Release Date: October 10, 2007
Steam Link: http://store.steampowered.com/app/400/
Test Subject #1498
A cheerful music piece plays on a radio inside the Relaxation Vault as the cover of the Relaxation Pod opens and Test Subject #1498 is awakened from stasis. As she opens her eyes she finds herself inside a cube-like shaped room made out of a transparent glass-like material. The Relaxation Vault lacks an important feature; a door. Where a door should be, there is only a wall panel. Above this wall panel there is a watch displaying a countdown; only about a minute remains until it reaches zero.
Less than a minute before the countdown reaches zero a female robotic voice greets Test Subject #1498 and welcomes her to the Aperture Science Computer-Aided Enrichment Centre. The voice, in a friendly and caring tone, speaks about experiments that Test Subject #1498 must participate in. Experiments that will be fun and maybe a little tiny bit dangerous but the risk is taken for the greater good. The voice then says about a Portal that will open and starts counting down from three. When both the voice and the watch reach zero, a portal appears on the wall panel inside the Relaxation Vault.
Portals are a strange thing to explain. Imagine a long strip of paper. Imagine folding the two ends of this strip so that the one is right on top of the other and then imagine puncturing a hole through both ends with a needle. Now the two ends that were far away from each other are connected and you can pass the needle through them. This is how the Portals work. Portals allow you to join two points in the three dimensional space making the distance between them equal zero, thus allowing you to cross instantly into far away places as easy as you step through a door. It is a method of teleportation, that does not require dematerialization and rematerialization. With Portals you just step through to the other side.
Through the Portal that just opened, you can see Test Subject #1498 through her own eyes. Through the Portal you see Chell, a young woman of unknown past and future. You see that she is wearing an orange jumpsuit. Orange may be the main colour of Aperture Science along with white, but orange clothing is also associated with prisoners. You also see some strange devices attached on Chell’s legs originating from her knees. These devices protect Chell from taking damage when falling from a distance that would normally kill her. Chell’s will is irrelevant, she must proceed through the portal and into Test Chamber 00. She cannot do anything else anyway.
The Enrichment Centre is seemingly abandoned. There are numerous observation rooms overseeing the test chamber, but there are no observers. The only thing that observes the tests is the surveillance cameras. The female voice is actually GLaDOS, an Artificial Intelligence that runs everything in this underground laboratory and also sees everything through her cameras. Chell is instructed to proceed with the experiments for the good of science and the good of others. GLaDOS gives her every reassurance and even promises a party and a delicious cake upon completion of the experiments. But can GLaDOS be trusted? Is she an automated computer or a sentient one? Does she have feelings? Without any other course of action available, Chell has no other option other than to play along and let the GLaDOS guide her until an opportunity presents itself. If there is an opportunity…
Thinking With Portals
Portal is a First Person Puzzle game. Do not worry, the first Test Chambers are like a tutorial. GLaDOS will take you by the hand and explain you the basics, but then you will be alone and things will get difficult until you learn how to “Think With Portals”. Thinking with portals is not as easy as it sounds. Portal will be challenging for those who play it for the first or even the second time. Portal is not a game for everyone and this is its main disadvantage.
Portal is build on the Source Engine that was introduced by Half-Life 2. One of the most annoying things in Half-Life 2 is its Loading Points. In Portal most of the Loading Points are in the elevators that take you to the next Test Chamber, so you get easily accustomed to the idea that entering an elevator equals freezing and a loading message. Very rarely will the action be disturbed by Loading Points and even in these few cases it is predictable by most gamers.
Half-Life 2 is a First Person Shooter “Gravity Them Up” game. It could be said that Portal is a First Person “Portal Them Up” game. It does require “FPS skill” to aim the Portal Gun and sometimes you will need to fast-aim Portals while also calculating the trajectory, while on the flight; literally. Portal is like a Puzzle game made for FPS players. There are also enemies in Portal. Enemies that you can “Portal” with many different ways.
Portal does not use “cheap” and “low” tricks to create the illusion of challenge and increase the length of the game. Players will not spent hours looking around for something small that is well hidden and hard to see and neither they will have to solve a time consuming puzzle for a small progression in the current level. No. Such things absolutely do not exist in Portal. Finding the solution requires logic and portals. There are actually many ways to complete a test even when it seems to be impossible. The solution is where it should be, but some times it can be hard to find it not because is is hidden to have the player looking around, but because Portal requires actual thinking and logic, something that many Puzzle game do not. This means that Portal can be easy for people with developed logic and this is actually true.
Portal is not long and neither is short. It is long enough so it will not be boring and short enough to make you want more and make you replay it. It also features Advanced Test Chambers that are much more difficult than the regular ones and it also offers Challenges that can be a real pain to complete. The Challenges have three medals; Bronze, Silver and Gold, each being way harder to achieve. Portal can keep players occupied for a long time.
This simplicity is what makes Portal shine as a Puzzle game and as a video game in general. Portal is mental, it requires thinking and an “open” state of mind. Portal requires only logic and it can help as well as encourage the development of logic and scientific thinking.
Like Half-Life 2, Portal has many philosophical messages and questions. Portal can mess up with your feelings and morality and make you question many things. Portal will encourage you to leave the Platonic Cave and think about things like what is real, what is false and what is in between them. Portal can make you question trust and even freedom. Are we really free or we live inside an illusion like the people in Plato’s Cave?
Portal offers Puzzles that actually require logic and its philosophical messages can really mess up with your mind.
Chell’s Test Subject number is 1498.
If we take the second and third numbers from 1498, we have 49.
If we add 4 and 9 we have 13.
If we replace the 13 with the 49 in 1498 we have 1138.
This can be a reference to the movie THX 1138 which has a similar setting with Portal, depicting people living in an underground facility that is controlled by a sentient super-computer.
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