‘Portal’ perpetually interests fans

Puzzle game makes perfect stocking stuffer

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“Portal” is a video game released in 2007 by Valve Software for Windows, Linux, Mac, Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3. Set in an underground testing facility, the player assumes the role of Chell, a subject testing the Aperture Science Handheld Portal Device, or the “portal gun.” This equipment can create a pair of linking wormholes across physical space, effectively acting as a gateway from one side of a room to another. This very flexible mechanic, combined with a first-person viewpoint, all-around remarkable puzzle design and pitch-black humor make “Portal” one of the best puzzle games ever put on the market.

The plot is simple, yet effective. Waking up inside a “relaxation vault,” Chell must make her way through various test chambers while being guided by an artificial intelligence over the intercom. At first, these prerecorded messages are helpful and benign, but as Chell completes more tests, things begin taking a dark turn. As far is the story goes, it is all told from a first-person perspective without cutscenes or shifts in timeframe, giving the player a limited scope of what’s going on; this very effectively and organically makes Chell’s actions seem a part of something bigger.

The game relies on a versatile physics engine capable of simulating realistic gravity and momentum, and this works hand-in-hand with the many thoughtful puzzles and techniques the player must adapt to over the course of the game. Graphically, it isn’t stellar, even by 2007 standards, but the use of contrasting colors of light blue and dark orange and realistic level design make up for this and then some. The ambience in combination with the mellow yet disquieting soundtrack creates a very appropriate feeling of isolation as a player makes their way through test chambers and avoids hazards.

I enjoy the game on the whole and in parts, but there are some small quibbles. For instance, as mentioned above, the graphics by today’s standards fall a bit flat. To those who need all their questions answered, I’m sorry to say there are many, many questions the game provides throughout that go unanswered. However, I am not one to worry about graphics quality, and I quite enjoy open-ended questions that leave room for interpretation. Addressing gamers who like immersive narrative, thought-provoking plotlines, intriguing puzzles and dark, surreal humor, “Portal” is certainly a good 2-3 hours of your time.

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