Portal was released by Valve Corporation for the PC on October 9th, 2007. The game was released for Windows, Playstation 3, and Xbox 360 in a bundle called The Orange Box, and then re-released as a standalone for the PC and Xbox Live Arcade in 2008, and then for Mac OS X in 2010. Portal is built to run off of the Source Engine and is actually part of the Half-Life series, despite the difference in tone and the use of no similar characters. Like the Half-Life series, Portal is a science-fiction first-person puzzle-platform game. The game has won multiple awards and has garnered great success among the avid video gamer, as well as novice or even ‘casual’ gamer because of its very simple game mechanics, easy controls, and fun factor.
Throughout Portal, you play as a character, named Chell, that does not speak or show emotion, and is only visible through indirect means, usually through a portal, and only takes actions that the player commands. As the protagonist of this game’s plot, you control Chell throughout the Enrichment Center for Aperture Laboratories test facilities using the portal gun. Guiding you along the way is a computer program called GLaDOS that is responsible for encouraging you to continue moving so that ‘she’ can continue monitoring you throughout the test chambers. Within these test chambers, you face platform obstacles that you must overcome in order to complete each level. These puzzles all have different ways of completing them, but most of them rely on the use of the portal gun. The portal gun has a simple mechanic built around it, but is used very differently throughout the game. The portal gun has two different color portals that can be shot onto certain surfaces. Whenever both are shot onto surfaces, they open to allow passage from one portal to the other. This can be used to get from one side of a level to the other side very quickly, or to allow the player to get around an obstacle. Other common elements of the puzzles in the test chambers are enemies to avoid or destroy, the Aperture Science high energy pellet, or the 1500 megawatt Aperture Science heavy Duty super-colliding super button. Each puzzle utilizes these elements differently to work with other elements, or to be used as stand-alone obstacles.
Chell is a character that remains invisible throughout the game unless specifically viewed through a portal. She remains out of the way despite the fact that she can technically be seen in the distance. Besides being under the control of the player, Chell has no control or emotions of her own to effect the story-line or surroundings of the game. This character is an example of a silent hero, like Master Chief or Link. One important characteristic of Chell is that she is a female protagonist, which is very uncommon. It would be a fair comparison to relate Chell to Samus Aaron of Metroid in the sense that whenever the player is controlling each of these protagonists, their bodies are outside of view during most of the game-play and therefore, the player is able to look past gender biasing and are less subject to predispositions. Interestingly, Samus is also a speechless character. It is common to see female characters in video games, movies, and books that are outspoken and attention-seeking. Many female lead characters use their voice to complement their ferocious attitudes. Chell is definitely set apart from the norm.
The other main character, later discovered to be the antagonist, is the narrating robot called GLaDOS. As Chell is moved throughout the levels, despite GLaDOS being robotic, voice and personality are conveyed through narration for many purposes. One purpose in particular is to enlighten the player of upcoming challenges from different obstacles. Some instances, GLaDOS gives hints as to how to solve a puzzle, but other times, she simply states that these tests need to be finished and encourages the player to continue through the test chambers. GLaDOS is not seen until the very end of the game and is very omniscient of everything that is going on. Once GLaDOS is seen, it is revealed that she looks very human-like, as her personality would suggest, except she is contorted and hanging from the ceiling as though she were a prisoner, or even appear as though she is being tortured.
Despite the fact that Chell does not speak to GLaDOS, GLaDOS has conversations with Chell, and transitively, the player, through the Aperture Science Speaker System. The only means of watching Chell is through installed video observation devices. GLaDOS constantly reminds the player that they are being watched by encouragement or commenting on the current situation.
In order to create Portal to be more puzzle-like as opposed to action-like, Valve included several gameplay mechanics. The biggest being the portal gun, that is used for several purposes as already described. However, combining the use of the portal gun with other things such as the second biggest mechanic, gravity, will produce several desired effects. For instance, a pair of portals can be used to walk through a wall to get from on place to another, but they can also be placed on the floor in order to achieve high jumping distances. To achieve this common strategy, the player must shoot one portal onto a floor platform at a high level, and shoot the other onto a floor platform at a much lower level. Whenever the player jumps down from the higher platform and into the lower platform, none of the kinetic energy is lost as the player goes through the lower portal, and flies out of the one placed much higher. Adding in horizontal speeds will not only add height to the jumps, but also great distances that can be used to jump over obstacles, or to other high platforms.
