What a great time to be a gamer. It seems like there is no end in sight to that steady stream of excellent games. We already got Bioshock, Halo 3, the Orange Box, Guitar Hero III, and we're waiting for Rock Band, Mass Effect, all before Christmas. What we lack is time to play them all.
This is one that won't take too long. So I'm seeing this through our arbitrary prism of Seven Deadly Sins of Game Design...
- Checkpoints: the game automatically saves whenever you do something significant. Essentially, you never need to worry about saving. But you can if you want. Anytime. Perfect.
- Boss fights: there is one, and it's fun and balanced enough that you can reasonably beat it on your first try (I did). Perfect.
- Mini-games: there are none. Portal is a game that knows exactly what it is about, and it doesn't waste time diverging from what it does best. Perfect.
- Cut scenes and dialogues: Portal is a talkative game, and the text is wonderfully funny in a dark, random way. That doesn't break the rhythm of the game in any way, it just happens as you play. In that sense, the storytelling (and surprisingly there is storytelling in this game) is even less obtrusive than in Bioshock. Perfect.
- Reload times: the time you spend in elevators between levels could be shorter, but reload times are perfectly reasonable. Plus, you don't need to reload that often.
- Camera: you own it. No problem here.
- Control scheme: it's the usual FPS dual stick scheme, plus one button to jump, a choice of pressing a stick or a button to crouch and the triggers to project a hole of either color (blue or orange). Couldn't be simpler, each button has at most one function and it doesn't insist on using them all. Perfect.
So here it is, it's perfect. Buy it.
Seriously, this game is outrageously fun and clever at the same time. It will create fireworks in your brain. You'll have a big grin on your face the whole time you're playing it. The level design is exquisite, there is a unique atmosphere and personality to the game and of course it relies on an extremely original idea, which is this portal gun that can connect two places with a pair of portals no matter how far away from each other and enable instantaneous travel. This was originally a independent student's project (Narbacular Drop, free to download) that was bought by Valve to become part of the Half-Life universe. And one can see while playing the game how Portal is just an opening. The possibilities are endless. The first thing that comes to mind is how well this could work in a FPS like Half-Life. This portal gun may well be the new gravity gun, only even better and a lot more mind-bending (in addition to being space-bending).
Sure, it only lasts two to three hours, but three hours you'll never forget.
Just in case you don't know, Portal is part of the Orange Box.