Neil Booth
19 Oct, 2007

Portal Review

PC Review | A hole lotta love.
It's no exaggeration to say that no-one really expected Portal to be this good. Go back a few months and the buzz was all about Team Fortress 2 and Episode 2, with Portal not seen as much more that a little throwaway treat that Valve were stuffing into a spare corner of The Orange Box. A few of us might have dabbled with Narbacular Drop (the student project that eventually became Portal) and been impressed with the game's neat ideas but not all that engaged by the experience. It's fascinating, then, to see what a year or two spent in the Valve machine can do. The basic portal mechanism of Narbacular Drop is obviously still there but Valve have taken it to such unexpected heights that it is figuratively and at times literally, dizzying.

The basic concept sees you carrying around a gun that is able to create portals on most (but not all) surfaces. The left button creates a blue portal, the right button an orange one. Step through one portal and you'll immediately emerge from the other. At its simplest, this means you can, for example, get to a unreachable platform by placing one portal in the wall behind the platform, another in the wall right in front of you and then just step through. Needless to say, it doesn't remain this basic for long and you'll soon find yourself having to twist your brain in various, pretzel-shaped ways to make progress.

The game casts you as a nameless subject caught in a testing facility run by the shady Aperture Science Laboratories. You are confronted with 19 different levels, each of which takes the portal concept to increasingly mind-bending places. Accompanying you though every level is the synthesised computer voice of GLaDOS, the AI monitoring your progress. GLaDOS, in the first of many strokes of Valve-related genius, is brilliantly funny as she offers encouragement while apologising for the frequently lethal nature of the tests you face. Some people have reported that the voice of GLaDOS was missing from their initial Steam installation of Portal, but this has apparently been fixed with the latest Steam update. So if you don't hear GLaDOS right from the start, restart Steam and it should sort itself out. You really don't want to play the game without GLaDOS.

Um... okay... almost got it...

Um... okay... almost got it...
Graphically, the game is clean and clear. There's a very strong Half-Life 2 feel to it all, which is not the least bit surprising seeing as it uses the Source engine and is set in the Half-Life universe. The testing facility, with its pristine white walls and rippled glass, looks very much like something Gordon and Alyx could have ripped through. While it's not built on the flashiest engine around, Portal presents an immersive and detailed world without obscuring vital puzzle-solving information with useless whizz-bangery.

The game does a great job of easing you into the intricacies of portal placement. It takes a few levels until you get your hands on a fully operational Portal Gun, so you're not just chucked in at the deep end. The difficulty curve is gently challenging, with each new level building on what's gone before. There are plenty of deeply satisfying Eureka! moments on making the required leaps in logic that will get you past seemingly impossible obstacles. The puzzles are never unfair or needlessly frustrating - the solution is always right there in front of you. A few instances require immediate problem solving in the face of sudden death and can seem absolutely insurmountable until the solution becomes apparent. Despite the FPS nature of the game, the answers are generally not twitch-based, so you'll have time to catch your breath and think of the next step. This is not to say that you won't be pulling off some truly spectacular stunts, or having to think on your feet from time to time. Bad decision making often results in death but the game's autosave usually brings you back very close to where you were before making the wrong move. Experimentation is encouraged rather than punished.

Up is down is left is right.

Up is down is left is right.
It'll take the average person roughly three hours to play through Portal - rumours that it took us six and half hours will be vigorously denied - which might seem a little short, but then this is not a game that could realistically stretch much longer, at least not without a lot of filler. As it is, Portal is the very definition of 'small but perfectly formed'. The inclusion of a number of advanced levels outside of the main campaign, and associated achievements, significantly extends the gameplay. There's also an option to import more levels as either the community or Valve release them. With a bit of luck, Portal will be a game to drop into for an hour or two for months to come. Considering that Portal can be picked up via Steam for just over AU$20, there's no question you'll be getting your money's worth. Odd as it may seem for a puzzle game, it's advisable to avoid all spoilers for the the game until you've finished it. There's a lot of neat stuff packed into the game and you'll be robbing yourself of some very special gaming moments if you know what's coming.

Portal is a compact game that manages to punch well above its weight. We're inclined to think that on some level, Portal might actually be good for you - anything that makes you think around corners like this must be exercising a few dormant mental muscles. Above all, though, it's way more fun than you might expect and at such a bargain price, Portal is a game you'd be mad to miss.
The Score
It's difficult to think of another action-puzzle game - first person or otherwise - that's as polished and enjoyable as Portal.
Looking to buy this game right now? PALGN recommends www.Play-Asia.com.

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6 years ago
Some people synced Portal without the skewed tones of GlaDOS?! Thats terrible! To think that there might be people out there that played through the game missing such a crucial part!

Portal is a special little game, it really is a fantastic example of good things coming in small packages. I think that the best thing about it is that it manages to reward you at every turn - not just from the satisfaction of completing a sneaky bit of portal management, but with humor, and a surprisingly well created and presented 'world'.
6 years ago
The game casts you as a nameless subject
i've always known the character to be called Chell. i don't know why i know her as such, but there you go.

i'd love to see Chell, the portal gun, and potentially GLaDOS turn up in HL2E3.

also - if you haven't already, check out www.aperturescience.com(.) it uses an old-school DOS-like interface, but if you login as cjohnson (Aperture's first CEO) you can see his marvelous tier3 plan for the company.

you can also view the questionnaire for Portal test applicants.

ok - to help people through the Aperture Science website, i'll list the keywords that give stuff that i've found.

