Platform: Windows; Macintosh; Playstation 3; Xbox360
Review: When I first played Portal, I had never played Half-Life, nor been particularly fond of first-person shooters. Basically, I’m more interested in engaging my mind than I am my reflexes. Portal manages to do both at the same time, striking the perfect balance of action and strategy. While using a similar environment as in Half-Life, you control a subject who is trying to advance through test chambers in a research laboratory. What is being tested is a device that fires beams of light that create portals in walls for easy transport or escape. For example, say you need to traverse a pit and you can’t jump across; create a portal on the wall across the pit and one on your side. Walk through and—voila!—you’re on the other side. Valve fleshes this idea out considerably, with several chambers testing your mind, and in some cases, your agility.
An excellent learning curve is aided by the computer, who explains things to you along the way and gives you some tips early on. Eventually, a plot of sorts develops that is aided by superb voice acting and a chilling atmosphere. At no point did the sounds or colors feel superfluous, the designers proving themselves a model of efficiency.
Speaking of efficiency, the game can be won in a cool four to six hours. For the low price, this is certainly acceptable. And as always, too short trumps too long (at least in gaming). But if you finish and are still thirsting for more as I was, you can play challenge missions or download user-created missions, some of which rival the quality of the original. Or you can go ahead and get the sequel. Despite how one feels about this genre, there is no denying that Portal is one of the best developed games of all-time. This one is definitely staying on the desktop.
Contemporary Rating: High.
Cruelty Rating: Merciful. There are regular checkpoints that the game sends you back to if you kick the bucket.