Ads are gone. We're using Patreon to raise funds so we can grow. Please pledge support today!
Google+   Facebook button  Twitter button 
3DS | DS | PS3 | PS4 | PSP | VITA | WII | WIIU | X360 | XB1 | All
Portal (PC) artwork

Portal (PC) review


"For a game that toys with such an inventive idea, it gets it miraculously spot-on in one attempt. The whole thing is strikingly intuitive, meaning that within ten minutes you've grasped the fundamental concepts of the whole thing, and your progression is simply down to your thinking power. Solutions are often abstract or lateral, but never illogical, meaning there's a sense of reward for every one completed. The difficulty and complexity curves are handled brilliantly, with the introduction of the portals themselves coming a while before you get your hands on the fantastic portal device, and the puzzles themselves always a logical progression from the previous one. It's always fast-paced, always interesting, and always stupendously entertaining."



More than anything else, Portal is a breath of fresh air. A careless glance at the screenshots and developer information may initiate the wrong conclusions. Kings of FPS-creation, Valve Software, at the helm? Check. First-person viewpoint? Check. Big gun at the bottom of the screen? Check. Standard first-person action splatter, then? So very, very far off.

Portal, then, is basically the most involving and strangely emotive puzzle game ever created. The concept is blissfully simple: in the future, we can bend the properties of physics to create teleports in walls. In order to learn the properties of such sci-fi magic, we've come to a big science lab to complete a training course in the whole thing. This, much of which is lifted from a 2005 freeware game developed by a team now working for Valve, is literally the entirety of Portal's setup. Throughout the game's duration, not once will you come across another person. It's just you, in a big puzzle cube. What's so special? Two things, my friends. Two things.

Firstly, and most obviously, it just works. For a game that toys with such an inventive idea, it gets it miraculously spot-on in one attempt. The whole thing is strikingly intuitive, meaning that within ten minutes you've grasped the fundamental concepts of the whole thing, and your progression is simply down to your thinking power. Solutions are often abstract or lateral, but never illogical, meaning there's a sense of reward for every one completed. The difficulty and complexity curves are handled brilliantly, with the introduction of the portals themselves coming a while before you get your hands on the fantastic portal device, and the puzzles themselves always a logical progression from the previous one. It's always fast-paced, always interesting, and always stupendously entertaining.

Secondly Ė and this is the aspect that launches Portal past the realms of the 'good' and into the realms of the 'excellent' Ė there's a character. Just the one. Yes, we said earlier that you don't meet anyone else in the game. You don't, really. GLaDOS isn't a someone...

In spite of her digital nature, and in line with System Shock and the like, this bizarre artificial intelligence is one of the most brilliantly lavish characters I've met in a game in years. Despite the obvious parallels, GLaDOS isn't as deeply sinister and unnerving as 'Shock's SHODAN. She's just absolutely bonkers. Portal features some of the most memorably hilarious one-liners in videogaming history. This is a computer system that literally dangles cake in front of your nose to get you to follow her orders. You first notice something's a bit odd when she tells you, early on, "This puzzle is impossible to complete. Sorry. It's broken. Please exit the room." When, despite her suggestion, you solve it, she claims it to have been a test of how well you perform despite a lack of encouragement. It's bizarre.

Comically, it occupies similar territory to (oddball UK comedy series) 'The Mighty Boosh'. It's so inherently obscure and ridiculous that it becomes somewhat highbrow. However you perceive the bizarre story that unfolds, a hilarious and charming (if a little unsettling) tale of lies and betrayal, it's likely to have you creased up laughing at least once or twice. The ending sequence in particular is a stroke of genius. I didn't know whether to feel amused, angry, triumphant or ashamed. To say any more would spoil it, but it's oddly evocative stuff.

For those of you worried you may not ever reach the final scene, don't be. The game's only a couple of hours long - certainly no longer than three or four, even if you're crap at it. I've still not decided whether this is a positive or negative point. Any longer and the repetitive environments and tasks could certainly have become dull. But two hours is disappointingly short. The only compromise I can think of would have been to twist the story into something a little more sprawling and epic, but when it's this strange already, that might have caused problems in itself.

