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Portal is a game that grew out of work by students of the DigiPen Institute of Technology. Its simple addictive qualities meant it was soon snapped up by Valve and released with other games (FPS's Team Fortress 2 and Half Life 2) in their Orange Box compendium.
First Person Shooters (FPS) present a game world from the perspective of the in game character. As graphics have improved these games are now able to realistically render the game world, endowing the player with an added sense of immersion. FPS games usually involve single or multiplayer player missions where one team (or individual) has to complete a particular objective. Because the action invariable involves a combination of fisticuffs and gun based fighting, the games are usually quite violent. Beneath this harsh exterior however is often a intricate tactical game - and this is usually what drives the player.
Although Portal nominally involves shooting, it is teleport holes rather than bullets that are being shot. This is because Portal is more of a First Person Puzzle game than a traditional FPS. The player is dropped into a test lab environment and challenged to escape by triggering switches with boxes and other objects, whilst avoiding sentry cannons and energy balls.
The novelty though is that many puzzles require the use of the teleport gun. This weapon enables you to shoot an 'in' and an 'out' teleport door. One positioned on a wall can be walked through to emerge from the other. What's more your inertia is preserved between them. Players soon realise by positioning the 'out' portal in the ceiling or high up a wall they can perform complex jumps and falls to get to hard to reach locations.
In addition to the novel play mechanics, the experience is turned into something really special by the voicework of a disembodied computer voice glaDOS. As the player progresses through the various test chambers her character evolves and to some extend unravels. It is testament to the quality of both writing and performance than an unseen narrator can so impact the play experience of a game.
Although the later chambers do take a little longer to complete, you should be able to get through one or two in a brief 30 minute session. Most players however fall prey to the just-one-more level nature of the game and find themselves playing for considerably longer.
The main experience takes a mere three hours to complete, the emphasis being on quality rather than quantity here. Once that has been completed though there are some advance challenges that should keep most players entertained for another three or four hours.
Portal has a 12+ PEGI rating with violence content indicators, and although The Orange Box has a 15 certificate from the BBFC, Portal is not included in this rating. Although this is a game that is very light on violence, the strangeness of the lab context and the disembodied voice may well unsettle very young players. Sentry guns on later levels have a mild Doctor Who style horror aesthetic.
Apart from this Portal is a game that can be played by a wide range of players. It's unusual play mechanic means that novice and expert players alike should find themselves similarly equipped to progress and enjoy the experience, once they have acclimatised themselves to the dual stick First Person controls.
With so many different perspectives it can be hard to know where to start - a little like walking into a crowded pub. Sorry about that.
But so far we've not found a way to streamline our review output - there's basically too much of it. So, rather than dilute things for newcomers we have decided to live with the hubbub while helping new readers find the columnists they will enjoy.
Our columnists each focus on a particular perspective and fall into one of the following types of gamers: