Cake is served.
Released as part of Valve Corporation's 'Orange Box' bundle of new and old games, Portal
is a first-person puzzle game set in the sterile test chambers of Aperture Laboratories. As the silent protagonist Chell, you are given no expository cutscenes or dialogue prior to the commencement of gameplay—you are simply told to complete the tests, and you have no choice but to do so.
The lack of exposition in Portal
is the first of many things the title does right. You start the game with no knowledge of what's going on besides the seemingly pre-recorded monologue of GLaDOS, the hilariously sarcastic and antagonistic AI controlling the entire facility. Throughout Portal
's story, there are increasingly intriguing hints to what's occurred within Aperture, but it's never stated outright at any point in the game. The primary narrative of Portal
is very simple when put to paper, but the secondary, hidden layer of story beneath is what makes the game interesting. You don't even have to read into all the hints and figure out the whole story to appreciate this. Portal
's light tone contrasts with the dark, violent story being told off-screen, and it brings the game's atmosphere above the average and propels it into a subtly executed masterpiece.Portal
doesn't allow itself to be carried by it's superior atmosphere and non-traditional storytelling. The Source engine seems to have been designed to bring us Aperture Laboratories, and every level and section is put together in a cohesive way that makes sense. This goes beyond the test chambers into the maintenance and offices of Aperture, where it feels more like a game level constructed around an existing facility rather than the other way around. Several notable sections in the second half of the game take you through the offices of Aperture employees, which have windows overlooking the test chambers you completed several levels back, in which you saw the blurred-out windows on the walls. This sense that you're in an actual underground laboratory really makes you want to explore, an urge which very few games can give you without providing open worlds filled with missions.
On the gameplay front, Portal
takes a unique idea in the form of it's portal gun and provides puzzles that give you exactly the thought process that any good puzzle should. Initially coming into a large, complicated test chamber, you'll feel overwhelmed by the complexity, but as you chip away at the conundrum, you'll gradually work your way towards a solution. Portal
doesn't reward you hugely for solving difficult puzzles, it simply gives you some lines from GLaDOS and an elevator to the next test. The reward is in the feeling of elation that only a tough puzzle can give.
When it comes to puzzle games, Portal
is beyond question the most creative experience I've had to date. Not only that, but it also provides concise, elegant level design and a multi-layered darkly humorous story that just adds to what makes Portal