And that's it. That's the only thing remotely wrong with Portal. As gamers, we all look for something different in our entertainment, and perhaps Portal doesn't move in the right circles for some to consider it one of gaming's truly great achievements. But that's no real criticism. Portal is a wonderfully solid romp through a variety of well-conceived puzzles, a chance to be both guided and taunted by one of the most memorable characters in the history of gaming. It's absolutely bizarre and totally ridiculous. It's equally fantastic.

Rating: 8/10

Lewis's avatar
Freelance review by Lewis Denby (August 04, 2008)

A bio for this contributor is currently unavailable, but check back soon to see if that changes. If you are the author of this review, you can update your bio from the Settings page.

More Reviews by Lewis Denby
Resident Evil: Operation Raccoon City (PlayStation 3) artwork
Resident Evil: Operation Raccoon City (PlayStation 3)

A dismally unimaginative co-op shooter, coupled with a half-finished idea for an intriguing competitive component. Play it in either mode and youíll be bored or irritated within minutes.
To the Moon (PC) artwork
To the Moon (PC)

Its retro graphics look beautiful. The original soundtrack is utterly stunning. Its story is one of the most confident and grown-up that our medium has ever seen. Donít approach To the Moon expecting taxing puzzles or combat or stats, because that isnít what itís about. It is its own thing: an indie adventure a...
Unreal (PC) artwork
Unreal (PC)

As a first-person shooter, itís incredibly competent. Quake 2 might have had the tempo, and Half-Life the suspenseful pacing, but Unreal had the variety and the challenge. Its weapons drew criticism for feeling weak and weedy against the Skaarj oppressors, and itís a fair comment. They often do. Bu...

Feedback

If you enjoyed this Portal review, you're encouraged to discuss it with the author and with other members of the site's community. If you don't already have an HonestGamers account, you can sign up for one in a snap. Thank you for reading!

board icon
Halon posted August 05, 2008:

Good review. I pretty much agree with this one (though I would be a bit harsher, maybe a 7); it's definitely a breath of fresh air and was a lot of fun for the hour and a half it lasted. The problem was that was it's short and the replay challenges were pointless, since the game's creativity comes from the uniqueness of the levels and not skill challenges.

Here's hoping the next installment is deeper and takes more than a fee hours to complete!
board icon
EmP posted August 05, 2008:

There's too much FPS love around this site right now. This needs changing.

Let's talk about Doom 3.
board icon
dagoss posted August 05, 2008:

I thought the length was perfect. The pacing simply couldn't have endured another hour. I also think that replaying it for the story, and not for the challenges, is entirely plausible, insofar as I have replayed it half a dozen times for just that occasion. It's a game people will remember and talk about years from now, which is more than can be said of most other games these days.
board icon
Lewis posted August 05, 2008:

"too much FPS love..."

Portal isn't, by any stretch of the imagination, a first-person shooter. It's a first-person puzzle-em-up adventure game.

Yes, I have invented this genre right now.
board icon
Halon posted August 05, 2008:

I agree that the formula couldn't have worked for much longer but as it was it's too short. Hopefully Valve will come up with a way to make the concept fun for 5-8 hours with Portal 2.
board icon
bluberry posted August 05, 2008:

I liked the extra challenges. some of them, anyway, trying to do it with the least portals was great and doing it fast was ok, but the "least steps" one got a bit lame.

You must be signed into an HonestGamers user account to leave feedback on this review.

Info | Help | Privacy Policy | Contact | Links

eXTReMe Tracker
© 1998-2014 HonestGamers
None of the material contained within this site may be reproduced in any conceivable fashion without permission from the author(s) of said material. This site is not sponsored or endorsed by Nintendo, Sega, Sony, Microsoft, or any other such party. Portal is a registered trademark of its copyright holder. This site makes no claim to Portal, its characters, screenshots, artwork, music, or any intellectual property contained within. Opinions expressed on this site do not necessarily represent the opinion of site staff or sponsors.