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Portal Review Rewind

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On 05/17/2011 at 07:46 PM by Chessa DiMola

This game was a triumph. I'm making a note here: HUGE SUCCESS. It's hard not to overstate my satisfaction.

Everyone must play this game...for science.

Back nearly four years ago, if you had asked me about Portal, I would have merely shrugged. It wasn’t that the game concept didn’t seem interesting, it was really the fact that I had two generations worth of games to catch up on and, more importantly, it was on the computer.

Now, after years of stubbornly refusing to play it on the computer, I have finally tackled the critically acclaimed game. I ended my journey with two thoughts: that Portal was really good, but not flawless by any means, and that I suck at playing games on the computer.

Before I tear my non-existent computer playing skills a new one, let’s first discuss my Portal experience. Now, I have to admit that I might have inadvertently…OK, deliberately, screwed myself over in terms of enjoyment potential with Portal. How did I do this you may ask? Well, I played the entire co-op quest in Portal 2 before starting the original game.

We’ll ignore the fact that Nick forced me to play through Portal 2’s co-op. Even though I cried and begged him not to make me do such a thing for fear of ruining the original, he persisted. Bastard.

After conquering the expansive and ridiculously fun, yet difficult set of challenges provided by Portal 2’s co-op quest, I was armed with detailed knowledge of Portal’s mechanics. Needless to say, after spending hours solving head-scratching puzzles there, the first 90% of Portal flew by in a flash.

Now, I know I just stated this, but I really should expand my point. The co-op challenges in Portal 2 are hard, but they’re also way harder than anything players will encounter in the original game’s quest. So by the time I started playing Portal from the beginning, it was like going from scaling Mt. Everest to climbing a flight of stairs (hooray for hyperbole!).

Regardless, Portal was still a fantastically fun experience for a puzzle enthusiast like myself, and I’m quite happy that I decided to go through with playing it before taking on the single player quest of its sequel.

It’s just so refreshing to experience something new in an age where gaming can sometimes feel a bit, been-there-done-that. Portal really is an all-encompassing gaming experience that has multiple facets of what makes it fun.

First, let’s talk about the puzzles. A girl walking around white rooms with a gun that shoots portals, which she walks through in order get from point A to point B. Honestly, that’s really what I thought Portal was. No one told me I was going to be constantly, and fantastically, insulted by a bitter controlling robot the entire time, falling multiple stories in order to launch myself across pits of dangerous liquid, dodging snippy talking turrets, controlling the path of lethal electricity balls, and stumbling upon the cryptic messages of an apparent escapee.

Speaking of the messages, what exactly is up with them? At some point in the game, when GLaDOS tried to kill me by incineration, I began following these creepy wall writings in the hopes of escaping Aperture’s testing facility and demented controller. These messages all seemed to hint at something bigger, but the entire subplot never went anywhere. Look Valve, I don’t like to be teased, so next time you want to put some interesting sub-plot line hinty stuff around your game, follow through with it. It’s like the game equivalent to a di….uh, never mind.

Alright, back to the topic of puzzles. While I found every one of the puzzles to be very well thought out, I did have a problem with the manner in which certain ones were executed. More specifically, I’m referring to twitch puzzles, which require players to successfully perform a sequence of actions quickly, or repeat the entire set. Since many of these puzzles required exact aiming and lightening quick portal throwing, I found conquering certain challenges to be an awkward and frustrating task. Thankfully, these puzzles were all but removed from Portal 2, but that is a whole other discussion.

So, besides having the gameplay experience dulled down after becoming a Portal master in 2’s co-op quest, and pouting over the unexplained sub-plot, I loved my Portal experience. Though the initial testing areas made the game feel a bit too cold and structured, escaping through the backend of Aperture was thrilling.

I am happy to say that after all these years I honestly had no idea what to expect from the game. So, when Portal quickly transitioned from unique puzzle game to an adventure revolved around escaping, I was ecstatic. Considering the game's short-length, it’s unfortunate that Portal takes so long to transition, since it really springs to life once the testing area portion of the game is completed.

