Portal is a first-person puzzle game. The controls are like a first-person shooter, but your gun shoots portals onto flat surfaces (walls, floor, ceiling): you can have one blue portal and one orange portal, and the two teleport you from one to another.

The game starts out with simple puzzles: you need to get to a door on a ledge, so you shoot one portal to the wall next to the ledge and the other portal on the wall (or floor) near you, walk through it, and you’re on the ledge. Later puzzles include more of a physics component: e.g. if you have the blue portal on the floor and the orange portal on the ceiling directly above it, then you can fall through them over and over, building up a fair amount of momentum, and then at some point you can shoot the orange portal onto a side wall, sending you horizontally away from that wall at high speed. (Perhaps over a barrier or something.)

Also, unlike an FPS, there aren’t enemies to shoot. Most levels have no enemies at all; some have guns that you need to either evade or disable. (Either by shooting a portal on the ground beneath them or dropping something through a portal above them.)

It’s a bit hard for me to know what else to say about it: it’s been discussed so much on the interwebs, typically in such gushing terms, that I don’t know whether or where to enter that conversation. So I won’t say much, I guess. It’s a very nice illustration of how to mix genres (which was a bit of a theme last year), how to divorce a control style from the gameplay that it’s traditionally associated with. It’s a fun little puzzle game; I enjoyed the three or so hour I spent going through the levels, but I was glad it was done when it was. (There are some harder versions of a few of the original levels that open up once you’ve finished the game; I did one of them, tried another, and decided that I wasn’t looking for that sort of challenge.) So, on that level, I’m glad I played the game, I’m certainly glad it exists, but I don’t see it as the first of dozens of games with that particular mechanic.

What is completely surprising and wonderful about the game (certainly not something that one would traditionally expect from either the FPS or puzzle genres) is its style and sense of humor. You almost never directly interact with anybody else in the game (though the turrets are careful to assure you that they don’t hate you when you disable them), there’s just this voice that comes through the grill occasionally. (Well, that plus little drawings on the wall, e.g. guides to the level and pictures of cake.) But those snippets of voice give the game as much personality as any other game I’ve played over the last couple of years.

Which is reinforced by the last level, which is almost as long as the 18 levels preceding it put together and is a very well-done capstone. I’ve already posted the end-credits song, but I’ll do so again because I love it so much:

I’m still not ready to join the legion of Portal cultists, and I don’t quite understand the Companion Cube gushing. But the game does manage to cram an amazing amount of style and new directions in its three hours.

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