Monday, June 30, 2008

The Orange Box: Portal (Xbox 360) Review

Last fall, Valve Software released The Orange Box to the PC, Xbox 360, and later the PlayStation 3 to critical acclaim, quickly earning top scores across the board rating it as one of the best titles on all the above platforms.

While that itself is an excellent achievement, the thing about The Orange Box is that it’s a compilation of games, not one game unto itself. For that reason, I personally can not justify reviewing The Orange Box itself, as it’s simply not a fair assessment when compared to other titles that truly are one game only. Thus, I will be reviewing the different titles of The Orange Box individually, rating them on their own merits.

The second title I played through from The Orange Box would be Portal. As I understand it, Portal has come out as the most popular title The Orange Box has to offer, and is largely praised for its original design and style.

Though presented in a first person perspective, and featuring a mute character lead as is Valve's tradition, Portal is not a shooter but rather a puzzle game. You play as Chell and find yourself mysteriously waking up in the Aperture Science Laboratories from stasis. You are immediately guided by the facility's AI, GLaDOS, to begin going through a serious of tests related to portal technology.

I need to come clean with you: I am not a puzzle fan, and I much prefer to shoot the crap out of things. While I don't mind puzzles here or there, and I found myself enjoying the beginning and mid sections of Portal, the later test chambers were severely pissing me off (especially Chamber 18!). I can honestly say I don't have the patience for these sort of things, and for that reason, I am not the best person to review Portal. Thus, I'll keep this review short and sweet.

Generally speaking, Portal focuses on you using the Handheld Portal Device to create an entry and exit portal in a test chamber to navigate obstacles and hazards and solve challenging environmental puzzles. The concept of portals is nothing new, and was done successfully by Prey nearly two years ago, however what's unique about Portal is that it let's you place your portal's pretty much anywhere you want. I say almost because there are certain metal surfaces that you can not create a portal on, and the game makes frequent use of these walls later on in the game, much to my frustration.

Aside from that, you can drop portals all over the place, and use them to reach otherwise out of the way platforms, boost your own velocity, and avoid hazardous water. The level design is usually quite cleaver, but again, due to my lack of patience, I had issues with the later levels of the game.

Like all of Valve's titles, Portal is built upon the Source Engine and features excellent use of physics. The game's environments are generally the same repetitive lab built differently from room to room, which makes perfect sense of course since you are confined to a specific location. Audio wise, you pretty much only hear from GLaDOS, who is absolutely hilarious in her cold, caring way. The game's ending track is also quite funny.

I can't deny that Portal is one of the more original games that I've played lately, and it can certainly be fun navigating the environments and outwitting GLaDOS, but again, I'm not a puzzle fan, so Portal isn't the selling point of The Orange Box for me.

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