(Warning: 10 year old spoilers ahead, so you probably should know these anyway…)
Seven years ago, I spent a lot of time immersed in the scientific experiments of Aperture Labs in Portal 2. I enjoyed my introduction to Valve’s Portal universe so much that I still drink my coffee out of an Aperture mug, but due to modern consoles not having the game that started it all, I had never played the first Portal. Given my recent penchant for puzzle games (Gorogoa, Opus Magnum, and my own game that I’m building) and my discovery that so many amazing old games are on Steam, I thought it was about time that I finally jumped into what is generally considered to be one of the greatest puzzle games (and games in general) of all time. Could the original still hold up after all these years and my previous exposure to the much more refined sequel?
It’s easy to see why Portal was such an instant smash. The game is breezy and fun. It smoothly teaches you all the mechanics in inventive and quick test chambers. The central mechanic of the game itself, using a pair of portals to move yourself and other objects to solve puzzles, remains one of the most inventive additions to the FPS genre ever and continues to be modded into games to this day (see this awesome Mario 64 Portal mash-up). It’s a puzzle game that heavily relies on top-notch physics, but at the same time, is compelling you to break the laws of physics (and space and time for that matter). While Portal 2 added a lot of power-ups and complexity to the formula, there is something to be said about how simple Portal keeps things. Nothing quite compares to the thrill of successfully pulling off a momentum jump where you emerge from one portal and quickly shoot another to keep you going even if half the game revolves around you pulling off similar maneuvers.
Aside from a slightly overly long escape from Aperture Laboratories at the end, Portal keeps all of its levels the exact right length to make you feel like you just accomplished something for solving the latest challenge, while ensuring you never tire of it. In all, I finished the game in just over 4 hours, making it a wonderful way to travel back in game time if you’re looking to fill a lazy weekend.
My only regret for waiting this long to experience the game is that its central mystery was well known to me. I am curious if the GLaDOS is evil reveal was truly a shock when it happened originally. By now, I had long heard of the fact that she was trying to kill you and not train you, so every little sinister hint in her dialogue was easily picked up. That being said, she remains a perfect narrator for your adventure, and she kept the mood and atmosphere just right throughout.
Overall, the game stands the test of time surprisingly well. There was only one very irritating problem that I encountered which would make me want to keep this out of the video game pantheon. The final boss battle took about half an hour longer than it needed to thanks to me repeatedly experiencing issues where trying to drop the robot pieces in the incinerator would lead to them comically flying across the room. To make matters worse, when I went back this morning to try to catch it on video, the game decided to not cooperate with that and everything started magically working time and time again. Maybe it was all just one final way for GLaDOS to mess with me.