Retrospective Holiday Special: Portal | Review
Portal Review | Set in the mysterious Aperture Science Laboratories, the game is designed to change the way players approach, manipulate, and surmise the possibilities in a given environment. Players must solve physical puzzles and challenges by opening portals to manoeuvring objects, and themselves, through space.
Console Played On: Steam
Number Of Players: 1
Disclaimer! This is a retrospective review. This means it is reviewed based on the gaming expectations of the present day and the relevancy for escape room enthusiasts.
Do you enjoy silent protagonists? Check ✅
Are you enticed by mind-bending physics? Check ✅
Do you prefer your comedy to skirt the line between hilariousness and existential dread? Check ✅
Well if so, this puzzle game might be for you.
Well, You Found Me. Congratulations. Was It Worth It?
If you saw my introductory interview with Mairi, I mentioned Portal 2 as being one of my favourite puzzle games. After playing it, I spoke to friends about how much I enjoyed it. My “PC gaming” friends often responded something along the lines of…
“It’s good…but not as good as the original”.
After many, many of these encounters; I vowed to find a copy of The Orange Box (a Valve compilation of games including Portal), on the PS3 (I didn’t own a decent PC at the time); however it was sold out everywhere. When I eventually found a copy, it was at an extortionate price. That was in 2011.
10 years later I still find myself, never having played the original title. Well dear TER friends, that ends today – it can be bought on steam; on it’s own.
So welcome, to my retrospective holiday special.
A Complimentary Escape Hatch Will Open In 3… 2… 1…
You play as Chell, a silent protagonist who is a test subject for Aperture Laboratories. You wake up from your isolation pod and are instructed by GLaDOS, a dry, shade-throwing AI system, to undergo various physics based puzzles using the portal gun, an experimental tool used to create two portals through which objects can pass. As a concept, the theming is simple but still to this day, highly effective. Furthermore, it can’t be ignored that it has inspired the theming and narrative of many other games; puzzle and non-puzzle alike. We owe a lot to this.
The visuals are simple but polished, and successfully project the image of a cleansed, futuristic dystopian world. There are no other human characters to interact with, just a series of mechanisms and a sassy AI with a frenemy attitude. There were many times where I found myself chuckling away at GLaDOS’s insults via deadpan delivery as I progressed further and further.
Let’s Be Honest. Neither One Of Us Knows What That Thing Does.
Is Portal an immersive experience? I’d be inclined to say yes. Its not hugely story-rich, there isn’t any narrative to initially invest you and the character dialogue is one-sided. But the theming and puzzle-depth allow the player on many occasions to forget themselves and subconciously dive into the minimalistic elements presented.
Do Not Submerge The Device In Liquid, Even Partially
You’ve really got to hand it to Portal for their puzzles and overall innovative contributions via Valve’s physics mechanics; through the use of the famous portal gun. It blew player’s minds back then, and even now it’s still very strong in both areas. The learning curve is brilliant and wholly organic, each puzzle set piece has thematic, visual signposting (see below) to help you progress and the puzzles themselves are still impressively innovative and satisfying to complete. During the back half of the game, there are puzzles that involve the player to be dexterous with their control input. This can be frustrating for some, but because there is no penalty for trying and trying again, once you do accomplish a tricky set piece, you are rewarded not only by the accomplishment, but the visual stimuli of gracefully flying through the air in the first-person.
Quit Now And Cake Will Be Served Immediately
I’ve noticed that if a game from the 2000s is remastered/re-released for present day, it’s highly likely that the controls require some from of standardisation. This can be the ultimate difference between a playable, nostalgic dream vs an unplayable mess and waste of money. Thankfully, Portal utilises a keyboard and mouse set up that is futureproof and still allows great playability in 2021. I am disappointed however, that considering how popular and iconic this game is; gamepad compatibility has not been patched in. Especially, when I can believe that many players including myself, was introduced to the series via the sequel on a console that would use a gamepad, subsequently love the experience, and then be forced to use a different control method when playing the original.
When The Testing Is Over, You Will Be Missed
Originally, Portal was only available as part of Valve’s The Orange Box; available on PC and 7th generation consoles such as Xbox 360. Now it can be bought on steam by itself for £7.19. For that, you will get around 2 to 5 hours of game time plus bonus maps outside of the main campaign. Valve are one of the biggest game development companies out there, therefore I’d argue that this is at just about the right price.
Initially, Valve considered Portal to be merely filler for The Orange Box; unexpectedly gaining wide spread popularity and acclaim when released in 2007. Fast forward to 2021 and its still a highly playable, engrossing puzzle challenge that is poignant and comedic. It’s a shame there isn’t gamepad compatibility, but there is more than enough here for escape room enthusiasts to get stuck into, during this holiday (or any) period.
Portal can be purchased on steam here.