|System: X360 (XBLA)||Review Rating Legend|
|Dev: Valve||1.0 - 1.9 = Avoid||4.0 - 4.4 = Great|
|Pub: Microsoft||2.0 - 2.4 = Poor||4.5 - 4.9 = Must Buy|
|Release: Oct. 22, 2008||2.5 - 2.9 = Average||5.0 = The Best|
|Players: 1||3.0 - 3.4 = Fair|
|ESRB Rating: Teen||3.5 - 3.9 = Good|
Like Braid, Portal is all about culmination. The last level and ending flip the initial, objective-to-objective plot around, not only giving you a better appreciation for the conclusion, but also of everything you played up to that point. It also sheds a little bit of light onto the seemingly secretive nature of Valve's Half-Life world.
Stopping there takes us through Portal. Still Alive includes 14 new levels that throw you back into a series of Skinner Boxes. Whereas the original Portal had a more organic feeling to puzzle solving - if you stopped to think for a few minutes, you could get out of any situation - Still Alive takes a more stubborn approach. This is not entirely negative, but mentioned merely to illustrate a point of departure; Still Alive assumes you've finished Portal, so it extends and amplifies the difficulty curve, instead of resetting it.
From the second level on, it's apparent that the straightforward puzzle approach present in Portal has been traded in for a more hardcore mindset - you'll get things done, but you'll rely more on intricate portal acrobatics and extremely well placed shots that barely fly through shoe box-sized holes connecting walls. There's also some new environmental variables at play: red laser nets scorch anything they come in contact with; malfunctioning electric grids let out a deathly sizzle; and ceilings lined with giant spikes attempt to crush you. The nice thing about these new additions is they feel like they fit in the Portal universe - not like someone threw a random assortment of props on a closed set - and force you to stop and think before you take a course of action.
Still Alive may nail set design and its respective dressing, but it's missing one element that was crucial to the original: personality. GlaDOS is nowhere to be heard, so there's no comic relief to be found. With no stimuli - besides the puzzles themselves - it makes for a very solitary experience. Also, chambers aren't really connected, so every time you finish one you're booted to a main menu and have to select the next one. This isn't that big a deal, but it does break a sense of continuity. Once you find the stat tracking tools, it's clear the hardcore mentality mentioned earlier is the primary design factor behind the test chambers. Each time you play a test chamber, your total number of portals and steps taken are recorded. Achievements are given out based on cutting these down to an extremely small number.
Portal's blend of first-person, action, and puzzle elements marked by wry psychology and facetious dialogue make for a one-of-a-kind experience. Bolster this package with Still Alive's 14 new, more difficult levels and this is a game that shouldn't be missed.
CCC Freelance Writer