Portal - hands-on

Portal is a comedy puzzle game. A pretty black comedy, granted, but firmly a comedy. Most of the jokes revolve around you being lied to, killed, or thirsty to the point of delirium, but that won’t stop you chuckling at least once per puzzle. In fact, that’s usually the reason for it.

The puzzle part you’re hopefully familiar with from the trailer better yet, the 2005 prototype Narbacular Drop. You’ve got a gun that opens rifts in any wall you shoot it at, and once you’ve opened two, you can walk through one and come out the other. You’re evidently a lab rat in an “Enrichment Center” specifically designed to test your ability to use this device to navigate an absurdly hazardous obstacle course, led along by a lilting, broken-sounding synthetic female voice that rings out from tinny speakers.

It’s set in the Half-Life universe, but that’s about all anyone really knows about the plot. We did notice that the Enrichment Center has been daubed with graffiti by other test subjects in later rooms, which suggests some degree of rebellion. It’s clear throughout that whoever set up the Center doesn’t care much for the subjects: “Any contact with the floor,” chirps The Guide, as we’ll call her, “will result in an unsatisfactory mark on your test record, followed by death.” An escape attempt towards the end of the game seems warranted.

But The Guide isn’t the only voice you’ll hear. The team has recently given the murderous turrets in the game voices - and even a range of personalities. They speak in the sweetest, friendliest possible robot voice as you come near (“Hello?”) and even as they open fire (“Goodnight”). Some, the “inquisitive child” personality ones, even remain genial when you topple them: “I don’t hate you,” they reassure as they spasm and shut down. Others are more alarmed: “Who ARE you?” one demanded fearfully, as we grabbed it from behind. We used her to block a torrent of fire from the next turret we encountered, and she cried out to her fellow: “It’s me! It’s me!”

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