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The Ornage Box: Portal (Xbox 360 : Review)

There has been a lot of talk about the newest Valve release; The Orange Box. On the disk is Half Life 2, HL2 Episode 1, HL2 Episode 2, Team Fortress and Portal. Released as the new game in the “Orange Box”, Portal is seemingly a new genera that is a hybrid 1st person-action-puzzle game. The single player 1st person 3d puzzle action game is set at an experimental facility where you are the lab rat for a series of 3d puzzles. These puzzles range in difficulty from setting weighted cubes on triggers to avoiding being shot by maniac (although inviting) robotic machine guns.

First I want to say “WOW” - This game kicks ass. In a word: ADDICITIVE AS HELL (ok 3 words). After trying Portal out at about 6pm, I was glued until 2 in the morn. By far, the coolest part of the game is the portal gun, which allows you to blast 2 portals in certain floor and wall materials to traverse the puzzles (go figure that the game is named 'Portal'). I will give a warning though, I believe that if you are susceptible to motion sickness, this game may very well cause an expedited exodus of the enchiladas. The movements in the game will at times turn you on your head – literally as one portal exits you upside down from the way you entered the previous portal.

I think that likely one of the most interesting (and initially unnerving) aspects of the game is the phantom effect you get when running though portals. Imagine: You are looking across a large room at something on the other side that you need get to, so you blast a hole in the far end's wall and the wall nearest to you and within 2 steps there you are – on the other side of the room. To further add to the phantom effect, in certain instances the character's perspective is where you will catch yourself running though the initial portal as you exit the exit portal - I know this is hard to envision, but think: head comes out one hole as legs are going in the first Smile I chased my own “tail” for several minutes as I was first figuring out the game. Based on my preconceived notions of my character being male, I kept chasing the mysterious female that was appearing in my portals – it was not until I noticed the symmetry of the chase that I realized that I was actually chasing myself (yes, I do it video games too apparently).

Also, being based on the Half Life's physics engine lends some interesting play for the environmental interaction – different materials with different properties. Add to the material properties the gravity physics of the game and you have a surprisingly responsive and realistic environment in which to play. When you combine things such as varying material properties, such as mass and density, with the physical forces of gravity what do you get? You guessed it: Inertia! With just one gun and a robust world filled with interesting physics you end up with a very exciting game with a lot of possibility. Imagine: You need more speed than is provided by dropping off a ledge... what if you blast the exit portal in the ceiling directly above the portal in the floor below the ledge? An infinitely endless hole in which to fall to pick up speed – in mid air blast a hole in the adjacent wall and you have a person cannon! Bad Ass! Really.

Another check in the pro column for Portal is the fact that not only is the game challenging and fun but it is also funny as well. There is some form of broadcasted AI talking to you throughout the game that has a very funny sense of humor – something about its rational thought logic module being removed and so its programmed inhibitions about openly discussing your pending death are cast to the wind or something like that (basically it informs you that your hard work in testing is appreciated and you will be missed when the testing is done... how nice Smile ). Also worth note in regards to the entertainment factor is the ending song after defeating the “boss”; “Still Alive” is freegin' funny (not to mention catchy). I hope the provided video w/ song translates here without having played the game.

So yea... I beat the game (ending song)... with brings me to 'THE con': Length. I have completed the game, in about 6-7 hrs time and feel that it will likely take 2/3rds that next go (if). There are 19 levels in all, though the last “boss” level is about “4 levels” in length. They don't shaft you completely though as you do get some extra game variants and tasks for gaining “accomplishments” after completion on “normal”.Although I do wish that there were 190 instead of 19 level, I guess that my wanting more is an indicator that the game is quality (at least to gamers who like what I like). I have to say, I love this game and would have gladly paid $60 for just it... really, this is one of the coolest games I have played in a long time and this is coming from a huge Halo 3 fan w/ Halo 3 (although that game is bad ass as well, but thats a different post (which has not been made due to its redundancy... its like writing a article on "How F'n awesome it is to be F'n awesome".... redundant)).

All in all, Portal is great - I am happy with my purchase of the Orange Box... I got the entertainment of playing one of the most innovative games created in along time and I got 40 other games with it – for the price of 1! If you are debating this one I can definitely recommend The Orange Box (for what thats worth).
Spoiler...? (highlight to read)

I'm still mourning the death of the Weighted Companion Cube...why did he have to die??! And even if it was for a good reason, it was all pointless, because THE CAKE IS A LIE!!


Now seriously... Nice review there!

Portal is a really addicting game, and it brings about some fun new concepts to the genre. As a matter of fact, I still want to replay it (right away!) to see how fast I can get through it. And yes, the fact that it's so short is the only problem here... but I'm still hoping that Valve (or even fans) make up some bonus levels to keep us entertained.

Now, I know that the main focus of Portal is the puzzles, but another thing I'd like to see is more enemies. Sure, the sentry guns we have are evil and cute enough (yes, cute) to make up for most of the experience, but you quickly learn several different ways you can use do deal with them, so they get easy, even on that scene where you're literally surrounded by every side. I'm not even mentioning the rocket launchers, because there's only 2 of them in the game and they're actually there to help you. Some bigger enemies, or even faster ones that'd chase you around would be a nice touch. Better yet, how badass would it be to have something as big and fast as DOG (Half-Life 2) coming after you, even if they'd prove to be too big to fit through the portals?
Portal is addictive as heck... I love it and have also gone back and replayed it since beating it. I would also like to see Valve add some additional content, and knowing Valve, this is a possibility. I too agree that some additional bad guys could have added to the game, though I do worry that in some ways it would have detracted away from the puzzle elements. I think that the development team had to walk a thin line between creating this new puzzle-style game vs creating another half life (which also has a lot of puzzles, but also a lot of bad guys as well.).
I am betting that before too long additional content will be available though Steam and Xbox Live (I hope at least). Also, it would have been awesome to have a multiplayer component to Portal... I think it would be fun to drop a friend in an infinite floor/ceiling loop Smile
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