Portal: Where’s my Cake?!

Portal - looking at yourself, sidewaysI’ve just finished the fantastic PC game Portal. One of the best games I’ve played in a very long time – I highly recommend it to all. It’s basically a puzzle game where you play a test subject who has to use an innovative ‘Aperture Science Handheld Portal Device’ (aka the ‘portal gun’) to step from one part of a level to another (or move objects past barriers). That’s not a great description, you really have to play it to fully understand.

The physics of the game are what makes it special. That and the dark sense of humour that pervades it. I don’t want to spoil the ending, it’s definitely worth seeing unprepared, but if you find yourself stuck on a puzzle don’t give up – the ending is funny enough to keep trying!

Just to explain the game concept a bit more, you can think of the Stargates from SG1 or the Jump Gates from Babylon 5. Basically you have two portals that you can cast onto walls, floors or ceilings (with deliberate exceptions). Go into one and you come out of the other. Unlike the Stargates or Jump Gates, you can actually see through the portals. So, if you put two portals on opposite walls you will be able to look into one and see your own back. In fact you will be able to chase yourself through an infinitely recursive series of portals – like looking into a mirror with another mirror behind you.

The physics get fun too. Imagine casting a portal onto the floor and another onto the ceiling directly above. Step into the portal on the floor and you fall through the portal above you and then into the portal on the floor and then through the ceiling… Yes, you can fall forever! Other interesting effects happen when you cast onto a wall and the floor, for example. You can look through either portal and the world you see beyond will be at a right angle!

It’s not often that a truly innovative game comes along these days, especially not one done so well. It might be a little short but it is pretty cheap to make up for that. I bought it as part of The Orange Box (Valve’s amazing pack of AAA titles, Half Life 2, Team Fortress 2 and Portal) for £25 from Sainsbury’s (more normally £30 or £35). I bought it mainly for Portal, I heard such great things about it – clearly I wasn’t disappointed. You can also buy Portal on its own for $19.99 (plus VAT for us Brits, taking to about £12, probably) on Steam.

Yes, this sounds like an advert! Not many games are good enough to make me recommend them so strongly. I’m afraid there doesn’t appear to be a demo for Portal but Steam does have a Trailer.

My only reservation is: who got my cake?

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