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‘Portal’ tests players for science

‘Portal’ tests players for science

portal logo

Valve Corporation
Valve Corporation, Microsoft Game Studios
PC, Xbox 360, PS3, OS X, Linux, Android

Never in a million years, did I think that the sight of black forest cake would one day make me simultaneously smile and cringe. Portal ensured that it happened.

By 2007 I had played a fairly small sampling of video games. School always came first, and the mountains of homework left very little free time. As an undergrad living away from home, buying a console was not an option, which only left my PC as a gaming device.

Most of the time I played whatever freebies I could find around the net. Quick mini-games that lasted long enough for me to kill time between classes. Then one day my brother told me about a game that I simply had to play. He said that I would find it particularly enjoyable because the game required you to solve a series of puzzles using inter-spatial portals. My brother even went so far as to buy me the game on Steam. I had no choice but to try it. I was not disappointed.

Portal is a wickedly smart game that allows players to come up with their own solutions to each test chamber. Each test is monitored by Aperture Sciences very own Genetic Lifeform and Disk Operating System, or as we come to know her, GLaDOS. GLaDOS seems nice enough, whenever she isn’t insulting your character, Chell, the ever silent protagonist. At the very least, she is programmed to have a great sense of humor.

portal_gladosAnd now, a few quotes from GLaDOS:

The Enrichment Center promises to provide a safe testing environment. In dangerous testing environments, the Enrichment Center promises to provide useful advice. For instance, the floor here will kill you. Try to avoid it.

Due to mandatory scheduled maintenance, the next test is currently unavailable. It has been replaced with a live-fire course designed for military androids. The Enrichment Center apologizes and wishes you the best of luck.

Do you think I’m trying to trick you with reverse psychology? I mean, seriously, now.

Look: we’re both stuck in this place. I’ll use lasers to inscribe a line down the center of the facility, and one half will be where you live, and I’ll live in the other half. We won’t have to try to kill each other or even talk if we don’t feel like it.

When I said “deadly neurotoxin,” the “deadly” was in massive sarcasm quotes. I could take a bath in this stuff. Put it on cereal, rub it right into my eyes. Honestly, it’s not deadly at all… to *me*. You, on the other hand, are going to find its deadliness… a lot less funny.

Aside from the dark humor, players are presented with a highly enjoyable gameplay mechanic, the Aperture Science Handheld Portal Device, or portal gun. With the gun, you can create two distinct portal openings, orange and blue. Once you’ve place two portals on a suitable surface, you are able to traverse between two separate physical locations. While Portal starts you off easy by asking you to walk into different rooms, in most instances, you have to calculate your moves carefully if you ever plan on leaving the test chamber. Momentum, trajectory, and velocity all come into play as you work your way through the lab in order to eat your much-deserved cake.

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At least, that appears to be the goal in the beginning. Run a few tests; celebrate your success with cake. Sounds innocent enough.


Unfortunately, as you explore the ever-expanding test chambers, it becomes very apparent that the only thing GLaDOS plans to reward you with is a shorter life span. Cryptic messages scrawled on the walls in blood serve to further your suspicions of  GLaDOS’ true intentions.

cake and companions

Complex puzzles and GLaDOS’ biting tongue make Portal a must-play for those who prefer brains over brawn. These characteristics have also inspired plenty of fan art, cosplay, short films, merchandise and much more.

Puzzle-platformers were old hat by the time Portal arrived on my PC. However, Portal was my first experience with the genre, and frankly, I couldn’t be happier. I look forward to seeing where the genre will go in the future. For now, there is a black forest cake with my name on it, and it’s about time I get my slice.