There is something plain weird with Portal. I finished playing this game not very long ago, and it has me absorbed. Not just when playing it, but even when I’m not. I reach for my Portal Gun every so often, or hurriedly look for my Weighted Companion Cube or, well, back away and run out of the room when I see a cake, yelling “The cake is a lie! The cake is a lie!”
While navigating through portals is somewhat disorienting at the beginning of the game, you get used to it fairly fast. The same applies to the “flinging” concept – it can be frustrating in the beginning, but you get addicted to it later. Another addiction I found was to shoot one portal in the ceiling, one on the floor and jump into the infinite vortex thus created.
Portal appears so weird because it is the first game in a long time that doesn’t want to be “realistic”, it realizes that in a video game, you don’t have real life’s restrictions. You can do whatever the hell you like. And it is games like Portal that we need in the industry – games that are different, creative and stimulating.
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I found Portal enjoyable because of the sort of puzzles in the game. They don’t make much sense at start, then you do some exploring and get some clues, and then you get a plan. You follow the plan, and something isn’t fitting right. You find this missing piece through accident and bang, you’re clear to the elevator.
A second reason why Portal is so appealing could be that it melded to fantastic genres together. Puzzle games have more or less been in the domain of casual gamers, and FPS in the hardcore market. Still, in my opinion, both genres can be undeniably fun if done right. Valve did that perfectly by melding creative, stimulative puzzles with the immersive and addictive first-person perspective.
The immersiveness leads to an unusual addiction, as does the game’s one-puzzle-to-another style of blitzkrieg storytelling, quite like the Half-Life games. This addiction, does bad things to your head. You want to shoot one portal in your bedroom wall and the other in your bathroom, so that you don’t have to walk all the way. Getting late for work? One portal into the garage wall, the other on the floor below you. Stuck in a jam? Jump on your car, shoot a portal on a wall high above you, another portal below and “fling” your car clear past the mile-long jam.
We need more games like Portal, without doubt. Portal is just one possibility in first-person puzzle solving – there are countless more. Games like Portal would stimulate the mind and actually exercise the brain, rather than the usual twitch-shooting games that populate the market. Portal, especially the final levels of it, prove that you can have stories in puzzle games (albeit a bit bland – then again, Half-Life and Halo aren’t exactly the best stories I’ve seen).
As if all that dreaming enough, a new guide from PrimoTech lets you bring the Portal Gun into Half-Life 2, which leads for a completely new level of Combine-bashing. Spot some Combine? Get a portal near them, one near you and toss in a grenade. The possibilities are endless! Couple that with the Gravity Gun and you won’t even need all the other weapons!
And then there is the game’s unhealthy obsession with cake. The way GlaDOS goes on about cake, you suddenly start to feel the cake as an unusual entity, possessing some otherwordly meaning. The repeated writings of “The cake is a lie”, the very randomness of it all – it’s unsettling. As is the lovable Companion Cube, which I want to make love to really soon. Portal invents a new form of humorous storytelling, involving minimalism, simplicity and uncanniness within it.
This is not a review of Portal. This is me looking back at the game, and desperately wanting more, or nothing – me being unsure and longing for more portal, more GlaDOS and more of the same action. Me wanting more cake. With the Companion Cube. But the cake is a lie.