Developer(s) – Valve
Publisher(s) – Valve & Microsoft Game Studios
Developed by Valve, the creators of Half-Life and Team Fortress, Portal was released in 2007 as part is Valve Orange Box collection for both Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3. The game is actually the spiritual successor to an independently developed titled called Narbacular Drop, which was created by a group of students at the DigiPen Institute of Technology in Washington. The students were then subsequently hired by Valve’s Gabe Newell, who was impressed with Narbacular Drop, and they helped to developed one of the most innovative titles of the seventh generation; Portal. Although I found it hard to get into during my first playthrough some years ago, I recently played through the entirety of the game, and I was fairly impressed with it.
Graphics – 7/10
The game takes place in the fictional setting of Aperture Sciences Enrichment Centre, which is a science-fiction setting reminiscent of what Valve are synonymous for. There are a few things to make it stand out from the other here and there; for example, it seems to be a lot more eerily cleaner and organized than the likes of Black Mesa. But from a visual standpoint, where this game truly shines, and by proxy it’s sequel Portal 2, is in the many different hidden Easter eggs throughout the entirety of the game; many of these being hidden dens reputed to belong to Doug Rattman, who is an unseen character, but pivotal to the game’s back story and overall plot. There is also an Easter egg towards the end of the game featuring a projector presentation outlining how Aperture Sciences compete with Black Mesa, bringing the worlds of both Half-Life and Portal together.
Gameplay – 8/10
Portal is a game blurring the lines between first-person shooting and puzzle games. The objective is to complete a series of tests, which involve creating two different portals in order to get around and to solve conundrums throughout the game. What I really like about this game, and something I don’t think is seen of enough in the medium, is that it challenges players to think outside the box; to consider that there may be more than one way of getting around particular problems, and different ways in which the portals can utilized to do so. And although there is only one boss fight throughout the course of the game, even that makes for one of the most creative boss fights I’ve ever experienced.
Controls – 10/10
Developed by a company perpetuating the first-person shooting genre, there was nothing to suggest that there would ever be a problem with Portal’s controls scheme, and so there isn’t. With the help of the DigiPen student contributing the game’s portal-shooting premise, the game has made for one of the most imaginative titles not only of the seventh generation, but also in terms of gaming in general. Puzzle games have come and gone like Kurushi, which has challenged the conventional methods of playing video games, but it’s no easy task, and Portal did this flawlessly.
Lifespan – 2/10
The game’s biggest downside, however, is how disapprovingly short-lived it is; especially in comparison to many of Valve’s previous efforts. Though it’s nowhere near as short as Narbacular Drop, which can only be made to last ten minutes, if that, portal can be made to last for just shy of 3 hours, which to me, was pretty disappointing. Thankfully, this is where the sequel would come in, but the first game was very much a question of trial and error; and no truer is that than in its lifespan, in my opinion.
Storyline – 9/10
One thing that I can always find myself saying of Valve is that they know how to create a very compelling narrative. The story of Portal follows a woman named Chell, who is subjected to undertake a series of puzzles in order to survive, based around the use of a portal gun, which generates two different kinds of portals for her to be able to solve them. The tests are conducted at the Aperture Sciences Enrichment centre by a maniacal AI called GlaDOS (Genetic Lifeform and Disk Operating System), with the unusual and persistent promise of cake at the end of it. Although the basic premise sound very simplistic, as well as particularly weird, the character of GlaDOS makes for an interesting experience in terms of story, providing the audience with a pretty unique blend of both drama and comedy. There are a lot of suspenseful moments throughout the game, but they’re also balanced out by GlaDOS’ sadistic sense of humour. Though these elements are greatly expanded on in the second game, the first does provide a very strong starting point in establishing these elements, which hadn’t been found in a Valve game prior.
Originality – 10/10
In terms of both gameplay and story, to simply put it, there is no other game like Portal. It’s a prime example of why I think it’s excellent that more and more indie developers are being provided with a much bigger window of opportunity than ever before; because there have been a large number of them that have come up with some of the greatest titles to have ever been developed. Though Portal 2 would perfect the formula, and I will give it a proper review in the future once I’m finished playing it, the impact that the first game has had since its release is undeniable.
In summation, although it is far too short-lived a game for what it is, Portal is one of the most innovative titles in video game history, and remains a favourite of many gamers to this day. I enjoyed the game for how long it lasted, when I previously thought that I wouldn’t if I’d played through it in its entirety, and I would recommend the Orange Box collection to anyone who owns either and Xbox 360 or a PlayStation 3.