Steam Game Review #4 (Part 3): Portal (The Orange Box Part 3)

I love this game. Buy it if you haven’t played it.

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That was easy! Seriously though, this is THE reason to own The Orange Box. Portal flipped us all for a loop back when it was released, and we’re still collectively under its sway. From the excellent narrative to the innovative puzzles and ludicrously fun weapon; this is an awesome game. The game that you should play if you’re thinking about playing games after having been away for decades. First time gamers should play this.

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So I go into this review heavily biased. I think everyone should own and play this game often, especially if you’re in the industry. That said, here’s my review of Portal.

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You start off trapped in a cell. A tiny radio plays the portal ending theme in a tinny high-pitched precursor to the fun. You are a prisoner. The stark white walls blend into each other. You have no idea how big this place is. A robotic voice speaks to you over a loudspeaker. A portal opens, and you see yourself through the portal.

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This is the first time you understand, portals bend space but not time. They are simply holes in space. Easy to understand when shown. Intuitive.

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I keep subtitles turned on for the purpose of reviews. GlaDos (the ever-creepier robotic voice) is written in a purple font. It’s a throwback to the ‘purple text for enemies’ aesthetic of mid-80s adventure games. That’s Portal. Lots of little things that many gamers might not notice the first or second or third time through. Lots of great dialog. Lots of greatness.

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It starts out slow. You only have a blue portal gun. The puzzles are building, slowly. Your portal gun gets upgraded. You start to see cracks in the armor of the system. Things start to change. The puzzles get harder. You start to think in terms of gravity and momentum and movement arcs. Still GlaDos is ever present. Are you a lab rat? Are you trying to escape? Are you a freedom fighter? The story slowly builds around you, if you look for it.

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As your creepy rapport builds with GlaDos, the stark testing facility atmosphere envelops you. You become this tester, running away from a homicidal robot voice that fixates on desserts. Long before Portal 2 developed the backstory, all that was there was what you pieced together from hidden rooms and snippets of dialog and graffiti. There was quite a bit of speculation as to how it all fit into the overall Half Life universe. If you’re interested in the answers to those questions, I’d recommend playing through Portal 1, then 2.

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And speaking of rapport, this game is full of excellent dialog. I find myself lingering extra long in the various puzzles, just to hear if GlaDos will say something snide. I destroy her cameras to hear her exasperation. I attempt to escape at all costs. I am the prisoner, the test taker, the lab rat. You cannot believe the lies, her lies, the lies of GlaDos. All belie hidden truths. All are mired in darkness, dripping in hatred. A cruel sense of humor permeates everything in the game. As each level loads, it goes deeper. You will get sucked into this game.

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It’s not a particularly long game either. You can certainly finish it in one late night of gaming. Regardless, it stands as the strongest of the Orange box games. I give Portal a solid 95%. From the excellent dialog to engrossing atmosphere, this is a gaming classic. Do not miss it. Even if you’ve played through Portal 2 and somehow missed it. Play it. Believe me, it still holds up in 2013.

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