Despite really liking Portal itself, I really, REALLY disliked playing it on the computer. Ever see a baby painfully struggle to do a really simple every day task? Yeah, that was the equivalent of me trying to play this game for the first few hours. Although I was horribly awkward with the keyboard and mouse, nothing frustrated me more than the constant game glitches.

To be fair, I was playing Portal on a terribly outdated Mac that could barely run the game for fifteen minutes without stuttering into a painful lag sequence. Because of this, I’m not quite sure whether or not many of the problems I encountered were legitimate game issues.

Clipping errors caused enemies to target and shoot my character when they otherwise shouldn’t have been able to, I was unable to shoot portals on walls where they should have opened up on, and for a long while there was a significant delay in the portals opening up after they were shot.

The most unfortunate repercussion of playing Portal on our inadequate computer was that it rendered the final boss battle nearly unplayable. All of GLaDOS’ snarky comments went unheard and the lag…sent…me…over…the…edge. Thankfully, I eventually outsourced the final boss battle to Nick, and was able to enjoy watching GLaDOS get blown to bits. Afterwards, I was treated to the fantastically entertaining Still Alive ending score, and finally had my first glimpse of the delicious cake my character was promised throughout the whole game. I do hope she was able to have at least one tiny slice.

Thus was the end of my Portal experience, and I say with absolute honesty, what the hell took me so long? Had I known what an incredible play experience it would be I would have practiced my “W” “A” “S” “D” and space bar controls years ago. For any of you stragglers out there who have yet to check Portal out, I order you to do so strongly urge you to experience it for yourself. There’s little excuse, really. While I suffered through playing it on the Mac/PC, you can easily grab the Orange Box on either the PS3 or Xbox 360 and enjoy the game with a familiar controller. Plus, you’ll get the entire Half Life 2 experience, which Nick tells me shouldn’t be missed. *Sigh*, guess I better get used to this keyboard…

Until then, it’s on to Portal 2 for me, where there are experiments to run and research to be done, on the people that are still alive.

Review Policy

In our reviews, we'll try not to bore you with minutiae of a game. Instead, we'll outline what makes the game good or bad, and focus on telling you whether or not it is worth your time as opposed to what button makes you jump.

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A game that gets this score is fundamentally broken and should be avoided by everyone.



Jason Ross Senior Editor

05/17/2011 at 08:00 PM

I know I'm going to comment more about Portal 2 and less about Portal, but I found the absence of the puzzles that require precision timing makes it a great single-player social game.

Chris played through the single-player of Portal 2 on Monday, and while I was goofing off doing other things, I also had to help him get past just about every other puzzle.

Now we just need a new Adventures of Lololo. There's no humor in it, which is definitely a major aspect of Portal's charm, but it's an awesome puzzle game.

Joaquim Mira Media Manager

05/18/2011 at 01:23 AM

I can't remember how many times I played through Portal on the XBox 360. It was such a delight to play it.

Half-life 2 was good, but it got so much better with each episode. Episode 2 was fantastic.

Who's up for some Team Fortress 2? lol

Nick DiMola Director

05/18/2011 at 08:36 AM

I agree Joaquim, Portal is an absolute delight and it remains one of my all-time favorite gaming experiences. Believe it or not, I bought the Orange Box specifically for Portal and thankfully it turned out as great as I imagined it would.

I'm glad that Valve decided to break off Portal into its own series and I only hope that if they decide to continue it past 2, they can keep it as fresh, funny, and enjoyable as the first was.

I think what this game did exceedingly well is immersion. It's not often that games can actually accomplish this task, but at the point where you escaped GLaDOS and were going through the innards of Aperture, the game completely hooks you.

It's amazing really. You find yourself shortcutting through some of the same test chambers you had already completed. It creates the feeling of true escape in spite of the fact that it's completely scripted. The final boss fight with GLaDOS was also a real joy the first time through because it was so unconventional.

I do find it funny that Chessa didn't like the first half of the game. It really highlights how far Portal 2's co-op takes you in terms of puzzle solving and inventive solutions. However, without that knowledge, even the first few test chambers were a bit mind-blowing the first time through for me. Obviously I felt the game really picked up halfway through, but up till then I was having a blast going through each test chamber, solving the extremely unconventional puzzles.

Man, all of this talk of Portal makes me pine for a second playthrough of Portal 2...

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