Portal – I Came Late to the Party, No Cake was Left

The box art for the PC version of Portal.

Well, Portal is two years old, and recently, I assume to celebrate Steam becoming available for Mac users, Valve/Steam had released Portal for free, for about a week.

What is Portal? Historically, it’s a small game that came bundled with Half Life 2: The Second Episode, also bundled came Team Fortress 2. I passed on this game, and never did pick up Portal alone.

Portal had won numerous accolades, and if I had to describe what kind of game it is, it’s a puzzle game, and as many puzzle games, it’s also a platformer. It’s a 3D platformer, but that’s not entirely new, as there had been Rayman 3(D) before. It’s also a first person platformer, which is slightly rarer. Here is a 2D platformer flash based version of Portal someone made online. The maps from this version were later added to the actual game.

Portal, is a game that in a way is based on the physics engine of Half-Life 2, and is a game where you have two weapons: Your wits, and the portal gun. Do try to keep your wits about you. Your Portal Gun (Aperture Science Handheld Portal Device) is capable of shooting two portals, one for entry and one for egress. You can easily cross chasms or walls in this manner, or leap a great distance forward.

Most of the game is designed like regular puzzle games, where you’re met with a challenge, and in order to pass it must utilize both what had been learnt before and add something else on top. Some stages merely teach you new things (like dealing with balls of energy) in order for you to be able to utilize them in the tests to come.

Tests, yes, for you are a test-subject, and aside from messaged scrawled on walls in the later stages, the only company you’ll keep is a voice that will give you instructions, details, and advice. Well, sort of. You do get a Companion Cube for one stage, but it’s not much to speak of.

I’ll be honest, the game had got much accolades for its “story”, but there is next to no story to speak of. What there is is a bare-bones story that could be covered in the space of, 3 lines? Probably. What the game has, and this is why I also consider this post to be something to consider when thinking on the issues of “Story versus Story-ful” (some posts/thoughts I plan, don’t know for which blog yet), is atmosphere. The game has a lot of atmosphere, and due to also being relatively short (you can finish it in 2-3 hours), the very bare-bones story and the very rich atmosphere do make you feel as if you’re engaging in a story, in a world with depth.

In a way, Portal is cool. It is pretty cool, but I feel it’s been blown out of proportions, ala the “Scott Pilgrim kind of cool“. It makes you think, and the stages add just enough to help you feel like making progress, and short enough to not get bogged down.

Image Guides to Stages.

This brings me to the small down-side to Portal: The last two stages. The last two stages are both harder, and much longer than those who came prior. You do get distinct “areas” within them, but still. The stages are long, and it’s a bit tiring. Well, the stages before don’t have much of a down-time either: Finish a stage, enter an elevator, depart from same elevator and begin the next stage.

The other small caveat is that this game is a puzzle game, or is for most of the game. Lava pits and such are something we’ve all known for many years, but at some stage you must avoid stationary turrets who shoot at you, and the game ends with a boss fight which doesn’t really fit the mood and the flow of the game up until that point. It is a sort of a platformer boss-fight, where you don’t really fight the boss but need to puzzle out how to beat them, ala Rayman or say, Zelda.

This game is fun, and I came to it late, and there was no cake left for little old me (This is obviously me drinking from the geeky kool-aid). Portal 2 is apparently expected this holiday season.
Portal gets 8.5/10 jumps through the time-warp. A good way to spend a couple of hours, and there are bonus maps and challenges to do as well if you just want a little more time with it.

Next post is the blog’s 100th post! I’ve got something planned, and as always, sharing is loving, so please share the post if you like it.

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17 comments on “Portal – I Came Late to the Party, No Cake was Left

  1. Itai says:

    I’d give it a 9, and it loses that point for complete lack of replayability.
    Other than that, I consider it a perfect game.

    • Guy says:

      Well, I guess it fits the casual game mode then, either games you play once, or play all the time without an end? :D

      Or those where you finish the game only to begin anew with something slightly changed.

  2. Radiant says:

    With custom levels, the replayability is endless!

    8.5/10 jumps through the time warp? No, it’s dimensional, not time. ;)

    And in terms of story, you’re only looking at it from the surface. There is A LOT of story in this. You don’t have to be hit in the face with a 2×4 to get story. Portal does this effectively by presenting constant subtle nuances within the environments, with the little snippits of dialogue, the song, it’s ALL there if you look deeper.

    For example, remember one of the announcements is “Bring your Girl To Work Day”. Why only females? You play as a female, the voice on the speakers is female, you can assume that the scientists are all female…

    Or how about the mentioning of Black Mesa in the boardroom? All the story is there, and how it ties into the Half-Life world.

    • Guy says:

      1. Time Warp, a reference to the Rocky Horror Show :P

      2. Atmosphere, the hints of story.

      I know these things, but in the game, of itself, there’s not much story, but atmosphere. Most of the story, those things hinted at, are not actually present in the game. Like watching Fate/Stay Night’s anime, and reading all the story on Wikipedia.

      • Radiant says:

        Sure, but to say that it’s simply not there is completely false. “Atmosphere” doesn’t exactly = story. The atmosphere of the game sets the mood and tone, but it doesn’t necessarily tell much story.

    • Guy says:

      Dan, that’s exactly my point. I said there was atmosphere instead of story.

      There are hints of story, and a whole lot of atmosphere.

  3. […] Portal – I Came Late to the Party, No Cake was Left « Geekorner … […]

  4. Portal is a great game. The story is not a full in-your-face story like an RPG but if you pay attention to the details and subtleties, it does the job pretty well. Anyway, for this type of game, the gameplay is what matters and it is top-notch. The puzzles, environments, and the atmosphere of the game are all very polished which is why many people, myself included, love the game ^^.

    • Guy says:

      I think it trains you to look at the subtle details, and humans are as I like to say, “Pattern-Creating Engines”, rather than merely pattern-finding. I also think it’s a good game. 8.5 is a really good score.

      I liked the game, the ending left me a tad cold.

  5. phossil says:

    I played Portal not too long ago too, and I like the whole idea game. The only bad thing for me it had few puzzles to solve. I hope Portal 2 keeps the same idea with more puzzles.

    • Guy says:

      Well, since it came as a Half-Life Mod, it also had mods, so I’m sure if you look around you can find more puzzles for it. They had an expansion for the consoles, which I believe is based on the 2D flash version, so you should play that if you hadn’t.

  6. Bablet says:

    THE. CAKE. IS. A. LIE.

    • Guy says:

      I know it’s too cool to say it, but seriously, that’s all you’ve got, to show you’re “in the know”? :-/

      Also, I posted an amusing picture with the sentence in it ;)

  7. Yi says:

    Looking forward to the 100th post!

    • Guy says:

      Written, now reply to your email ;-)

      I meant to write it last week, but I suffered from several days of just being WAY tired, y’know? So it waited a bit.

  8. Reltair says:

    I didn’t purchase/beat Portal until a few months back when I got the Orange Box on sale. I finally found out what “The cake is a lie” was referring to. >_>

    • Guy says:

      I heard that phrase far too much >.<
      That's what you get for having geeky and FPS-loving friends. And then the meme became too wide-spread.

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