I’m not a big puzzle game person. I don’t usually have the lateral thinking to complete complex puzzles (despite being told by my old science teacher that I think ‘backwards,’ which I’m still not sure is a compliment). Portal, on the other hand, had me in it’s grasp from the inconspicuous beginning until the glorious ending. The Aperture Science Handheld Portal Device that you use in the game is so versatile you’ll play Portal all over again just to try different solutions. That, my friends, is the mark of a great game.

Portal starts with you waking up in a small chamber, unable to leave. You get your first experience with portals when a creepy computer voice creates one so you can get out of your confined space. What follows is a well-paced puzzle game that requires both quick thinking and manual dexterity to survive. The puzzles start easy enough, placing blocks onto  switches to open doors, and just following pre-made portals, but doesn’t hit it’s stride until you get your own portal gun. That is when the game busts wide open in possibilities. I know for a fact that I didn’t complete some of the puzzles the way the game intended me to, but that’s half the fun.

You’re encouraged to be creative in Portal. Try different solutions, and see if you can’t pull off some feat of daring-do that you can brag about for years to come. One of the puzzles that I MacGuyver’d had you re-directing a horizontally bouncing energy ball into a vertical receptacle behind a ‘fizzler’ that erases portals. I got the energy ball bouncing at weird angles until it struck the receptacle, but I later found out, in a subsequent play-through, that you were supposed to rush inside the fizzler-blocked area and set portals inside there to aim it more directly. That goes to show that the most direct way isn’t always the only way.

You’re usually alone in Portal, except for one memorable test with the infamous Companion Cube.

You get Companion Cube, a variation on the weighted cubes you’d been using throughout the game, in one test that requires you to take it with you to the end of the mission. The difference from normal cubes being that this one has a heart on the side. I really didn’t care about the stupid cube until the game told me to euthanize it, at which point I felt sorry for the cube because of how the game’s demented computer voice personified it. I recommend anyone playing through that mission to wait a few minutes before completing the test, because the computer voice’s encouragements to kill the cube were hilarious. If you want to see something funny, search Companion Cube on Google. There’s Companion Cube wallpaper, avatars, pics of the in-game Companion Cube shrine and more. We miss you, Companion Cube!

The graphics fit the game perfectly.  You really get the feeling you’re in a cold research facility, and the areas after the main game are a huge contrast and fit the atmosphere of the game very well. The sounds were minimal, which fits, with the eerily cold computer voice echoing through the chambers reciting really funny lines that’ll stick in your head for a long time. The portal gun has a satisfying kick and makes a nice ‘thump’ sound rather then the ‘zap’ you might expect. All in all, the presentation is very solid.

Portal is a great game and is even better as part of Valve’s Orange Box. I’ll be reviewing the other major parts of the Orange Box (Team Fortress 2 and Half Life 2: Episode 2) soon. As for Portal, I’d recommend it even to those who don’t normally play first person games or puzzlers. Alphasim out.