Now, I know this game has been out since, like… forever, and I know it has been discussed to death. But as you may have noticed, I prefer to rate good games, not necessarily new games.
Having said that, Portal is the game that every aspiring game designer should play. It is a master piece in game design, from beginning to end. It is an impeccable and elegant game that does not rely on gimmicks or flashy content. The story is strong and well-told, the mechanics are solid and flow with ease, the graphics have a unique style and serve the game’s purpose, and even the voice recordings are beautifully crafted. I find it only fitting to break this game into its three major strengths and discuss them individually.
The story is simple, yet powerful. It finds the right balance between complexity and simplicity that many games struggle to achieve. Unfortunately, games can sometimes be rather limited when it comes to storytelling when compared to other mediums such as film or literature. Reason being, that games are interactive and fast-paced (in the same way that sometimes movies are more limited than novels). Portal takes a simple, abstract premise and tells it patiently. It begins by dropping hints of mystery that grip the player and a resolution which fits snugly with the rest of the game’s purpose.
The mechanics of this game have been discussed over and over again. The general perception is that it is not a game, it is a tutorial. This is true, in a way, but I’d go beyond that. I’d rather say that it is an exemplification of how game mechanics should unfold. It takes a simple concept and explores all of its intricacies and combinations through clever level design. It doesn’t overwhelm the player and it keeps their interest from beginning to end with new content and ideas. The path is clear in every level and requires no explanation. It feels natural. That’s the beauty of it.
The stylistic choice is immaculate. The color palette is unique and you’d be able to identify it anywhere. The look also helps the story. A slick white and minimalist layout that slowly becomes dirtier and more chaotic as the game goes on. It tells the story just by looking at the environment. It also adds to the mechanics. It allows the red buttons and blue/orange portals to stick out, so that the player can focus in the right direction.
I just realized that this review may be a little too technical and pragmatic, but so is the game. Every decision seems to have been carefully and thoughtfully made. Nothing is left to chance or vagueness. Every element of this game has been meticulously selected to craft a timeless classic. A rare 10/10