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Portal (PC) artwork

Portal (PC) review

"The only real drawback of this adventure is that you’ll have a lot of questions that can only be answered by its sequel."

I got into Portal backwards. Everyone was singing that song, and there was some noise about a scary sentient computer, and then Chell. I still don’t know what half of it all means, and it’s unlikely we’re ever going to learn what became of her in the “smash-hit” sequel. At least Valve at the sense to sew up the storyline with a healthy dose of multiplayer awesomeness. Or so I hear; the rumours have been thick with this now classic simulation-puzzler.

YouTube was my vector into the story and gameplay of Portal. Yes, I watched the entirety of it, straight on to the ending. I spoiled the whole thing and still wanted in. Perhaps the cake was a lie, but Portal is brilliant and eminently playable. It wasn’t long before I got into Steam and bought it. This was my introduction to the world of digital downloads, and my unmitigated acceptance of the intangible distribution system. In the 1990s the idea was strange, but when it went mainstream ten years later, Portal was my Killer App and I was glad for the transition.

To say the voice acting and storytelling is exceptional is a vast understatement. Portal turned out to be vicariously connected to another fascinating world full of lore and possibilities. I was drawn into the mythos of Portal as much as I was its gameplay. Which, by the way, are deceptively simple, as all great role playing action puzzle simulation games are. That’s not a genre, I just made that up.

In Portal, you are a testing associate, guided by a slightly insane sounding female AI to complete tests. In boxes. (Also with boxes.) Lasers, pools of poisonous water, sweet talking bullet slinging turrets, companion cubes and incinerators are all your obstacles and solutions. There is a holistic learning curve to each puzzle, with each successive challenge adding another dimension that you must incorporate into your computing.

By the time everything goes awry, you’ll be flinging yourself incredible distances with little to no regard for physics, dropping boxes on turrets, and dodging bullets like a military android. Not that you’ll be congratulating yourself. You’ll be much too preoccupied paying close attention to GLaDOS’ misdirections and veiled threats. Before soon they’re not so veiled and you’ll have broken out of the box and will be puzzling for your continued existence. Because GLaDOS will be trying to kill you in a curious way that holds enough fascination for its sequel.

What makes Portal work so well isn’t the fluidity of the puzzles, or the even difficulty curve and beautifully executed plot twist. It’s the storytelling. All the while playing with portals to reach ever more dubious goals, you’re working to satisfy your own curiosity. Who are you? Why are you doing this? Who built all this? Valve invented a genre when they released Portal. Nothing like it had ever been done before.

Now we have games like Q.U.B.E., Five Nights at Freddies, Gone Home and every walking simulator to trek its way into players lives. Where would the industry be without Valve? Who knows, but I’m certainly grateful for Portal. The only real drawback of this adventure is that you’ll have a lot of questions that can only be answered by its sequel, Portal 2.

My appreciation for Portal can be summed up in one of those rare moments you have with a total stranger. You quote GLaDOS, and then for the next ten minutes you’re both spouting lines you’ve memorized because the game was just that much of a delight. Then you spend the next twenty gushing about how awesome it all was. There’s a reason this one’s a classic folks, and it’s better experienced than explained. Take my word for it.

hastypixels's avatar
Community review by hastypixels (September 21, 2017)

At some point you stop justifying what you play and begin to realize what you're learning by playing.

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