So lastly we have Portal. I say lastly, because for the last few days I’ve been working long and hard into the night to bring bit-tech readers reviews of the other, more proven and popular parts of The Orange Box – Team Fortress 2 and Half-Life 2: Episode Two.
Now, we have the last of the new games in the pack. It’s new, fresh and fierce. It’s also slightly nauseating.
Before we get stuck into the review proper though, I’m just going to clarify for you what Portal is, because I don’t want to see any forum threads asking about that. You’d be amazed how many times in the last two weeks that I’ve had to explain to other game journalists what Portal is and how and why it ties in with the rest of The Orange Box.
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So, here goes. One last explanation. Portal is a puzzle and reflex game developed by a small team of indie developers who have recently become part of Valve, the development team behind the Half-Life series.
The story goes that these developers created a tech-demo/indie game called Narbacular Drop, which featured a low-tech version of the portal technology seen in Portal.
Gabe Newell, head honcho of Valve was supposedly so impressed with the game that he hired the whole team on the spot and tasked them with creating a game to be packaged with The Orange Box to help bulk it up and give gamers more value for their money.
But he also wanted the game to tie into the evolving Half-Life storyline and put Erik Wolpaw and Chet Faliszek of Old Man Murray to work on writing the story and dialogue for the game.
The result is Portal, a side story to Episode Two which is similar in many ways to the expansion packs for the original Half-Life game. Players don’t play as Gordon Freeman or any of the main characters and, contrary to what many fans were hoping, neither do you play Adrian Shepherd, the player character from Opposing Force.
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Instead, players take over the role of a new character – a woman called Chell who is a test participant at the Aperture Science Enrichment center. I could tell you more about what that means, but a major driving force throughout the game is a player's curiosity and we’re trying to stay spoiler-free.
Suffice it to say that Chell is enlisted in a series of tests and experiments which she must overcome in order to finish the game and find out what’s going on. Like Gordon Freeman in Half-Life 2, it’s never made clear to the player how much the main character knows because they stay entirely mute throughout and players are deliberately left feeling like a fish out of water.
So, to summarise; it is a puzzle game, it is part of the Half-Life story and it is smaller than Episode Two. This doesn’t mean that it’s at all difficult, integral to understanding Episode Two or too short by any means, but we’ll look at those points on later pages. Speaking of which...