Is the cake still a lie? - Portal Review

I was shamefully late to the whole Steam & Valve scene. Seriously, before the Let's Play on my channel went up, I had never played a Valve game, not even the esteemed Half Life or its sequel. I guess this is because I was a console gamer during my main gaming years, and then as a high school student I had less time for gaming on the whole.

At any rate, I became a university student with zero accountability or responsiblity and plenty of time for some vidyagames, so near the top of my impressively large bucket list was Portal.

The main premise is as such: human experiments are being carried out within a research facility sealed off from the outside world. We find ourselves in control of Chell, a seemingly mute research subject who eventually comes into possession of the Aperture Science portal gun, which can be dynamically placed and jumped through (think of wormholes), leading to some zany-as-hell platforming hijinks, particularly later on in the game. The vast bulk of Portal I found very easy, but towards the end the difficulty spikes rather rapidly. I managed to beat the whole game in about four hours, and don't consider myself particularly good at problem-solving, but your experience may vary.

Rapidly approaching inevitable death only to be catapulted to the objective through the magic of physics

I find it to be a game that's simultaneously very easy and rather difficult to describe properly, because while 'you shoot portals and move through them onto platforms' does basically sum up the gameplay, I feel like the other aspect of the game isn't done justice. What I'm referring to here is the script, the humour, the incredible sense of atmosphere within the cold confines of the Aperture Science labs. Massive amounts of detail have been carefully placed into the game, be it in subtle implications from GlaDOS, the mysterious AI in charge of the testing chambers, or hidden rooms that seek to explain some of the backstory of the setting, which is not elaborated on much in the main areas of the game.

Graphically the game holds up extremely well, and looks extremely similar to Half Life 2, which isn't surprising given the shared game engine. Even lower end machines shouldn't have too much trouble accessing the higher graphical options at decent framerates. The developers really nailed the clinical vibe of the facility - the wall panels look slightly worn but at the same time pristine, and I really got a sense of isolation, particularly when you start realising how large the facility actually is, and just how vulnerable you are within its confines.

This played perfectly in tandem with the soundtrack, which was never obtrusive but remained rather forboding somehow, enhancing the mood substantially. While we're discussing audio, I should mention the fantastic voice acting. Although very few characters actually speak, my interest was piqued for every second of dialogue, and don't miss a line - It's incredibly witty and clever, as well as being my main motivational factor for picking up the sequel.

An absolutely top-class title, rather short, but makes a perfect part of any Steam library.


Author: Ollie Burton

Ollie is a student at Newcastle University in the UK studying Cellular & Molecular Biology. In his spare time he operates this website, is an avid gaming & film fan and plays in a blues-rock band, as well as editing for the University's student newspaper, The Courier.