end of various lists for best video game villains of all time.  The first half of the game consists of a series of puzzles which explore the many mechanics of the portal device and the testing facility.  The second half of the game, you can find out for yourself.
The world is simple, but you can't say it doesn't look good

Graphically, the game is excellent.  No real issue there, although while the nasty death acid is all right to look at, falling into it is a thoroughly disappointing final seconds of visual, as they simply did not bother to do anything under the surface.  The controls handle well, and before too long you’ll find yourself flying through the air with the greatest of ease, as it were.  And wondering which portal you were supposed to place.  I think I definitely had an advantage for having played through Narbacular Drop many times all those years ago.  Most of the first half of the game required very little thought, though one or two did stump me for a while.

The concept and the gameworld, however, are Portal’s shining glory.  Portal travel is fantastic, and the sense of humour is phenomenal.  Every stage of the game is full of sarcasm, jokes, outright lies, love, loss, and the constant promise of cake.  When a game turns the machine-gunning sentry drones into adorable creations which you almost regret defeating, you know you’re playing something special. for some voice clips.

I do wish the game had been longer.  It really is rather short.  However, there are bonus maps which I have not played through, and I understand the Portal 2 is significantly longer, although not by much.  Perhaps again, it was because I had played the predecessor.  Still, as it stood, Portal flowed well.

It is such a shame that it has taken me so long to play this game.  However, I am thrilled to have finally managed it.  Portal is fantastic, and I can’t wait to try out Portal 2 tomorrow...


  1. I actually just finished playing through Portal 2 on Monday. If you're interested in the mechanics there, you should try Tag: The Power of Paint, another Digipen project that inspired Portal 2 in the same way Narbacular Drop did for Portal

  2. I'm just over halfway through Portal 2 now. I will look that up though, thanks!