Despite being incredibly short, Portal’s simple gameplay and sharp humor make it a perfect video game, and it lives up to Valve’s good reputation.
When it comes to first-person PC games, few developers stand as tall as Valve. Games like Team Fortress 2 and Half-Life established the studio as a master of the genre, and this reputation only grew in 2007 when the company released Portal, a short side-project in The Orange Box game collection. Portal quickly became one of the company’s most popular titles- one that many would consider a perfect video game.
Portal was a departure from the design tropes Valve established in its other FPS titles. While Half-Life experimented with puzzles during portions of its campaign, Portal is entirely a puzzle game. Players control Portal protagonist Chell, a silent human test subject trapped in a mysterious scientific facility and forced to test an experimental teleportation device by running a gauntlet of increasingly dangerous challenges. Portal‘s eponymous portal gun forms the foundation of its physics-based puzzles while still allowing it to retain its status as a shooter game. The game was also unique at the time for its blend of tones. Set in the same grim universe as Half-Life, Portal adds a new layer of discomfort to the world with its depiction of the sterile, hostile facilities of Aperture Laboratories. This is offset, however, by the game’s dark sense of humor, delivered by the robotic villain GLaDOS.
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Despite the fact that Portal was more of an afterthought in The Orange Box, which mainly sold itself as a collection of some of Valve’s greatest hits, Portal ended up becoming a massive success. Its unique concept, straightforward yet creative gameplay, and entertaining writing made it stand out amongst its more prestigious neighbors. This was also in spite of the fact that the game is incredibly short; most players can feasibly beat it in under six hours, and speedrunners regularly clear the entire game in under 30 minutes.
Why Portal Is The Best Orange Box Game
What Portal lacks in length, it makes up for in quality. While the game presents itself primarily as a linear sequence of puzzles with one intended solution, Portal encourages experimentation and creativity with its physics system. Once players gain access to both of the portal gun’s shots, they can enter or exit either opening while retaining their current momentum. A player could fire one portal at the bottom of a pit and one on the side of a high wall, then jump through the first portal and exit the second with a level of horizontal momentum equal to their falling speed. Likewise, the portal gun allows players to transport items and access otherwise unreachable areas. When players understand the core function of the portal gun, as well as its underlying mechanics, few things in the game limit their imagination.
As players accomplish these tasks, however, they are both urged forward and impeded by the robotic voice of GLaDOS overseeing each experiment. Without GLaDOS’ presence, Portal would remain a good puzzle game but lose its soul. Though the automaton’s demeanor seems cold and heartless, it gradually becomes more sinister and aggravating, albeit in a humorous manner. GLaDOS’ series of taunts, insults, and backhanded remarks betray the character’s human-like qualities, adding to both the player’s enjoyment and the depth of the Portal’s relatively sparse narrative. Somehow, the empty hallways of Aperture Labs gradually become less ghostly and more comfortable, as GLaDOS’ wry humor ironically makes the antagonist more likable in the face of its cold appearance.
In the end, Portal‘s truncated length was conducive to its simple-yet-flexible mechanics and tongue-in-cheek disposition. It’s a very straightforward package that specializes in a few key things and does them well, and it doesn’t overstay its runtime. In fact, Valve made the wise decision of including more mechanics and new characters in Portal‘s sequel in order to increase variety without making the first game feel bloated. Much like a filet mignon, Portal seems small and plain compared, but it makes up for this in the sheer quality of its few elements. It is short and sweet, but it’s ultimately perfect for it.
Next: Will There Be A Portal 3?
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