Picture this, the year is 2002. It's a cold February morning. The 6th generation of consoles is beginning and the future is bright for gaming. All of a sudden, you fall gracefully out of the womb.
Hi, my name is Nerdtendo. The story above is mine. Am I a millennial? Gen Z? I have no fricking clue. What I do know is that I missed out on a ton of games while growing up. You see, I didn't get a gamecube until about 2007, didn't get a Wii until about 2011, and didn't get a Wii U until I bought my own in 2016. Up until a month ago, I didn't have a computer that could run anything more intense than plants vs zombies.
Now that I have my own job, and am no longer a filthy Nintendo purist (I still love Nintendo but I can actually look at other games now), I can start enjoying the games I missed. This blog series is devoted to discussing largely popular and/or viral games that are no longer as popular nor the topic of every video game media outlet and offering a fresh, non-nostalgia blinded perspective. The first game on my list? Valve's famous cake simulator, Portal.
- Release Date: October 10, 2007 (I was 5)
- Developer: Valve Corporation
- Platform(s): Window, Xbox 360, PS3, OS X, Linux, Android
- Genre: Puzzle-Platformer
Portal is composed of 19 "test Chambers" and one final challenge. You begin with basic block/pressure plate puzzles. You quickly find the "portal gun" which allows you to, you guessed it, shoot portals. Two portals are connected and when you go through one, you pop out the other. One portal is blue and the other is orange for easy recognition which is a godsend later. This simple concept then expands on itself for complex maneuvers such as using downward momentum to clear gaps or gain height, directing energy balls to their receptors, and sneaking around and behind turrets. You then collect the orange portal gun which allows for full control over portal shenanigans. In this first iteration, there isn't an insane amount of things you can do with the portals but the challenges you're presented with thoroughly explore each idea introduced which leads us to our next point.
The 19 test chambers are split into small sections with an autosave after clearing each one. The sections are presented to you in small to medium sized rooms each with a clear door to the next section. Sometimes, these sections span across multiple rooms where you have to perform an action in one room to cause an effect in another. The end of a chamber is marked by an elevator.
I personally really appreciated this layout. The minimalistic looking rooms and the clear end point meant there was no confusion in 'what' you were trying to do. The puzzles come from 'how' you're going to get there. Another good design choice was introducing a mechanic and then expanding upon it directly after introducing it. The most immediate example would be how you learn that momentum carries through a portal jump. In this chamber, you enter a room with a large pit and behind it, a high platform. You can't jump up to the platform so you have to shoot a portal into the pit, and then put the other one above and in front of the high platform. When you jump into the pit portal, you come flying out the other end and land on the platform and progress. Soon after, you're met with a nearly identical challenge but this time there's no pit. However, since the momentum jumping is fresh on your mind, you quickly figure out that you can put a portal on the floor and one above you, you can then enter the floor portal and place another where you land. You can then use the momentum to clear the jump.
Expanding on this idea, the game never lets you forget one of these "techniques". It often mixes minor uses of techniques it's already introduced into new techniques or mechanics so you always remember that they're there. These constant reminders make it so that whenever you're stumped on a puzzle, you never are missing the information to figure it out. You can be assured that if you keep trying the things you've learned, you'll eventually get it.
All in all, I love the level design of Portal. In one word, the design is clear. Clear goals, clear instructions, and clear rooms (seriously, those things are empty). If there's one thing I dislike, it would be that I feel like there aren't enough techniques or mechanics introduced. I wouldn't want them to aHdd too many more so it's overwhelming, but two or three more would definitely provide an interesting challenge.
In terms of story, there's not a lot... at least, not for a while. You are a test subject for Aperature Science. You wake up in a small room and are instructed by GlaDos, an AI in charge of the testing facilities, to clear the test chambers. GlaDos is the only other character you will meet in the game. She has a distinct disregard for humans and speaks mostly in cold, dry wit. You go through the better half of the game without learning much about what you are doing or why you're there. You just march along because that's all you can do. Finally, about chamber 16 or 17, you stumble across a hidey hole behind a wall. It's pretty obvious that it's there but I imagine that some less attentive players missed it. Inside, there are scrawlings on the wall. Tick marks, something about a cake not telling the truth, etc. Clearly someone was here before you, and they went crazy. I found two more of these hidey holes but there could be more I missed. If you haven't been wary of GlaDos from the beginning, you sure are now. Something here isn't right. You make it to the end of the 19th chamber riding on an automated platform. You turn the corner and...furnace. GlaDos thanks you for participating in her experiment, assures you that the portal gun will be safe, and leaves you to your firey demise.
Quick on your feet, you fire a portal to the other side of the room. GlaDos is thrown off guard briefly but then pretends that your "pretend murder" was a final test. Of course, you're too smart to fall for that at this point and start searching for a way out. you weave your way through the inner workings of Aperature Science and away from GlaDos' gaze. She continues to taunt you through this full sequence that in my opinion goes on for a touch too long. Finally, you find GlaDos herself. A robot hanging from the ceiling. She prepares a weapon to kill you but then drops a sphere from herself. She assures you it's unimportant,but you throw it in a nearby furnace. She then reveals that that was an item keeping her from releasing neurotoxin into the air. She starts spewing said neurotoxin and you have five minutes before you die. After you burn all of her spheres, she breaks into a billion pieces and you both explode through the roof into the real world. Only you remain in one piece. When you come to, you are being dragged off by an unseen something, you are shown a cake, a cube, and a bunch of glowing GlaDos spheres, and credits roll. The credit song "still alive" is a wonderful reversion to the Portal humor after a pretty tense final battle. It also assures you that GlaDos is indeed still alive,setting up for the next game.
I think the story telling is great, it's light-hearted and funny up until the last leg when things take an uneasy and tense turn, after you win, you return to funny, easy going quips and it gives you a perfect lead up to the sequel.
There is none. Like, almost none at all. I don't know if I'd prefer a metroid approach with "lonely" sounding music but what it has (nothing) works.
In a nutshell, that's Portal. A good idea mixed with great execution and charming storytelling equals an incredibly satisfying game. It'll really make you think but never puts you in a position where you feel helpless. It lets you experiment and try new things without letting you get hopelessly lost. It's short too, only taking about 6 hours to complete the main campaign. Graphically, it's a little dated with rough models all around but graphics aren't too important to me. It really is a great game and I'm glad I played. If you haven't played it yet (though I think I'm the last person to play it) go do so. right now, you can get both games for literally $1.50.
Thanks for reading fellas. This is something I'd love to continue as I play through my backlog. I'll mess with the formatting but I think this is decent for a first try. If you like it, feel free to tell me so I make more, if you hate it, tell me and I'll never do this here again. The point of these are to encourage discussion on older-but-not-quite-retro games and to offer a fresh perspective from the younger generation.
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