“The enrichment center would like to remind you that Android Hell is a real place that you will be sent at the first sign of defiance.”
That’s GLaDOS. Not, not Glaedose. Like Gladys. GLa…nevermind.
On its face, Portal is a puzzle game. Sure, you wake up in some weird sort of captivity, but the game is played by working your way through puzzles by activating weight switches, opening doors, and getting over walls, all by using portals. Portals in this case are not into other dimensions, but are “wormholes” on a smaller scale, transporting you from one part of the room to another, basically by walking through an artificially made doorway.
But being a puzzle game doesn’t mean that it isn’t exciting. Once you progress through the levels and they begin growing steadily more difficult, more dangers are presented. There’s neurotoxin on the floor, so you don’t want to fall. An electric ball that you need to activate the switch will kill you if it makes contact with you.
Oh, and by the way, this is all done with an incredibly sarcastic and homicidal artificial intelligence narrating the whole thing. In fact, the story of this game (if there really is one) is that GLaDOS is directing you through this series of tests with the promise of cake at the end.
No, seriously. Your prize is supposed to be literal cake.
Even in the first half hour of gameplay, it’s incredibly apparent that this is not for all types of gamers. There’s no flashy violence, no on-screen instructions beyond controller instructions, and no character interaction. It is, at its heart, a puzzle game, it simply adds a violent A.I. and other dangers (not the least of which is a robotic turret with a voice made to sound like a creepy A.I. version of a toddler) to make the gameplay more interesting. And because it’s a puzzle game, it’s hard. Some puzzles require a lot of poking and prodding, and a lot of frustration, before you can find the answer. So if you’re a gamer that likes zipping past the puzzles in the Legend of Zelda games or prefers action-thrillers, this may not be for you. If you are stubborn and don’t like to have to consult a guide even after hours of self-inflicted gaming torture, then you might have to be prepared for frustration. But if you stick with it, you won’t regret it. It’s a phenomenal ride and test of cognition, timing, and even has some suspense thrown in there towards the end of the game.
Science Requires Sacrifice
The game never gets very violent, with occasional blood splattered like paintballs being the closest thing to “bloody” that the game gets. There are a few dangers, however:
- Neurotoxin coats the floor in some levels. If you fall in it you die, which is shown by your character lying on the floor and going back to the last save point (you don’t see your character per se, but the camera stays on the floor where you fell.
- To complete the puzzles, you must sometimes connect an electric ball with a switch. If you are struck by that ball, you die in like manner to the neurotoxin, with the camera on the ground and going back to the last save point.
- Turrets, small robots with machine guns, are in some later levels. If they shoot you, you die in a manner like the other dangers, but you will sometimes see your own blood after being shot by them. The scarier part of these turrets is the soft, creepy voice asking “Hello? Are you there?”
A Benevolent Dictator
That subtitle it’s what’s known as sarcasm. GLaDOS is oozing it. Her lines are both the most enjoyable and most disturbing part of the game. She never utters any profanity, but rather incorporates a variety of insults, and more often says things that are designed to be morbidly comical. For example, in the first level with the neurotoxin, she states that touching the floor with the neurotoxin will “result in an unsatisfactory mark on your testing record, followed by death.” In another episode when you are given a “companion cube” (used for weight switches, a cube just like the others in the game but with hearts on it), she reminds you that the cube is an inanimate object and cannot speak to you, and, of course, that it cannot kill you. The only problematic line during play was a double entendre referring to STDs: “Bring your daughter to work day is a great time to have them tested.”
All Work and No Play Makes Jack a Dull Boy
Once you get through all of the brain-trying levels, there are a few new features that are unlocked. The coolest, in my opinion, is to watch the end credit song, which is utterly phenomenal and hilarious. As to others, you get a new game menu, and unlock Commentary Mode, which allows you to hear details about the making of the game as you play through the levels. I found that pretty interesting, but it got boring pretty quickly.
The only really negative thing I have to say about this game is that it’s too short. If the levels don’t prove too difficult to you, you could play through the whole thing in a pretty dedicated day. Most people won’t get through it that fast, because the levels are pretty difficult, but it still is a fairly short game. It’s still great though, and manages to be both a puzzle game and a thriller, something that’s not easy to pull off. The complete lack of profanity and language make this a great way to spend some clean fun, and exercise your brain, making it feel like a little bit less of a brain-sucking video game turning you into a mindless zombie. I highly recommend it.
Platform used: PC
Age Recommendation: 12+
Objectionable Content: None