I finally had my go with the puzzler adventure classic from almost 10 years ago. I never doubted its greatness but it was nice to experience it firsthand. – not to mention to understand what the whole deal with the cake was.
Portal is an excellent game in many different ways. Most of all it’s very approachable. It starts out super easy, having one of the best interactive tutorials ever. Then it gets slightly harder and harder, having a learning curve that is pretty much just right. A monkey can accidentally pass the couple of first chambers, and the last few will certainly provide some amount of challenge to most players.
While learning how to beat the test chambers, the player is accompanied by the voice of GLaDOS, who is somewhat lacking in human interaction skills. The delicious humour really makes the mood of the game lighter. Finishing a dangerous course after another can easily create a somewhat claustrophobic feeling, not to mention building dread of what awaits on the finish line. (Is it cake?)
For a long course of deathly traps, Portal is actually very non-violent game. It’s rated 13+ but I admit I’ve let my kids play it (they’re 5 and 8), and they love it. They don’t understand the deeper meanings of anything, they just solve the puzzles. And failing is just a fast reload, so it’s not even terribly frustrating for them.
Portal’s brilliance lies in its focus on the essentials. There’s a real unexplained mystery behind the cold chamber walls, but it isn’t spelled out for the player. I really do not remember basically a pure puzzle game having this much impact with its story, which is really just a vague backstory anyway.
Besides the excellent puzzle mechanics with the portals, and the interesting setting, I also thought the protagonist was pretty neat. She’s AFGNCAAP (a featureless protagonist) until you catch a glimpse of her through the portals. She does’t have much personality otherwise but I bet I’ll still remember her forever. GLaDOS then surely has character, and I wont be forgetting her either.
The game plays very smoothly, and the controls are nicely responsive. Portal also looks pretty nice still – not that I’m that picky with graphics in the first place. Music isn’t used much, but it works really well. I’ve checked out the soundtrack myself and even my kids noted a certain song or two (to be looped on Spotify for 5 hours).
I’m not a hardcore player myself but I went through a couple of advanced chambers to get a cupcake achievement. Even though Portal is quite casual, I’d like an actual easy setting for the truly casual players – and kids. At least there’s a sequel of this. And I’m really looking forward to the co-op mode in it.