Friday, October 12, 2007

The Best 3 Hours I've Spent in a Long Time

This will be part one of a three part discussion about the new gaming collection by Valve called the Orange Box.  The Orange Box contains Half-Life 2 and it's two expansions, Team Fortress 2, and the game that I will be talking about today, Portal.  The Orange Box is available on the PC (recommended) or for the X-Box 360.

I would say that the Orange Box would be worth buying if it only contained the Half-Life games and you hadn't played any of them.  If you have played Half-Life 2 and Episode 1, I'd still say it's worth it just for Ep 2 and TF2.  But the icing on the cake (The cake is a lie!) is certainly the final component of the set.

Portal is one of the most innovative games I've played in a very long time.  It mixes a puzzle game with a FPS.  It teases the brain and the reflexes.  It is hysterically funny (I literally laughed out loud several times).  It is just a tremendous amount of fun.

It is hard to do the game justice by describing it.  Portal is a series of 19 puzzles that place you in rooms with switches, moving platforms, hazards, and later on, turrets.  Your objective is always to figure out how to open the doors to the elevator that will take to next level, or in the case of the last level, to your eventual prize (The cake is a lie!).  Your only weapon is a portal gun.  Its primary fire will shoot a blue portal, secondary fire is a red one.  Step through the blue portal and come out the red one, or vice versa.  Portals will only stick to certain surfaces, however.

So you will use portals to get around hazards and to move boxes or energy ball around the level.  If you drop a portal onto the floor and put another one on the wall, when you jump through the one on the floor you will maintain your downward momentum, except it will change to horizontal momentum and you can launch yourself over wide chasms.

The best part of the game, however, is the computerized voice that is guiding you through each level.  The voice and dialog (or I guess monologue since your character doesn't speak) are full of such a brilliant, sardonic wit that will continually propel you to the next challenge, just to hear what she will say next.

The only criticism I have of the game is that it is too short.  I beat it in one sitting of about 3 hours.  You will fly through the first 15 fairly simple puzzles.  The next 3 are a bit more complex, and the final level is actually quite long and challenging before you can earn your just desserts (The cake is a lie!).  There just should be more like it.

There are a series of bonus levels that I have not tackled yet.  And hopefully more level packs will be released in the future.  However, while the puzzles are fun, they just won't quite be the same without the computer narrating your progress.

Oh, and one last thing.  This game may contain the greatest ending credits sequence of any game I've ever played.  No spoilers, but the song that plays over the credits is genius.  I want to get it into my iTunes library.  Might even give it 5 stars.

Oh, and even one more last thing.  The cake is a lie!

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