Promising Cake in the #14 Position…
Portal Valve is known for great games. So when they released ‘The Orange Box’, a set of three games sold together containing Half-Life 2: Episode 2, Team Fortress 2, and a third new puzzle game called Portal, the strange twist of fate was that Portal became a huge hit that easily rivaled it’s more well-known companions. There are Portal toys, clothing, and it spawned an outstanding sequel in Portal 2. Images from the game are quickly and easily recognizable within the gaming community. There are many good reasons why this game, which seemed to be a throwaway game compared to its original companions, has flourished into one of the most easily recognizable games out there, and is at 14th on our list.
Portal is a simple game. There are complex elements, but at its heart it is a simple game. The player, as an unnamed protagonist (yes, I know her name is Chell, but you don’t know that in the original) wakes up in a laboratory-style chamber, where she goes from room to room solving increasingly complex puzzles. After the first few (designed to familiarize the player with the controls and how basic mechanics work), she is given the portal gun. This gun lets you do exactly what its name implies: make a portal from one area to another, as long as you have the right surface area to apply the portals. Two sides of one portal can be placed at a time, one blue and the other orange. The uses of this gun seem only limited by the number of usable surfaces, and the player’s ability to ‘think with portals’ to find abstract ways to solve the puzzle at hand. But when the puzzles end, and your use as a testing subject comes to a close, the Artificial Intelligence running and constructing the tests has no use of you, and proceeds to try to dispose of you accordingly (also known as lowering you into a pit of fire, because apparently The AI is a huge fan of Bond movies). After a quick escape, it’s time to make your own fate, and defeat the sarcastic homicidal robotic system known as GLaDOS.
Physics can be Fun!
One of the great parts of Portal is that while the concept of giving the player the use of portals is simple, it opens up the your ability to move through the game in fantastic ways. Oftentimes, instead of solving puzzles, it’s entertaining just to find out how much you can get away with, and what you’re capable of. One portal on the ceiling and one directly below it lets Chell fall infinitely. Placing a portal below Chell then jumping through it can use the falling momentum to catapult Chell into another direction from where the portal exits. A player who is quick enough can place new portals right after falling out of one, and can gain an almost flight-like freedom. It teaches the player to take physics into account, such as momentum and trajectory. While it doesn’t force the player to learn mathematical physics, it definitely makes you grasp the practical side.
Portal is literally a game of two characters: Chell and GLaDOS. The game from start to finish is linear; each room has one entrance, and one exit. But the game doesn’t feel flat, and it’s mostly due to how the puzzles can be solved. While the solution for exiting the room will usually be the same, often there are a variety of ways to get the desired result. This keeps the game interesting and engaging. Different people solve problems different ways. There are also subtle features of the game that keep the player engaged. GLaDOS has a unique personality for an artificial intelligence….okay, she’s kind of a bitch. Snarky humor and back-handed complements create an animosity towards GLaDOS even before she tries to kill you. A prime example being the ‘companion cube’, which is simply a cube with a heart on each side. GLaDOS tells you it is now your companion throughout the next test. After finishing the test she then instructs you to destroy the cube before you’ll be allowed to proceed, only to mock you for how quickly you destroyed it afterwards.
Portal was a surprise hit in the Orange Box. And not the deadly neurotoxin kind of surprise; the cake kind of surprise!* Unlike the cake, Portal is very real and still alive with its sequel Portal 2. It’s the first game that opened up the possibilities of “thinking with portals” and is widely known by basically anyone that self-identifies as a gamer. The orange and blue portal holes have become almost iconic in basically no time at all. Portal gets a 4.5 out if 5, as its only real shortcoming is that by the end, like this article, you wish it was longer.