This review will contain some spoilers.
Portal is basically perfect in every way. I loved absolutely everything about this game. The puzzles were all very innovative and they succeeded in a way that puzzles rarely do for me at least. They were challenging without being too frustrating. Every time I beat a level I felt good about it, like I had figured something. Each level has one or two minor problem solving leaps you had to make and each time I made that leap I felt satisfied for having done so. I have no idea how other people found the difficulty level but it was exactly right for me personally. Also I didn’t spend large chunks of time stuck on any one spot as I frequently do. I would say I only really go stuck twice. Once in the after the main levels area I just plain could not figure out what to do next. Turns out it was just me missing something obvious but I was frustratingly stuck for a while. That one is on me. The other time was jumping between some platforms. The jump timing was overall just fine but this level was spaced so I had to time the jumps more perfectly than usual and I sucked at it. Like a lot. Like took me 30 tries to make the series of jumps a lot. But that moment was unique in that it was only time I was annoyed by the game. With all of these insanely complex puzzles featuring a unique set of moving through 3 dimensional space everything still came together right.
The physics of the game were down right amazing. The graphics were top notch and showed it off well but its the physics behind the game that really impresses me. The game is just so open ended in what you can do that it sort of blows me away and every crazy idea I thought of either worked or failed in an appropriate way. Frequently, the solutions involved a “wait would this work?” sort of approach basically encouraging thinking outside the box for the entirety of the game.
The story was fantastic. Obviously, I was familiar with aspects of the story simply from being a nerd but the actual delivery was so totally spot on that it felt new and exciting anyways. The voice work was fantastic and each of the machines that spoke had a unique personality to them that came out gradually. The overall pacing of the story was such that it flowed very naturally between the challenges into the escape. Hearing Still Alive sung by GLaDOS at the end was incredible as well. I’ve been a fan of Jonathon Coulton’s work for quite a while and I’ve heard Still Alive but the emotional impact was even stronger with its placing in the game. The only emotional impact I apparently missed was from the Companion Cube. I tossed it in the incinerator without a second thought. Not sure why, just seemed like it was what I needed to do so might as well get about it. The little gun stands were awesome too. Well voiced, cleverly situated, everything. I am still unsure my “run up and push them over” strategy that I used on almost every single one was the best way to go about things but it worked. And more importantly I feel like other options might have worked as well. Also this game did something very well that few games manage. It felt real and self-consistent. Everything about the game made sense. I was flying through dimensional portals launching myself on to platforms but I at least felt like I knew why. The pacing of the new challenges was well done as well. Right when I was thinking, “Ok when am I gonna get the portal gun” I got the first half of it, and then right when I was thinking, “Why don’t I have the second half yet” there it was. Oh and my favorite cake? Black forest cake. Yeah, this game was perfect for me in every way. The clinical simplicity of it combined with a dark hint that slowly grew, the simple yet subversive GLaDOS guiding me into danger but feeling bad about it. Oh and one of my absolute favorite parts was how short it was. I mean I was initially disappointed it ended so soon but it was completely correct for the pacing of the story. The story ran its course over a period of time and that period was how long they made the game. They didn’t fill it in with mini-games or send you back and forth across large rooms to extend the time. It was meant to be short and they left it short. Oh and its autosaves were dead on too. I am a compulsive saver and so every time I accomplished something I would save. I stopped when I realized the game was automatically saving for me just as often. Me and Portal? We’re like “this”. So many very right decisions were made when making this game and it shows.
Only complaint: I played for 4 – 5 hours straight when I first installed it and it made me motion sick. All that twirling and whirling and hopping and spinning? Blaraaaragh!