Portal Retro-Re-Review
April 03, 2019

So I accidentally wrote a second review of Portal for PC. I was so caught up in the idea of reviewing it I ignored the nagging in my head that I already had done so. Okay, so oops. Big deal. It was a good hit of nostalgia and a bit of perspective when I can compare it to the review I wrote less than two years ago. Consequently I'm posting it here since it's unseemly to try and do anything unethical.

Thankfully, this has the upside of making me aware of the fact that I haven't yet reviewed Portal 2 - and it gives me a little break from the Bomberman franchise. Expect the aforementioned review soon.


Portal (PC)

There are few joys one can easily recreate, especially for a player versed in so many genres, game mechanics and play styles. My range of experience is more typical of players these days, but I can say for sure that I’d never had the pleasure of a story driven 3D puzzle platformer before. My first exposure to Portal was on Xbox 360, where the controls perturbed me just long enough to be all but cast aside as a concern in the face of the drawl, humourless voice that has gone on to entrance millions.

After saying all that I got stuck on level thirteen, which sucked because everyone at the birthday party LAN (indeed) was enjoying my progress. I went home determined to pick up that title again, and several years later - after it had arrived on PC with Valve’s Steam - I had my chance. First things first, I found what is called a “longplay” now, and watched the entire thing through. That’s right, even the boss fight with GLaDOS. It wasn’t long after I got Steam and purchased the game.

Was I worried that knowing what to do would make it easier? No, I was excited by the prospect of doing it all myself! I didn’t remember the solution I’d seen for level thirteen, but I did figure it out. I didn’t even think of using the video as reference, either. So, what was it about Portal that enthralled this grizzled, callous thumbed player?

Well, let’s take a gander at Portal’s mechanics. This is a first person puzzler - since the gun you obtain shoots pellets that make holes in walls, not people or objects. These holes have limited but special properties: The pellets come in two colours and you can fire only two of each. When they hit a wall, a person sized oval appears and they become connected to each other like an invisible tunnel. That sounds mundane, but I didn’t give it a second thought: It was a new way of problem solving and incredibly fascinating.

How to traverse a toxic pit with no bridge? Create a portal on each side and step through! Oh, but that’s only half the story, because Valve was in top form as a developer on this project. A drawling, computerized female voice is your sardonic guide. She warns against obvious actions yet still prompts you to progress. She insults you but encourages you as you achieve success. She’s a traitorous mistress whose betrayal is not only inevitable but engrossing.

It’s no spoiler now to say that being “off the leash” is what elevates this game from a simple experiment to a timeless classic. The grey visual aesthetic is clean and sterile, but the story never betrays any hints of placement in time except with hints that tie into Half Life. Vibrant bursts of colour that alert you to lethal hazards like lasers, energy balls and the aforementioned toxic pits. Alone and confined to do GLaDOS’ will, there are hints that all is not well and your future uncertain. This is environmental storytelling at its best, and you feel like a clever rogue for getting the better of your deceptive nemesis-guide.

You are - in spite of all the mind games - encouraged to have fun with the portal gun and its extra-dimensional physics. Tutorial-like levels teach you to jump into a pit that will catapult you through the attached portal whilst retaining your momentum. As GLaDOS states, satirically, “Speedy thing goes in, speed thing comes out.” You’ll use that lesson to life saving effect in the late game, but there’s more to this narrative than just good game design. The world of Portal is more than texture deep, and players have spent years mining the meta of the environment that alludes to the truth behind the fate of the scientists who are conspicuously missing during the testing process.

Even the end game sequence poses questions as GLaDOS answers them rather blatantly by trying to kill you. Of course you have a chance to beat her, but why she gives you that chance is brilliantly interwoven into the story, and even into the sequel which fans like myself ate right up. Yes, a “retrospective” review is coming soon. Speaking of retrospective, how has Portal aged?

If there's any sort of downside to Portal in 2019, I would have to say that it's length may disappoint those seeking more from the experience. The good news is that Portal 2 is easily accessible and only slightly more demanding, hardware wise. It lacks polish that Portal 2 adds with improved shaders, but as a stand alone product would only disappoint those who don't enjoy the humour or style of play, in which case you're not at a loss for options.

Built in the Source Engine, this is not a demanding game, and thanks to the loving attention of Valve, it should run flawlessly on even integrated graphics hardware. It’s also one of those that routinely goes on sale, so it’s a wise investment, and should be affordable to acquire alone or in a bundle with its sequel. There has been some demand to increase the visual fidelity to meet the increased capabilities of modern graphics, but the framerate is never lacking, even if the texture detail isn’t quite up to 2019 standards.

On the subject of standards, Portal is not known for its soundtrack but rather for its end theme, which are pretty short to reach in terms of gameplay hours. The credits song is not only catchy as hell - sing along with me “Aperture Science, we do what we must, because we can” - but expositive as well. This is a thinking player’s game on all fronts: That is one of Portal’s great joys: That your intelligence and deductive reasoning skills are held in high regard, though the puzzles are not too challenging as an introduction to this new way of playing.

It is games like this that underscore why Valve was so lauded and celebrated as a publisher and developer. Not everyone is going to love GLaDOS’ dry, sarcastic wit, but millions of players haveand that leaves you with a large community to share the joy of your journey through these lovingly crafted “neglected” test chambers. I’ve literally exchanged quotes laughing my head off with people who delved into the mysteries of this masterpiece. This was the jump off point for games of this type because it executed perfectly on its mechanics, presentation and design, and deserves its place as one of the all time classics for the ages.

No game is perfect, but this one gets its score for top notch effort. (4.5/5)

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Masters Masters - April 03, 2019 (11:36 AM)
Maybe you can use this to buoy an Orange Box review for PS3.
hastypixels hastypixels - April 03, 2019 (03:38 PM)
I would but I don't have a PS3 anymore... I did have Orange Box for PC, but I let that go as well. I do own the games that appeared in those collections, so I could fake it... but... I think I'll just review Portal 2 and take it from there.
jerec jerec - April 03, 2019 (11:04 PM)
You can also update old reviews if you like. We've all done it, though not likely 2 years apart. Some of us have been at this for around 20 years, so opinions and writing skills can change so much that we do sort of overwrite our past selves.
hastypixels hastypixels - April 04, 2019 (05:02 PM)
That's not a bad thought jerec, thanks.

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