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Monday October 15, 2007 1:20 pm

Portal Review: Non-linear puzzlement at its best

Portal Review

Valve’s big new gaming pack, The Orange Box, includes a stunning new kind of puzzle game called Portal. Portal is a non-linear puzzle platformer featuring M.C. Escher-like bending of space, and some of the most unique gameplay to hit gaming market in a long time.

Portal features Black Mesa’s newest research competitor- Aperture Sciences - creators of the aperture gun, a device capable of creating space-bending portals between almost any two points in space. It’s hard to describe the gameplay in words so check out Valve’s Portal page and view the trailers to try and wrap your head around it. Click through for Playfeed’s full thoughts on this fresh new gaming experience.

Portal forces the player to think in new and interesting ways. Having a gameplay mechanic like the Aperture Gun makes non-linear puzzles interesting and unique. Particularly early on the game does a great job of both introducing the player to new concepts with a finely tuned tutorial environment while still forcing the users brain to bend and bubble. At times wrapping your head around the game can become frustrating, but when you ‘get’ a puzzle and understand the sequence of portals, jumps, and actions required to achieve victory, things start to get very satisfying.

The writing throughout the game is a stroke of pure genius - the computerized voice which accompanies you through the levels is sarcastic, better-than-thou, and funny all at the same time. The disembodied voice also has a lot of great humor and helps give the game a somewhat cinematic quality, not to mention being obsessed with cake - and really, how can you beat a cake-obsessed computer?

As the puzzles get more and more complex, the player is forced to learn how to manage momentum and angles to fling themselves ever higher in the Aperture testing complex. As the game progresses new surfaces are added which cannot support portal creation which leads to more difficult puzzles to overcome. By the end of the game all the skills previously acquired are combined in interesting new ways to navigate through the games beautiful environments.

Portal Review

Portal is a short game (2-4 hours for most players), but makes up for it with stunningly high quality game play. The back story is rich and twisted, and sets Valve up for either further downloadable content or a full-length Portal game. The game also features an optional directors commentary which allows the player to re-play the game while hearing the creators talk about each puzzle and some of the design decisions which went into it’s creation. The commentary is fascinating and gives a lot of insight into the game creation and tuning process.

The graphics in Portal are well done, and are based on the Half Life 2 engine. The game features the same Havok physics engine, with a few tweaks to enable the portal concept to work and physics to accurately work through the non-linear environments without dropping the frame rate or making other compromises.

Portal review scoreWe found Portal to be one of the freshest gameplay experiences to hit the PC and in quite a while. is working on a PS3 port which will release later this year, but for now the Microsoft platforms are the only way to get it. Portal is available with the Orange Box on both the 360 and the PC platform, or as a standalone download on the PC via Steam. This game would have probably earned a perfect score had it been longer, but aside from it’s shortness this game is crammed full of win, cake, and goodness.




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