Portal Review

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In one hole and out the other.

It has happened! Steve-O and I have finally experienced Portal! The critically acclaimed, fan-favorite puzzle game that seems to have had nothing but positive buzz since its inception. I’m happy to say that we thoroughly enjoyed everything that it has to offer.

Let me first start by saying that I suck at puzzle games. I don’t normally play them. As soon as I get even a semblance of a puzzle in, say, God of War, if I can’t find a solution quickly I look it up. I never play a Legend of Zelda game without consulting a walkthrough. Okay, hugging a walkthrough for the entire game. This made me very wary of starting Portal. Thankfully, with our powers combined (and a friend sitting in on about half of it who had completed the game already) we were able to see Portal through to the end and can now consider ourselves “in” on all of the Portal references spread throughout the gaming community.

Your avatar, Chell, awakens from what appears to be stasis, in what appears to be an abandoned research/testing facility. Abandoned, except by GLaDOS and the technology that keeps the place running. I say “appears”  because this game is very light on the storytelling aspect. Much of what you learn about the setting will be through observation and what GLaDOS tells you. Which is all subjective, of course… There’s no guarantee the super computer running this joint is even telling you the truth. And Chell doesn’t ever speak. In fact, the only reason I know the playable character is female is by seeing her through the portals.

The bulk of Portal consists of completing 19 trials with your fancy portal gun supplied by Aperture Science. You can shoot orange and blue portals against most walls and ceilings. Going into one portal will cause you to come out of the other. And no, they aren’t color-coded. I think my main problem with puzzle games is that even if my preconceived notion about how the mechanics work is wrong, I have a hard time getting it through my thick skull. So for the first few trials I kept thinking maybe orange was the enter portal and blue was the exit… Which isn’t the case at all. Whatever color you enter, you will exit the other. Simple concept, right?

Needless to say, more variances are thrown in to make progression a bit more complicated. Enter Physics: Mainly, learning to build continual momentum while falling through portals so you can launch yourself across rooms. Trust me, it’s dizzying and confusing. Then add timed doors, hazards like poison, shooting robots, energy balls that will kill you on contact but must be used to activate certain apparatuses, and the infamous companion cube… And you have fascinating depth to a puzzle-platform game that is definitely more than it seems. You can’t die from falling, but there are enough hazards to make you think careful about how you want to continue on. Many of the traps are one hit kills. It’s nothing to be too concerned with, as the game frequently auto-saves. Plus, you can quicksave whenever you want. A very helpful feature.

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I didn’t want to incinerate you…

I can’t talk about Portal without mentioning the humor. The hilarious deadpan, dark humor. All provided by the super computer that guides you through your journey. GLaDOS is, quite simply put, my favorite video game “character” in a long time. The funniest, hands down. More often than not I was chuckling at everything it said. By the time the “great reveal” hit and GlaDOS was desperately trying to backtrack what happened, I was laughing consistently.

Then the end credits hit. Seriously, the entire game was worth the ending credits. Definitely the funniest, most clever ending credits I’ve ever seen.

Even if you don’t play puzzle games, download this for cheap on Steam and play it. Use video FAQS and walkthroughs if you must. Because, seriously, it’s worth it just to experience this gem. I can’t imagine anyone out there who enjoys puzzle games and *gasp* using their brain when playing video games having not played Portal or Portal 2 yet… but if you haven’t, do yourself a favor and go play this now. You’ll finish it in a few hours, but the experience will stay with you for far longer.

thomas was alone

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As you can see, Thomas was NOT alone for long.

March was a great month for Playstation Network Indie freebies. Both thomas was alone AND The Lone Survivor were free last month. Two totally different types of games. Both totally worth playing.

I downloaded thomas was alone to my Vita and played it over the course of a couple of weeks. It is a puzzle-platformer with 100 levels. 100 levels sounds like a lot, but many of them are short and sweet. Rest assured, the time passes quickly.

thomas was alone has a unique premise. The “characters” in the game are AI personalities breaking free of a program that went haywire, essentially giving the AIs self-awareness. Each “character” has a different color, shape, and “ability.” To traverse the 2D levels, the AIs mostly jump over chasms and a water-like substance that most of them “drown” in. Each AI jumps different lengths and heights. One of them acts as a trampoline, allowing the others to jump on it and reach higher. One of my favorite characters, named Claire, has delusions of being a super hero. She does feel like a super hero at first because she can float in the water and help other AIs across the gap. Another favorite is a green AI (I don’t remember his name) who “has a unique disregard for Newtonian laws” because he defies gravity and is upside down the whole game.

To keep things fresh, new characters are introduced throughout the game. I believe Grey wasn’t introduced until around level 80. Then there was Team Jump, which was cute and quirky. Most of the cute and quirky comes from the narration. Danny Wallace (Shaun in the Assassin’s Creed series!) gives great voice and character to the AIs in a cheeky British tone. I looked forward to his narration at the start of every level.

The music is fittingly ambient as well. A soothing, fitting BGM that isn’t distracting. When I play games on the Vita it’s typically in the car or another setting where I can’t have the music too loud so it worked out. I didn’t play The Lone Survivor on my Vita for that very reason.

thomas was alone is still free, I believe, so hurry and download it before it’s too late. It is the perfect platformer to have available on the go when you’ve got 15-20 minutes of downtime.