Not too long ago a game named Nebula Drop arrived on the PC. It contained a number of very good ideas and with a bit more play testing could have been refined into a nice little gem of a title. Portal is the spiritual successor to this game.
Portal is an odd little game. Imagine if you will (and it may be difficult) a first person shooter crossed with a puzzle game without anyone to actually shoot. Odd yes but that is indeed what Portal is, a very strange mix that holds together exceptionally well due to its strong design and originality.
Starting with your character awaking in some kind of scientific laboratory you are then told by a computer voice where to go and what to do. It seems somehow you have found yourself in a strange facility and must undergo a number of tests. All is not as it seems however as there is no one else around and the computer seems to be malfunctioning. This adds a very uneasy tension to proceedings. You are never sure if what the computer is telling you is the truth or something to try and see how you react under pressure.
Portal remains somewhat of an enigma throughout and certain things such as who you are and why you are here are never really explained. It all helps to add to the atmosphere though as you try to work out some wonderfully designed puzzles. The main trick Portal employs is the use of the portal gun. The gun can be used to fire both entry and exit portals onto any suitable surface. You must use this gun to work your way through nineteen puzzle orientated areas.
Though the concept is simple there is a lot of depth involved. Far from being about sticking an entry door on a low level and then an exit door on a high level you are often asked to think and act quickly to change portal placement and your own momentum. Yes forward motion is a very important thing here. Quite often you will have to fall through a portal a number of times to build up your forward motion, this requires expert placement of both portals. It sounds a little odd but once you have the concept understood it becomes highly addictive.
The title has a nice clean clinical look that fits the setting perfectly. There are also little hints as to what is actually going on and how the game relates to the half life universe subtly tucked away. The main game itself lasts around four hours but once completed a number of additional challenges and advanced maps open up which may well have you pulling your hair out.
Portal itself is a very nice package of invention and innovative game design which apart from a slightly overcooked last section is remarkably clever and fun to play. You can not help but think that the portal gun will be making a more prominent appearance in the half life world at some point. Right now we not sure if this is a good thing as the whole concept works so well in its current format- given the choice we would probably take more portal puzzles than puzzles based on application to the ‘real’ world.
To sum up, Portal is more than worthy of being a part of the Orange box and may well surprise a few people not expecting much from it. It is focused and great fun to play with lots of moments that require clever thinking to overcome. Even if it was released on its own we would highly recommend it.