The two most basic and simple tools throughout portal are the Aperture Science weighted storage cube and switches. Switches can take several forms. Two types that are easily spotted and are first introduced are the basic button and the super button. The basic button is a button that requires you to walk up to and touch in order to activate. The basic buttons are set up to be on podium-like control panels. The super buttons, however, are buttons that are set up on the floor and are much wider. They require weight to be placed on top of them in order to active and are only active whenever this occurs. As soon as weight is removed, their effects are eliminated. In order to hold the button down and have the buttons active while the player is away from the button, the player must direct Chell to pick up an Aperture Science weighted storage cube and place it on top of the super button. If the player only wants a super button to have a short-term effect, the player can also direct Chell to stand on the button and move off of it whenever the button is to deactivate. The weighted companion cube can also be used next to a higher platform as a step-up. These switches will do a wide range of things from opening doors to activating moving platforms, to opening vital apparatus vents which drop more weighted storage cubes.
One more mechanic that is used throughout the Portal game is the Aperture Science high energy pellet. These balls of energy are shot out of pellet launchers and bounce off of walls and floors and other solid objects such as the weighted storage cube. Another way the player can guide these pellets is by placing portals, which the pellets can pass through to reach their destination. The player must interact with these pellets differently given the situation. In every situation, however, these pellets are fatal upon contact and will cause the player to restart part of the level again. The player must avoid these pellets, but sometimes, these pellets must be guided by means of the player into high energy pellet catchers. Once a high energy pellet lands into the catcher, the pellet does not bounce out and is no longer a threat to the player, and most commonly, the pellet will activate the catcher as a switch. Like normal buttons throughout the game, these catchers will activate a wide range of events.
There are two kinds of enemies within Portal. One of them is placed throughout most of the game and is fairly easy to defeat or destroy, while the other is only seen in two instances throughout the game. Whenever the player first steps into the sights of the first enemy type, the sentry turrets, their lasers lock onto the player and shoot out a machine gun-line weapon that will kill Chell. The player must avoid long exposure in the sight of these turrets as dying will revert the player back to a previous point and sometimes a lot of work can be lost this way. These sentry turrets also speak, but all say the same thing, multiple times, and it is clearly made that they are not characters within the game. During the story-line, Chell makes her way through an assembly area. Psychologically speaking, seeing something that is to be human-like within a story nearly never involves seeing it dismantled or disassembled. Seeing what actual makes up the turrets destroys any personification that the dialog of the story creates. It is clear to the player that these turrets were not designed to be relatable. In fact, they were designed to annoy the player as they are often placed in areas that require them to be destroyed and cannot be avoided. In order to destroy one of these sentry turrets, the player must be able to get close to one, pick it up, and knock it against the ground or another object. (Sometimes, a weighted storage cube can be used to smack against the turrets.) Using the portal gun, a player is sometimes able to shoot a portal under a sentry turret and shoot the other portal next to a cliff or up high in order to make the turret fall into water or into the ground with high speeds. Another way to use a portal to destroy a turret is to shoot behind a torrent, and then a wall that is close to the player so that the player can walk behind the turret and knock it over. Of course, within the game, the player also needs to destroy some of the sentry turrets with the high energy pellets.
The second kind of enemy is the rocket sentry and is only seen twice in the game. It can kill you with only one shot but is placed both times to be used to your advantage. The first time it appears, the sentry locks onto the player like the sentry turret and shoots a single rocket. These rocks can destroy thick glass windows. That is how the player makes their way to the end of the final level. Once at the end, the player must use the rocket sentry to shoot towards the player, and into one portal, passing the rocket out of the second and towards GLaDOS in order to destroy her.
The story of Portal starts with Chell waking up in a prison cell-like room that contains only a radio, some papers, a toilet, and bed. She waits until a timer runs out and then you are able to navigate her out of the cell, where you are immediately given a portal gun and are instructed to how it is used by GLaDOS. GLaDOS tells you that you are a test subject and are to be closely watched as you attempt to finish through the Aperture Science testing facility. It is quickly noticeable that the theme for the game Portal is white and seamless futuristic. GLaDOS helps you out by telling you how each new mechanic works as you advance from stage to state through an elevator. (This elevator is the only time you see a ‘loading screen’ within the game. Setting this loading screen during this time allows the story-line of the game to have as less interruption as possible.) As you progress through the game, the puzzles that you are to solve become harder and harder. GLaDOS encourages you to continue moving along, and even makes an offer of cake for whenever you finish through the test facility. One of the first things you find is the weighted storage cube. The first one you find is referred to by GLaDOS as the companion cube, as it is to help you as a companion would through the puzzles.
