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Fantastic Gameplay Offsets Short Ride
Published on October 13, 2007 By iTZKooPA In Gaming

This is the continuation of The Orange Box review that I started the other day. You can check out my review of Team Fortress 2 here.



Now Portal is obviously different than almost any FPS game that anyone has ever played. Unless of course you played the team's original design which caused Valve to hire them, Narbacular Drop which I didn't. As soon as hearing about Portal I quickly began researching it and found out about its origins but was already playing something so I never bothered to snag the free title from their website. Now that I have finished Portal I will probably play their original title once I finish all the extra Advanced and Challenge maps. The reason I want to finish them is because I am a sucker for complex/skill-based puzzle games. I don't go for the Tetrises or Zumas or Bust-a-Moves kind of puzzle games, instead I am into the maze solution or goal-oriented titles like Marble Madness or more recently Super Monkey Ball: Banana Blitz so I figured I would enjoy Portal, especially after seeing the first trailer and became more excited as the release date approached.

Narbacular Drop Screenshot; Its come a long way

Visuals & Gameplay

Not to much can be said for the visual. The game is built on the Source engine, and it looks like any other Source title, which means pretty good. Portal was also set in the Half-Life universe so there aren't some crazy new settings or art styles introduced that way. Players are placed in the typical scientific setting, a research facility. Of course seeing as you are using an experimental weapon this makes sense, but nonetheless, it certainly isn't Earth-shattering. What is Earth-shattering is the gameplay mechanic, making a Portal on approved surfaces to achieve your ultimate goal, of passing more and more complex “tests."

Look at the clock in the far-background. Yea it's upside down, but it's on the wall, you are just looking at it thru the floor. Confused?

The gameplay is really what makes the game. Aside from the groups initial outing that I mentioned above I have never seen something like this before. The idea of something THIS original in the puzzle genre is what drew me to the game so forcefully and also the reason I was engaged so quickly. Naturally the player is eased into the mind-fuck of a game by initially controlling no aspect of the portal gun. They are then given the Blue portal gun with the level having a dedicated Orange portal until a bit later. The fun really picks up when the player receives both parts of the experimental weapon in the middle of the game. The levels become more challenging but by now one should be pretty comfortable with the way your avatar reacts to portal transfer, the player will often fall like a cat, always landing on their feet, so you may get a bit disoriented when portaling from a wall to the ceiling or the other way around) and be able to use it to your advantage instead of nearly puking. A quick way to pick up one of the useless Achievements is to make a portal on the ceiling and the matching exit on the floor directly below it, let yourself fall thru them for awhile and you will get the “Fall 30,000 feet" achievement.

Hmm, could this be how you fall that far?

Level Design

What generally makes a puzzle game a great puzzle game is, well good, neh, GREAT puzzles. Since this isn't one of those “here's a mess of crap, get out of it" kind of titles much more thought had to go into the design of the levels. As hinted at in the gameplay section, the early levels are very easy. In fact they are downright a joke, but they are there to get you integrated into the gameplay. For me it wasn't until we got past about the first dozen levels where they became interesting and I really started appreciating them. This shouldn't ruin anything for anyone but later in the game you will reach areas where you CAN'T put a portal exit/entrance on. These metallic like areas instead cause you to use some other method of perhaps momentum or box stacking to reach the goal. The later levels, especially the last 2-3 are simply awesome and can take as long as the previous 15 levels combined due to their complexity or timing situations. Sadly I can't go into detail of how awesome they are because I don't want to tip anyone off to the strategies (although you can generally solve a puzzle differently with a few minor variations to your strategy) or the story of the game. Just take it from me that the level design is ingenious overall and has laid a strong base of ideas and concepts for mapmakers to grow from.

Ok so we have sentry guns, moving platforms, poisonous water, a deadly ball of energy and large distances...any questions??

Story & Wrap-Up

Valve announced awhile back that Portal would be adapted into the Half-Life 2 Universe and although I haven't even played that game, it seems pretty obvious that they did. I am sure I missed some nuances in the story that relate to the HL2 universe but it's not like the story was incredibly deep or complex. Basically the gamer's avatar (whom is a women by the way) has been chosen to test out the new weapon and so they throw you in a series of test chambers. A robotic voice guides you through the test although it becomes obvious that something seems a little off with the computer as you become more and more adapt with your new toy. The story isn't the mind-trip that the game can be but it's entertaining enough to pay attention to and can be particularly funny at times; the end credits are great.

Sadly Portal's biggest problem is that it's just too damned short. I mean REALLY short, I finished the game in just over two hours, my friend who said he's mentally deficient at puzzle games finished it in three, and he died a lot. There are only 19 levels (you figure that out pretty fast, like at level 1) and you should be able to finish the first 5-10 in under 30 minutes. My hope is that Valve and the community continue to support Portal with some serious map releases and maybe some “episodic" story packs from Valve themselves. Would be great if they added something like that in Episode 3 as another bonus. All in all I would have been on the fence withThe Orange Box if these two games where all that came with it. That's past tense because after playing them and enjoying them so much I would have thought myself stupid. But thats not even the case, at the worst you get Episode 2 as well, and for saps like me I get a whole lot more, making it one of the most bang for the buck titles I have received in recent memory. Unless you can't stand FPSs at all you most definitely should pick up The Orange Box. If you do hate FPSs and never play multiplayer games then please at least think about picking up a stand-alone copy of Portal, it is expensive at $19.95 for its length but it should offer more entertainment than buying a DVD.

Something is definitely going on as shown in this room. What's the deal with the no-smoking sign with a cake in it?

Opinion on Orange Box Reviews

I am a bit annoyed at the way people have been praising the game just out of the sheer value of the package. Granted I feel that this certainly is a huge factor in deciding on a purchase, but calling 'it' the best game ever just doesn't seem fair. It is not a single game, it's at the very least, three games, Half-Life 2: Episode 2, Portals and Team Fortress 2 and possibly five if you count the original HL2 and the first episode. How can that be fair to compare and rate against other singular titles, especially when part of it was already released. And again I do agree wholeheartedly that it has got the most bang for the buck value of any title to come out in a long time. The main stupid thing that annoyed me with the review is that many game sites are claiming that it has taken the top Metacritic rating from either Halo 3 or Bioshock when as Destructoid and myself pointed out that The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time is way ahead of everything with a Metascore of 99/100. Their lack of research is just ridiculous. I do feel that the scores are a bit inflated for The Orange Box for reasons above but it is still way better than Halo 3 from what I have played so far of both titles. Halo 3 will have to pull out some major stops in the later half of the game for me to think the two are comparable experiences.

For those that read this far, here is how you get another achievement, destroy all the cameras to get the “Camera shy" award. Don't worry it gets WAY more difficult to do in the later levels and adds to the puzzle.

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