Just about everything regarding this game has been said.
- Clever hybrid of FPS mechanics in a well-designed physics puzzler
- Excellent puzzles throughout, with several genuinely brainteasing ones
- Some of the best writing in video games
- Short and sweet, with the option to play user-created puzzles to enhance your post-game experience
- An excellent hybrid of story, graphics, and gameplay that makes it both unique yet familiar
- Regarded by many as the greatest game ever made
- Any and all bonus puzzles are missing the story element, which is a main draw
- Lengthy intro tutorial can be tedious on repeat playthroughs
- Ending 1/4 can resort to "find the one object I can put a portal on"
- Spawned some awful internet memes we still can't get over
Unlike most of my other reviews, this one almost seems redundant
How do you review Portal? By this point in the game, I'm fairly certain anyone who has even a remotely serious interest in video games has played it or at least heard of it, and knows already of its quality. But since it is my goal to review every game I've ever played, let's talk about Portal for a bit and why it is such an excellent game. And why, if you haven't played it, you really need to fix that ASAP.
Portal was a pack-in with The Orange Box, a 2007 collection of all of Valve's best game as well as a few new ones. The pack already had the transcendental Half Life 2, as well as the two Episodes to follow. Team Fortress 2, the cartoony follow-up to Team Fortress, was also a big push (and is still a massive PC shooter to this day, probably the most popular PC shooter). Then we had this other game...Portal. How did that get in there? I remember my roommates talking about it but having no incentive to play it. The concept seemed cool enough I guess, but you don't shoot or kill anything and Valve was hardly pushing it so...why waste time on a pack-in?
It wasn't until I saw my friend playing through the last few test chambers that I realized I couldn't stop watching. And if I kept watching I'd spoil my experience of playing Portal, as a puzzler is only as good if you don't know all the answers. So I booted it up and proceeded to ditch all my college classes to burn through it the first time. And man...I was impressed.
Who needs school when you can think in portals?
Portal was (and still is) a complete package. There are three fundamental elements that (I think) make Portal special. 1. Its clever writing and script, that starts off as just background noise and quickly evolves into its own beast. 2. Its unique premise and game mechanic: the titular "portals," which follow the laws of physics and force you to think according to their twisted logic 3. It's briefness and dedication to creating a whole, complete experience without attempting to pad the length. In these three aspects, one could arguably compare it to Braid (or compare Braid to Portal rather, seeing as Portal came first) seeing as everything just pulls together perfectly. It makes an experience that is - again - a bit short, but the quality of those several hours you'll spend with it are so memorable you'll want to replay it again just to catch things you might have missed. That, in a nutshell, is a sign of an excellent game: wanting to go back and play it again immediately after beating it. Added bonus that it's a puzzle game, so you'll already know all the solutions if you run through it again. And still don't care.
This screenshot is a spoiler.
So anyway, what do you do in Portal? If you've somehow managed to avoid any knowledge of this blockbuster game, here's the gist: you shoot portals. Portals allow instant transport from one location to another. Put one portal next to you and another across a pool of acid, then just walk through and you'll be on the other side. The trick comes in momentum and physics: jump down from a high height into a portal on the floor, and you'll go flying out sideways through one on the wall (over obstacles, etc.). It's a simple mechanic (one that is added upon with buttons, boxes, and dangerous turrets) that carries the whole game through. Aside from a rather long tutorial at the beginning, most puzzles are presented without hint or explanation, meaning you'll have to get your thinking cap on from the get-go.
Portal would have just been another puzzler with a unique mechanic if they hadn't gone all out and injected a hefty dose of personality into the game. What do I mean? I mean having the killer death-turrets say silly and polite things in high-pitched robot voices at you while they try to kill you (or when you kill them by knocking them over). I mean having a persistent voice-over by a malevolent female robot voice that starts off friendly enough but quickly devolves into a malicious AI. Add hidden secrets for those who look, hints that things might not be all they seem. Add hints that there should be a story here, but it's buried so deep under the whole "testing" premise (and since you are technically trapped regardless) you as a player will have to imagine or straight up fabricate your own perceived backstory. Cap it off with a final confrontation that manages to be both hilarious and intimidating, and an ending song that is somehow both extremely out of place yet fits in perfectly.
The phrase that spawned a thousand memes
It's the combination of the little things that make Portal great, and the fact that they all synergize so wonderfully together. To be completely honest, I think Valve did it completely on accident. Reading the background on how Portal was designed, they actually didn't spend as much time working on it as many people think, and I'm willing to bet a lot of the humor and the game's most endearing moments were crafted that way accidentally. You certainly don't plan a sleeper hit.
Regardless, that's why Portal is great: it doesn't strive to be anything aside from a cute, quirky puzzler dedicated to its aesthetic, script, and theme. And since you rarely get a game these days that does every aspect right (the story, the script, the gameplay, the unifying aesthetic) everybody latched onto it and it got massive amounts of (rightful) praise. It's one part gameplay puzzler, one part a piece of hilarious entertainment, and one part just an experience. It's a ride worth taking multiple times to find all the secrets and clever little things they added in. It goes to show that you don't need a big budget or killer graphics to create something people love, you just need to put a little heart into it.
As it stands, I could gush about Portal all day, but the point is this: it is exactly as phenomenal as everybody has been saying since 2007. Yes, really. And if you play video games and haven't played Portal, than shame on you. It's a short experience (maybe 2-3 hours on a first playthrough, more if you really suck at puzzles) but an excellent one, one that will stick with you for a while to follow. Plus, if anything, then you can play the (arguably better, though for different reasons) Portal 2 without fear of not getting it.
So this review did end up being kind of pointless. Whatever. Portal is great. It is, again, an excellent example of how the little things in a game (or almost any media) can all work together to create something fantastic. So go play it and enjoy the ride. Or go play it again. Just...play it. You really should.
Considering Valve has literally given this game away on PC multiple times. On XBLA you can get it and some bonus puzzles for $10, but considering the low system specs and ability to download puzzles, the PC is the way to go.
Easy five out of five stars. Excellent game.
And of course this is gonna show up now.