Portal yourself into a world of insanity and fun
Despite being comparatively short, Portal has been acclaimed as one of the most original games in 2007 . You must learn to master the use of “portals” to solve a series of increasingly lethal “tests” under the cheerfully menacing guidance of GLaDOS, an intelligent computer of dubious sanity. Using the Aperture Science Handheld Portal Device (or “portal gun”), you can “shoot” portals on walls, floors or ceilings. Stepping into a portal leads you through the other portal regardless of its position or orientation. This can be very disorienting as you must develop whole new kinds of spatial orientation skills to survive, reach your goals – and get the ever elusive cake!
The applications of this seemingly simple concept are many and interesting. For instance, you can use the fact that objects keep their momentum as they cross portals to jump across large distances by falling down into a portal and shooting out of another one placed unto a wall. You can also drop objects into portals (or simply create a portal under them) to move, drop or project them where you need. You can also use portals to manipulate the trajectory of projectiles.
Portal’s mix of deadly test chambers and its Industrial Military Complex gone wild context bears many resemblances to the Cube science fiction/horror films series, but funnier and without the gore.
Compared to other first-person 3D action games, Portal offers a relatively non-violent puzzle experience. It features no weapons other than the non-lethal “portal gun” and the only enemies are automated machine gun turrets and the GLaDOS machine (in the final confrontation.)
To get an idea of the game dynamics and quirky sense of humor of Portal, here is the hilarious “Aperture Science Orientation Video #1” trailer.
I find the weird narration style and usage of schematics somewhat reminiscent of the crazy "JM Inc." TV spots from the Being John Malkovich DVD extras.
Portal’s innovative game play would have been enough to make it a great game. But its subdued, demented humor lifts it to the level of high entertainment. Subtle wit and wackiness lurk everywhere, such as GLaDOS’s comical attempts to manipulate you, her obsession with cake, the innocent, child-like voice of the automated machine-gun turrets (“I see you!”, “I don’t blame you…”) and the omnipresent hints of corporate insanity, such as references to Aperture Science’s rivalry with Black Mesa (a military research complex from Half Life 1) in wildly optimistic budget previsions slideshows running in abandoned rooms.
Here are sample quotes from GLaDOS’s crazed instructions:
“Please note that we have added a consequence for failure. Any contact with the floor will result by an unsatisfactory mark on your record, followed by death.”
“Splendid. You appear to understand how a portal imparts forward momentum or, to be more precise, how it does not.
The Enrichment Center is committed to the well-being of all participants. Cake and grief counseling will be available at the conclusion of the test. Thank you for helping us help us all.
Another achievement of the game’s design and writing is the fact even though your character (a woman named Chell) is possibly the only living being in the whole complex, everything is imbued with personality and presence, including objects, machines and people who have been long gone. The fact that one of the most memorable characters from the game is an inanimate “weighted companion cube” with a painted-on pink heart is a testament to the author’s creativity and courage. (The Companion Cube has its own cult following and has been adapted into a plush toy.)
I was particularly struck by how the game designers used absence as a way to build character and to give back-story exposure to the game. The creepy glazed observation windows set in all test chambers and the ominously deserted offices constantly keep us in mind of the missing Aperture Science staff and one can’t keep wondering at the hidden reasons behind their departure (or removal) from the premises. Also, the second most important character, after GLaDOS, is the (possibly long-dead or escaped) unknown benefactor who left bloody hints and charcoal graffiti on the walls (such as the now famous “The cake is a lie!” tagline) as well as leaving beds made of cardboard boxes, empty water bottles and tin cans all over the facility’s backrooms.
Portal vs Half Life 2
Portal is the brainchild of a team of developers hired by VALVe for their innovative student project game, Narbacular Drop, where the portals concept originated.
Portal is set in the Halfe-Life universe, another VALVe game, mostly by references to Black Mesa, the setting of the original Half Life. Aperture Science, Inc. is also mentioned in Half-Life 2: Episode Two, where it is told that an Apperture Science, Inc. ship, The Borealis, disappeared under mysterious circumstances. There are hints that the salvage or destruction of the Borealis and the dangerous secret it holds may be part of the plot of the upcoming Half-Life 2: Episode 3. Does this means that the Aperture Science Handheld Portal Device will become part of Half Life’s Gordon Freeman’s arsenal? This would be soooo cool! :)