Months after the internet got a hold of The Orange Box, the acclaimed compilation of recent Half-Life 2: Source games, I finally bought a copy for myself. Considering how long it took me to play the original Half-Life - that is, last September - I'm impressed by my relative timeliness. However, my first stop was not to discover the continuing adventures of The One Free Man, but everyone's surprise favorite of 2007, Portal. Needless to say, I loved it, and found it to be a breath of fresh air, an example of brilliant writing, and an intriguing proposition for the development of shorter games.
I couldn't help noticing some flaws in what might have been overlooked by those entranced with such a dazzling display of distinctiveness. Allow me to present a few things that stood out through my playtime.
Weighted Acquaintance Cube
Valve couldn't predict it, but the Weighted Companion Cube quickly became one of the most popular aspects of the Portal. At the very least, all I heard for a while was people misquoting GlaDOS's famous lines about how the Cube cannot talk and how you should ignore any advice it gives. When I finally started up the game, I was really excited to finally meet my mute sidekick. I waited for the cube to fall out of the first container, and received...the Weighted Storage Cube. "Hm, this isn't it," I todl myself. "It must come later."
Try sixteen levels later. You are finally introduced to the fabled Weighted Companion Cube, in all its taciturn glory. I thought to myself, "Finally. I can't wait to fall in love with this thing." I laughed along with GlaDOS's lines. I solved the puzzles. I wasn't on a personal level with it yet, but I figured I had more time to get to know the fellow.
I was wrong. After a mere level, I was instructed to throw the Cube into an incinerator. After thinking about it for a moment, I tossed it in and I was told by GlaDOS that I did it faster than anyone else had before. I know the line plays no matter how long you take, but I honestly believed it. One level is not long enough to grow emotionally attached to a character, much less an object. I can see why many people fell in love with the Cube, but for me, it was far too underused for me to do anything more than chuckle at it. The Cube should have been around for at least two levels, if not more.
The Copypasta is a Lie
Another unanticipated success of Portal were the hidden sections of the game, where cryptic messages scrawled on the walls were left by the "Rat Man," a character ultimately cut from the final game. Any gamer who considers himself slightly hardcore has memorized that "The cake is a lie." Alongside this are numerous other scribbles, telling that "she's watching me" and other such paranoid thoughts. When I finally came upon one of these rooms, I thought it was very humorous and a great way to expand on the story.
That is, until I saw it again. And again. I'm not referring to the fact that there was more than one secret compartment; that added to the desired effect. My problem lies with the reused wall textures. I was willing to buy into the idea of someone leaving behind warnings, but to see those exact same warnings, pasted identically on another wall, makes me imagine not a man driven insane by a rogue AI but an underground graffiti artist, running around with a stencil and a can of spray paint. If Valve was totally committed to this concept, which I still think was a good idea, then they should have taken the extra effort to at least make the text look different if they wanted to use the same line a second time.
Now, far be it from me to look a gift cake in it's...portal...mouth...um, you see where I was going with that. But the point I was trying to segue into is this: I think the portal concept is amazing. They've done wonderful things with it, and there's room for expansion with it, as shown with the devious advanced levels. I also appreciated the simplicity of the mechanics: go in one portal, come out the other. Easy as pie.
At the same time, having only one set of portals feels somewhat limiting. For starters, how does the previous blue portal know how to dissipate when I make a new one? Why can't I make two sets of portals? Think of the complexity and depth this could offer to further Portal puzzles. Now, I understand that you shouldn't be able to completely cover the walls with portals, but how about adding a simple timer to countdown how long until a portal fades away? Creating a second set of portals would make the first set disappear faster. It would make more sense, considering the portal gun is experimental technology, and also add a sense of urgency of motion that the game is lacking until the nineteenth level. I can only hope that they explore more of the idea's untapped potential in Portal 2.
Anyways, despite these three shortcomings, I still thought Portal was a fantastic game and, if you're one of the few people who hasn't played it or gotten sick of the popular "cake is a lie" meme, you really owe it to yourself to try one of the best gaming experiences of 2007.