|System: X360, PS3, PC||Review Rating Legend|
|Dev: Valve||1.0 - 1.9 = Avoid||4.0 - 4.4 = Great|
|Pub: Valve/Electronic Arts||2.0 - 2.4 = Poor||4.5 - 4.9 = Must Buy|
|Release: Apr. 9, 2008||2.5 - 2.9 = Average||5.0 = The Best|
|(TOB - Oct. 9, 2007)||3.0 - 3.4 = Fair|
|Players: 1||3.5 - 3.9 = Good|
by Nathan Meunier
Initially released last fall, The Orange Box was a smorgasbord of delight for gamers seeking to gorge on a medley of exciting first person titles wrapped in a neat little package. Those still considering whether or not to get their hands on the whole shebang should absolutely lay out the dough for this hot collection, but PC gamers have the opportunity to pick and choose among some of the package's tastier morsels.
Aside from a well-rounded selection of strong FPS games, the collection contains one title in particular that is perhaps one of the most intriguing and refreshing takes on the first-person genre to crop up in years. Portal is a short offering, but the sheer amount of fun, humor, and unique FPS puzzle gameplay crammed into the few hours of solid entertainment it provides is absolutely worth every cent.
Portal is sort of the odd-man-out of the collection, but it's easily one of the coolest concepts we've seen for some time and a strong title on its own. Technically, it's not a first-person shooter but rather an unexpectedly deep puzzle game built on the Half-Life 2 source engine that just so happens to use a first-person perspective; therein lays its genius. It looks like a shooter; it controls like a shooter; but it's definitely not a shooter.
Players awaken in an enclosed sleeping chamber at the Aperture Science Enrichment Center: a sterile research facility environment that serves as the sole environment for the game. Following brief instruction and commentary by a sing-song computerized voice, you'll proceed through different areas of the facility by solving increasingly difficult challenges. The main portion of the game consists of 19 levels each comprised of either a single room or a series of rooms. The objective is simple: complete the puzzle sequences in the current room to unlock the door to the next. It's like a first-person puzzle obstacle course only you'll be spending lots of time flitting around through portals to accomplish your goal.
Though you'll interact with many different elements, you're given a single crucial piece of equipment to use throughout the experiment: a portal gun that can separately shoot a blue portal and an orange portal onto a variety of specific surfaces. The portals create a visual and physical connection between the two locations where they're shot. You can pass through one portal to come out the other side, carry or throw objects through the portal, use them to get a better view of a far away area, or jump off a cliff into a portal to launch yourself great distances out the other end, among other interesting uses. Portals also won't work on certain surfaces, which makes for some tricky situations later on in the game.
The teleportation mechanic is extremely well implemented, and it's the crux of the entire game (if you hadn't already guessed from the game's name). Much of your time will be spent jumping through portals which in and of itself equates to some serious fun, and playing around with the mechanic can lead to some entertaining distractions on certain levels. Diving through the floor to come out of a wall across the way is oddly amusing, and using a combination of speed and gravity to yo-yo between two portals is both disorienting and a blast. It's even possible to get temporarily caught in a bizarre cycle - with the help of appropriately placed portals - where you'll drop from the ceiling into the floor over and over again in a visually dizzying loop that keeps you falling endlessly into infinity. Simple controls let players focus on the puzzles at hand. The WASD keys handle movement, and players can also jump and crouch. Mouse aiming allows you to pull off some frantic portal firing on the fly since the blue and orange portals are fired separately by the left and right mouse buttons respectively.