However, as you continue through the story, passed the middle of the game, you notice that there have been some places where the neo-futuristic look is corrupted by destroyed panels and mechanisms. As your progress, these become more common as they become bigger areas. Whenever a player explores these areas, they are able to enter a new-themed area that is gritty, dirty, and often dark section of the map. Along the walls are graffiti and writings and handprints. These become more violent, and the writings eventually say things such as Portal’s famous line, “The cake is a lie…” Pictures are hung up depicting the companion cube as an angel. The grittiness of it adds uneasiness to the game and adds mystery as to what is really happening in the storyline.
On Stage 17, the player is instructed to destroy the companion cube by GLaDOS at it contains information that should not be duplicated or taken elsewhere. It could be bad for Aperture Science as a whole. This is an important conflicting decision for the player to take, because afterwards, GLaDOS says things that refer to you as a murderer, even though she says that the companion cube has no feelings or emotions. She also states that she is glad that she is not Chell because Chell has the ability to die. By the remarks that GLaDOS makes, it would seem as though she thinks that it is funny to watch people die.
Finally, on the last stage, you are put through a series of obstacles that somewhat put to challenge all of the skills that you acquired throughout the first 18 levels. You finally are to ride along a platform that GLaDOS states will lead to your party with cake. However, the platform is lowered into a pit of fire and you are to die. If you act quickly enough, you are able to shoot portals to a very far off section of the map and teleport away instead of being lead into your certain destruction. Baffled, GLaDOS states that she was joking with you about killing you and that you must lay down indefinitely in order to go to your party. Using a few clever techniques, the player can control Chell to transport her to a different section of the level that was obviously destroyed some how. Whenever you reach this section of the map, the theme of the levels drastically change from a clean white look to a gritty and dark that is very remecient of the sections of the map with the graffiti. After discovering that GLaDOS was actually evil, you run away through the ruins of the Aperture Science facility, looking for a way out and away from the villain. As you go, GLaDOS’s voice fades as she no longer can track you with her observation devices. Continuing through the plant, you see more graffiti that helps direct you where to go, in place of GLaDOS. You are still able to use the portal gun, but the amount of surfaces that you can use the portal gun is dwindled down severely. After managing your way through a rusted and destroyed section of the complex, you reach a section of the stage that has cubicles and offices that look like a modern work office. These offices look clean, but have their door handles rusted off, so you have to manage a different route. Eventually, however, you meet up with GLaDOS, herself. She is hanging from the ceiling, taunting you, telling you that she will kill you and you must die like everyone else at the Aperture Science labs. An electric device falls off of her and she tells you that you must leave it alone. But, there is a furnace that you previously used to destroy your companion cube, and you incinerate that robotic piece, too. She states that she is glad that you did because that was the piece that controlled her morale. The same one that malfunctioned and allowed her to kill everyone in the facility using a deadly gas that she released. Spontaneously, she starts releasing the same gas into the room both are you are in and taunts you about how you have a choice of waiting to die, or to kill yourself with the rocket sentry that comes out from in the ground, as a countdown beings that looks very much like the one at the beginning of the game that kept you inside of your cell.
The player learned before that they can trick the rocket turret into shooting rockets into their portal by standing in front of it in order to guide the missiles where they want like the high energy pellets. Using this technique, the player and send missiles towards GLaDOS, and piece by piece, put her into the incinerator. Eventually, however, her whole infrastructure is destroyed and she is sucked out of the lab through the ceiling with a vacuum.
Afterwards, you do not know what happens to Chell. This game has no cut-scenes in it and only briefly shows you one small video that is apparently only put into the game as a gag video. You also do not get to see what happens to GLaDOS except that it appears that something rather small was crawling around in the parking lot of the facility.
At the start of the storyline until the near end, Portal adds no music that emphasizes or enhances gameplay value. The background music is simply background noise that adds nothing. Despite that fact, it also does not take away from or interrupt the gaming experience. The game strives for realistic graphics and physics, despite portals being most likely impossible under the laws of physics. Alongside that, the sound effects in the game are striving to be realistic, as they utilize the Source Engine in order to create sound effects when anything is banged up against anything else and is changed to echo or to be deeper, depending on the room you do it in.
Portal has won many awards including Best Puzzle Game and Most Innovative Design from IGN in 2011, alone. Portal, including the packaged releases and standalone sales, has sold nearly 4 million copies worldwide and has seen an amazingly huge success as a game. Because of its massive popularity, Valve has released Portal 2 that is for the PS3, Xbox 360, PC, and Mac OS.