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Saturday, 23 February 2008 11:17

Review: Portal - Disorientating, disconcerting fun

Part of the excellent value contained in Valves Orange Box:  Consisting of a full suite of Halflife 2 games (Full original plus the two episodic releases) and the multiplayer fun of Team Fortress 2, Portal, the puzzle portion of the game, deserves a review of its own.

Dear readers, the following is a tale of woe and triumph, captured in a single 700 word review of one of the best games going around at the moment.
Orange Box - Portal
 orangeboxpack.jpg Developer
MA 15+
PC, PS3, Reviewed on Xbox 360

First the woe; Portal has the distinction of being the second game, behind Gears of War to be the one that killed my Xbox 360 .  Yep I am the victim [again] of the Red Ring-o-Death hardware issue inflicted after many hours of intense Portalling.

Still the Microsoft machine is well oiled in handling these issues , and I expect, that my Xbox 360 (or similar replacement model) will be returned soon.

Which will be great so that I can get back to Portal.  Recently revered by their peers, developer Valve have yet again nailed game-play without parallel.

So now we enter the 'triumph' part of the review, but sadly there is not much to really say about Portal, it is after all part of a greater release that is the Orange Box offering a variety of First Person play from the action adventure of HalfLife 2, including episodes 1 and 2 to the cartoony multiplayer mayhem of Team Fortress 2.  Portal sits aside from these titles as an atmospheric puzzler that will have you high fiving yourself after each 'mission'.

The reason there is not much to say, is that Portal is one of those games that nails simple game-play with a depth that is discovered by the player at their own pace, and the magic 'just one more level' addictiveness.portal1.jpg

The premise of the game; you are an android, trapped in Aperture Science test lab.  Your goal, to use the Portal Gun to simply get to the elevator exit of each level. Each level is a self contained room of platforms, doors that need to be activated somehow, as well as the more menacing sentry turrets and corrosive liquids.

The Portal Gun is the crux to the game, and requires explanation on its own.  Once the full gun is unlocked in the game, the Portal Gun enables you to “shoot” an oval portal onto just about any surface of a room, shoot the corresponding alternate portal somewhere else and you have created a connected mini wormhole that can be traversed by any real world object, including the player.

This is where the creative innovation of the game comes to the fore, to solve the rooms puzzle you will need to 'think with portals'.  Either by simply allowing you to areas not normally achievable through movement, or to get other in game object to use the portals to your advantage.portal2.jpg

To guide you, is the ever hilarious Aperture Science AI GLaDOS.   The guiding robotic voice over is initially helpful, but as the 'story' of Portal plays out, becomes increasingly sinister, simple brilliance on behalf of the Valve team gives Portal a 'more than meets the eye' storyline to seamlessly accompany the engrossing game-play.

Mastering what can be achieved with the Portal Gun, layout and objects at hand, rules of momentum and gravity coupled with the occasional sheer fluke will see you shoot through Portal in three to five hours, but even then, the master levels and unlocked voice narrative add some replay ability.  (unless of course your Xbox 360 fails – see above).

Portal is a modern masterpiece of simple engrossing game design, something, along with much more complex games such as Civilization that capture a similar emotion, you will remember for a long time.  And another thing to remember, the Companion Cube is your friend .

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Mike Bantick

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Having failed to grow up Bantick continues to pursue his childish passions for creative writing, interactive entertainment and showing-off through adulthood. In 1994 Bantick began doing radio at Melbourne’s 102.7 3RRRFM, in 1997 transferring to become a core member of the technology show Byte Into It. In 2003 he wrote briefly for the The Age newspaper’s Green Guide, providing video game reviews. In 2004 Bantick wrote the news section of PC GameZone magazine. Since 2006 Bantick has provided gaming and tech lifestyle stories for, including interviews and opinion in the RadioactivIT section.





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