Help - gives and amusing message
User - gives the username/login prompt. you can type any name then "Portal" as the password to get the applicant survey, or type cjohnson/tier3 for the CEO's terminal, which includes another option.
once logged in, you can type "DIR" to show the 2 further options - Note.exe and Apply.exe
Type "Note" to get a history of Aperture Science - this is damn funny.
type "Apply" to complete a questionnaire - also pretty funny.

let me know if you discover anything else.

(i tried entering the Lost numbers (they appear in HL2E2) but they did nothing.)
6 years ago
Great review, definitely has pushed me to now buy the game after work.

and nice little flash there Obs, though i'm not too sure what todo.
6 years ago
Oh, on the topic of awesome Portal flash stuff - Portal the Flash game!

It isn't official, but it is good for getting a Portal fix at work (and/or for those who haven't got the game).

I've had the Portal credits song stuck in my head ever since last night - I'm sitting here and all I can think about is Portal. I wouldn't be surprised if I start absent-mindedly scrawling barely legible musings about the Companion Cube on my cubicle wall anytime soon...
6 years ago
I hope to god there are no more delays.
6 years ago
^ Yeah I'm going to be really disappointed if Orange Box isn't out on Thursday, I doubt they will push it back again. Got to get Half Life 1 installed again so I can refresh my memory in time also.
6 years ago
8.5?!!11!!! Deserves 10 icon_wink.gif

Seriously though, this is my favourite game this year. I love how it integrates narrative into what has traditionally be a very bland genre. Perfect length, fantastic extras.
6 years ago
This is something I've always found wierd with reviews, there's never a lot of deviation in the numbers. See, if I were to review portal I'd probably give it about 3 for lifespan, I'd still give it 8.5 overall, but for those people looking for a game with a longer experience, they won't find it here.

Which brings me back to my original point, whenever I read reviews, regardless of the site or publication, all the numbers tend to be somewhere in and around the final score. Whereas I can think of plenty of games that really nail one particular aspect, but fall short everywhere else.

Meh, it's a minor greivance.
6 years ago
Portal does not deserve a 3 for the lifespan. More isn't always better. I think the length fits the game perfectly. The extra content add plenty of extra if you feel the need to go back for more and no doubt the endless list of mods coming out for it will fill the space even more. I haven't heard of anyone unsatisfied with Portal's length.
6 years ago
Lifespan is a measure of how well the game suits its length, its replayability etc. It is not a measure of how long a game is. We may comment on that in the Lifespan section, but the score is not higher=longer.
6 years ago
I'll admit I agonised - agonised, I tell ya! - over whether it was an 8.5 or a 9.0. If I could give it an 8.9 I'd be thrilled.

Why not a 9? It's one of those indefinable, subjective things that's impossible to really put a finger on. It's just not quite a 9 for me because it just, um, isn't. Whereas TF2 immediately was, without question. Maybe we should use the Second Opinion area of the reviews a bit more?

Anyway, I'd hate for anyone to think the game was being underscored with 'only' an 8.5, or even not worth getting because of that. What I feel about a game is always much more accurately reflected in the words than the score, and the words in the review hopefully convey just what a great little game it is.
6 years ago
Totally agree James. Playing through the Portal storyline, the length is just perfect- they've really hit a sweet spot. If it were 10 hours longer, and continually got harder, it would drive me to the point of frustration. Similarly, if the levels were just repeats of each other simply to extend the longevity, then we'd be getting sick of it due to repetitiveness.

Less is sometimes more, and particularly so in this case.

Now we can leave it to user creativity on the editor (which is usually really interesting and diverse) to have us return to portal from time to time.
6 years ago
Remember: the cake is not a lie.
It's delicious and moist.
6 years ago
The cake is a lie? What the heck is that? I've seen it all over the internet and yet I'm completely oblivious. Arrgh!! etc...

Actually, I don't want to know. Something tells me it is a type of awesomeness that needs to be sought out by oneself... I'm more anticipating finally figuring out what that means than anything else the Orange Box has to offer. I think that's sad, but I'm not sure.
6 years ago
assume the party escort position, and maybe we'll tell you.

6 years ago
^ I feel that is somehow relevant and yet... I get nothing.

The insanity is not a lie.
6 years ago
just play the damn game. icon_razz.gif
6 years ago
ObsoletE wrote
just play the damn game. icon_razz.gif
Seriously Cap, he's speaking the truth. Buy it, Play it, Love it.
6 years ago
It's being shipped to my door as I type this. At least I hope it is...

It was bad enough having to weather the Steam release. If this delivery takes it's time, I will go insane. And probably buy lots and lots of cake.
6 years ago
Capoeira wrote
It's being shipped to my door as I type this. At least I hope it is...

It was bad enough having to weather the Steam release. If this delivery takes it's time, I will go insane. And probably buy lots and lots of cake.
If the box that it is shipped to you talks, do keep in mind that boxes don't talk.

This game is quite possibly the best game I've played this year.
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