|System: X360, PS3, PC||Review Rating Legend|
|Dev: Valve||1.0 - 1.9 = Avoid||4.0 - 4.4 = Great|
|Pub: Valve/Electronic Arts||2.0 - 2.4 = Poor||4.5 - 4.9 = Must Buy|
|Release: Apr. 9, 2008||2.5 - 2.9 = Average||5.0 = The Best|
|(TOB - Oct. 9, 2007)||3.0 - 3.4 = Fair|
|Players: 1||3.5 - 3.9 = Good|
Early stages gradually help players wrap their brains around the portal concept and acquaint them with the different puzzle mechanics while the final areas can be quite complex. The puzzles themselves are quite varied throughout the course. Each area challenges players to find new and innovative ways to manipulate the portals in order to progress while also interacting with other obstacles. Some courses require weighing down pressure switches with blocks, redirecting laser orbs to power-on devices, knocking over automated robot turrets, crossing pits of poisonous goo, and scaling great heights to name a few elements. There are no visual health indicators in the game, but you're far from invulnerable. Being hit by enough gunfire from turrets in a short time-span will kill you as will numerous instant-death situations (such as being crushed, falling into poison goo, etc.), but in most cases dying only brings you back to about the last place you were still alive.
The black sense of humor that permeates Portal substantially dresses up the game's otherwise sterile atmosphere. The robotic intercom voice is an ever-constant companion throughout the game, and it serves as one of the primary characters. Aside from giving you some direction on the next task at hand, it also cracks abundant jokes in a cold, deadpan style that makes the comments even funnier. The humor ramps up as the game progress as well; the computer jokes become more brazen, and by the end of the game there are moments where you may not be able to contain your mirth. Other elements in the game also provide a few odd laughs. The automated robotic turrets are given musical, kid-like voices and say cutesy phrases while scanning the room with a laser sight to target and destroy you. In one level (and one level only) players are introduced to the "weighted companion cube," which is basically the same as any other block in the game except for a cute pink heart painted on each of its sides. It's used throughout the entire level before you're instructed to "euthanize" the poor thing in the Aperture Science Emergency Intelligence Incinerator.
Portal looks good, and though the visuals from one area to the next could be more varied, the game shows a lot of polish. The level environments through most of the game are cold, drab, and sterile looking. This works well for the overall vibe, but if the game wasn't so short it might require greater variety in the visual level design to hold players' interests for extended periods of time. The last stretch of the game does change things up a bit, which was a nice touch.
The main portion of Portal will last you a few hours at best, and unlockable challenge maps will further extend the gameplay. When all is said and done, Portal will leave you wanting more, but that's not a bad thing. It's a hilarious game that offers a completely unique first-person experience and forces players to use their brains rather than their blasters. Those who missed it the first time around in the Orange Box can pick up a retail PC version of Portal on its own this month. The $20 price tag may seem a lot when $30 more will buy you the whole deal, but it's a great sleeper hit that every serious PC gamer should own.
CCC Staff Contributor