#782 Portal

Posted: 27th November 2012 by Mulholland in Games
Tags: , , , , , ,

197th played so far

Genre: Puzzle/Action
Platform: PC/Xbox 360/PS3
Year of Release: 2007
Developer: Valve
Publisher: Valve

Memes. A term that first arose in the 1970s when Richard Dawkins wanted a term to apply to how ideas, catchphrases and other such items of culture can quickly pass through a populace. In the age of the internet this is something that has exploded since now not only do things like nursery account for our collective consciousness but also things like lolcats.

By 2007 most of the internet savvy will have encountered the likes of the Dancing Baby or the Hampster (sic) dance. On a personal level, the first meme I was awake was called a meme was actually the Loituma Girl.

I mention the idea of memes for one reason: the cake is a lie. I can not think of a meme that has united gamers the world over more than this. In about two hours of gameplay this game created a legacy that really shaped how games have been marketed since.

Our Thoughts

Believe it or not, until today (as in, writing today, not you reading today), I had never played Portal. Never seen more than a screenshot or two. Read quite a bit about the mechanics and options, and its various appearances in memes, jokes and more.

So, as I really wanted to play Portal at last, I did so in about three hours in mostly one sitting (well, with a food break, but that’s all). It’s the perfect size for it and is the sort of game where you have to.

It starts off nice and simple. The game slowly settles you into the elements that you need to use through the puzzles. These slowly ramp up in difficulty, as usual, and remain challenging, though clearly not impossible. There’s some elements that take longer to be introduced, but it all leads from what happened before – aside from a few icons, you never get (or need) an explanation. And that makes you feel a lot smarter.

There’s a few oddities through the levels, although this starts off as humorous narration and comments, but this starts to sound slightly more sinister down the line. There’s a few other hints in the level, but let’s say the last third of the game isn’t about solving puzzles any longer… there’s more going on, but we’ll avoid the spoilers to that.

And this is where I step in. As I mentioned in my introduction this is one of those games where everyone knows what the ending is. Just YouTube the award-winning ending song ‘Still Alive’ and you have an idea what is going on.

The fact is that by avoiding ‘spoilers’ (although this is as much as a spoiler as the ending of Empire Strikes Back is) you avoid talking about the thing that made this game the success it is; GLaDOS. This sociopathic computer is what makes this game what it is. True, the physics puzzles are clever and the portal gun itself is inspired but she takes the cake. Pun unintended.

At the very beginning of the game it is clear there is something wrong. Where are the other employees? Why do the turrets apologise after you disable them? What’s with all the glitches in her speech? It is clear very early on that these tests are part of a sadistic computers attempts at playing god. What is even more chill in realisation are not the first unlucky soul to go through this. Every now and then you come across little hold-ups containing tools and a radio as well as blood/faeces smeared walls containing clues of where to go and the memetic phrase ‘the cake is a lie’ and links to the Half Life universe.

When you eventually escape being incinerated then GLaDOS comes into her own. Her vindictive, passive-aggressive, manic own. The fact that she makes a return in Portal 2 is great since the dismantling of her parts is actually gruesome from a technical standpoint… what? I would have loved to keep the yellow module… so cute!

In the end there are two parts to this game. First, the game is excellent in putting its storytelling in the game – its setting and puzzles – not requiring any cutscenes or other exposition. It’s helped a lot by a lot of callbacks too. You get a good idea of what happened, and that makes it all the more chilling.

Part two is in its deconstruction of certain game ‘tropes’. A few puzzles in, you start to be able to look ‘behind the walls’, and that becomes more major down the line. You’re not just solving puzzles in a clean environment. There’s something going on behind the walls. Other people have written more on this, but you quite literally go backstage, and in a way it’s a bit mindbending – a bit meta – but at the same time, sensible. Finding it quiet makes it even creepier.

Final Thoughts

The game is a good puzzle game, with fun, if mindbending, puzzles, purely physics based and leading from everything else. It has a brilliant, if weird story that’s amazing on its own. And it looks good as well. Add the slight philosophical elements to it and… well, let’s just say that this has entered my top 10.

We played Portal now because we have plans for games 201-250. We’ll mention this more in the round up in the next week or so.

We also figured that in 151-200 we have not covered many ‘big’ games. In previous groups we have had the likes of Super Mario 64, Tomb Raider and Final Fantasy VII. So we needed a big name!

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