Tuesday, April 16, 2024
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Games to Play Before You Die: Portal

Portal is a First-Person Physics Puzzle Game Where the Science isn’t even the Best Bit

Continuing our gaming bucket list, we can’t go past Valve’s mash-up of genres, Portal. At its core, Portal is a puzzle game that utilises the control scheme of a first-person shooter. While we could talk endlessly about the fun shenanigans you can get into by throwing objects through portals, it’s peripheral additions to the game that steal the show.

The Titular Portals Are Entirely Unique

The primary objective of Portal is to use said portals to solve physics-based puzzles. They vary in complexity and theme (some involve building momentum, others redirecting lasers) but the experience is entirely dynamic. The only limitation placed on the portals is the surfaces on which they can be placed. It still, however, gives plenty of room for exploring their potential.

Solving the puzzles is fun in and of itself; and some of the later ones become a real challenge. If you start to struggle and can’t find the solution, there’s not a whole lot stopping you from tossing a couple of portals around the room and throwing blocks – or yourself – through them.

Variety is the spice of the Portal life as the puzzles don’t become stale by the end. After solving the test chambers for hours, it could be forgiven for a player to tire of it. Portal keeps things changing and shakes things up enough to keep the player hooked.

prtl 3
Now you’re thinking with portals


There is a World Outside the Test Chambers

Unlike other puzzle games, the difference challenges aren’t navigated by a menu. The world in which the Aperture Science Laboratory exists is portioned out to you throughout the game. There is a story behind the setting and a narrative for the player to experience.

The narrative primarily centres around the relationship between Chell, the player, and GLaDOS, the malevolent robotic curator of the lab. Developing this relationship is where so much of Portal‘s strength is. Because the protagonist is mute a la Link, the dialogue is one-way. Still, though, the interactions convey the increasing disturbance of being stuck in this building together.

With so much effort going to the design of each puzzle, it’s inspiring that the details have not suffered. Illuminated boards alert you to the dangers of the test chamber ahead. These boards, combined with the design of the settings and the narrative itself, are charming. They’re simple, yet entertaining. An overall enhancement to the enjoyment of the puzzles.

It’s Funny

Portal is one of the few games lately that is actually funny. The sarcasm and political incorrectness from GLaDOS provide some of the most quotable one liners from gaming. By now I’m not sure there isn’t a gamer who hasn’t heard the Cave Johnson lemons tirade.

Making a game with appreciable humour isn’t the easiest thing to do. We’ve seen a few attempts at breaking through the comedic genre, such as Clayfighter‘s satire of popular fighting games or, more recently, Sunset Overdrive. In both these cases, however, the humour is on the nose. They’re very overt in their attempts at comedy. Portal‘s take is understated. It’s almost as if the game is funny by accident and all the more successful for it.



Portal is essentially the story of GLaDOS. The narrative is driven entirely by her dialogue and the pressure on this character to be a success is huge. Fortunately for Valve, she delivers.

You can read all day about why it is that this character is the stuff of gaming legend but until you play the game for yourself, you won’t truly appreciate it. GLaDOS elicits the unique combination of rage and appreciation with her deadpan wit (There is no cake – Ed).

For the duration of the game (and the majority of the sequel), it is just you and her. If the character was not so well written and performed, it could’ve very easily been a source of great frustration for players. But it is because so much of the game relies on GLaDOS that she can be such a success.

Worth playing Portal just to be on the receiving end of her glib barbs.

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Final Words

The Portal series is well worth playing for a few reasons. One of the more unusual is as a training ground for first-person shooters. Portal utilises much of the same control scheme as the standard first-person shooter but it is much slower.

This allows players who are not comfortable in this environment to be more methodical with their movements without being punished. It functions well as a gateway-drug to more games in this genre.


Any gaming library is not complete without the mixture of unique puzzle experience and general entertainment that comes from Portal.

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