When Portal released in 2007, it was a great day for gaming and internet memes. The hit first person puzzle-platformer quickly gained speed and won numerous awards for its innovative gameplay and clever writing. It was intended to be a test product released alongside the other, less risky, offerings in The Orange Box, Valve was greatly surprised by the game’s critical acclaim. It quickly became a staple to which other puzzle platforming games were compared, and continues to be today.
Portal starts off innocently enough, as you play a newly awakened test subject in a small cell, prepared by the game’s overbearing AI GlaDOS to be thrust into various instructional tests. No reason is given for these tests, and none are really needed in context, as Aperture appears to be a company that works without anyone really knowing what is going on. As the test chambers go on, it becomes more and more clear that safety is not a primary concern of the facility’s staff, or the AI watching over you. Near the end, given a life or death decision, the player’s quick wits must help them find their way out of the facility and away from GlaDOS’s prying camera-eyes. It becomes apparent that Aperture’s staff is no more, and the now-rogue AI continued to run subjects through their paces in the name of “science”. The game climaxes in a well-thought-out final battle, and the ending is rather bittersweet, especially after the retro-active change in an update last year.
Portal’s graphics were rather nice for its time, with Valve’s tech allowing the player to see through the portals (and multiply this effect up to 9 times if their computer would allow, making for one heck of a tunnel), and giving them an interesting particle effect around the rim at that. The game overall had a very whitewash look to it, and later on, became grungy and industrial, and did both looks very well. Portal has a unique minimalistic style that does itself a favor by not cluttering any of the areas with confusing items that would confuse the player into trying to place a portal where one cannot be placed. Most portal-able and non-portal-able surfaces were stark compared to one another, and made for easy distinction so that noone would be confused and could focus on the puzzles themselves.
The puzzles are very mind bending, doing a good job of pacing the player through the game, adding and mixing game elements as they were introduced and taught, without pulling them out too quickly. The idea of “flinging”, “particle emancipation fields”, “weighted storage cubes”, and “supercolliding superbuttons” all fit together and are simple in scope, despite their obviously overzealous names. Much of the game is a prelude, teaching the player how to do all of the various “tricks” before finally putting all of the skills they have learned to the test.
Overall, Portal was an excellent addition to the Orange Box, and had it been fleshed out to a longer length, it would have easily became a boxed product worth 40-50 dollars alone. Portal is “still alive” on Steam, both alone and with the Orange Box bundle, for $9.99 and $19.99 respectively. It is also included free with a copy of Portal 2 purchased through Steam before the sequel releases.