The first Portal was, and is, a very special game. I hadn’t known about it when it was released and only found out about it after my friends told me to give it a try. They said “It’s a really cute little puzzle game. You’ll be done quickly, but it’s worth it, and it doesn’t even require monster hardware!”. Needless to say, I gave it a try and sure enough, I was quite amazed by the brilliance of the portal gun and the gameplay that it offered. It’s a rarity these days, to start playing a video game and to just feel this pure joy of play. Portal was just…fun.
Gamers are a weird bunch. They cry (justly so) for innovation and criticize companies for reincarnating the same game dozens of times, but when a game like Mirror’s Edge comes out with a genuine intent to deliver something fresh, it gets shunned, and instead another CoD leads the sales charts. Portal did evade this fate, because Valve was smart enough to add it to its Orange Box. That way, Portal got into more hands than it probably would’ve been able to by itself, and people got to discover this pure little gem almost by accident.
Another thing that was good about it is the straight-forward design of the game. It’s level after level and nothing fancy. No cut-scenes, no dialog trees or anything extra like that. Like they say about design “Perfection is not when there’s nothing more to add, but when there’s nothing more to take away.” After the initial mind-blow of the portals and the portal gun wore off, one was challenged to utilize their insight into the nature of the portals, turrets, energy balls and so on (forcing the player to re-evaluate their way of thinking about 3 dimensional spaces) to solve tricky problems. So simple, so beautiful.
Then there was GLaDOS, the robotic auto-tune voice that comments on your progress with a nice doze of sarcasm. She gave the player the feeling of pushing against an opposing force, and also gave the sterile lab world some context and life. At the end of the game, in the last act, Chell (the player’s character) escapes and one gets to break free from the white and grey rooms from the testing chambers to make their way out of the facility.
The ending in particular was quite amazing, mainly because of GLaDOS and her taunts, her increasing desperation and funny attempts to get under your skin. One finally defeats her and reaches the surface…
One thing that I found interesting about it was how well the muteness of the player worked – better than in Half-Life 2 even. Chell essentially never actually meets anybody to talk to, so there isn’t really any occasion where one would want to be able to say something. The only other entity the player could maybe be able to talk to was GLaDOS, and the muteness is like a statement “I’m going to ignore this AI’s unreasonable and deceiving talk and make my way out of here”. Making your way out of there is the only possible consequence that arises from progressing the game. It’s completely linear, so the simple fact of solving the puzzles automatically translates to the player choosing to oppose GLaDOS by action. It’s a quite simple and subtle thing, but I feel that it rounds the game up very well.
Also, Portal has very high quality sound effects and sparingly used, but effective music. Especially the ending song is really really great.Share Share