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Gaming Evolution
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Gaming Evolution
Gaming Evolution
Published by: Electronic Arts
Developed by: Valve / Nuclear Monkey Software
Genre: First-Person Shooter
Players: 1
Rated: T (Teen)
Release Date: October 9, 2007
Screenshots: Link
Amazon: Buy Now!
Written By: Christian H.

Narbacular Drop was released as a free download in 2005 and was the senior project of a graduating class at the DigiPen school of art and game design. In Narba-cular Drop, the player navigates the world and solves numerous puzzles with the use of two interconnected portals that can be placed onto flat, non-metallic, surfaces such as walls, ceilings, and floors. If this sounds at all familiar, then you are most likely aware of Valve’s much-anticipated first-person puzzle game, Portal. Quickly adopted by Valve Software, Portal is the first commercial game made by the former Nuclear Monkey Software, graduates of DigiPen, makers of Narbacular Drop, and the new dream team over at Valve Software.

The story of Portal is not immediately clear. Awakening from a prolonged stasis in a sleep chamber, the player finds herself being guided through a sterile, white, laby-rinth. Form a game play perspective, this serves as a form of levels design necessi-tated by the nature of the game, and the potentially troublesome -- or even game-breaking in something more open, such as Half-Life 2 -- Aperture Science Handheld Portal Device. The ASHPD, also known as the “portal gun,” is a type of gun that gene-rates interconnected portals on flat, non-metallic surfaces, such as walls, ceilings,and floors (sounds somewhat familiar, doesn’t it?). Consequently, just about any nook, cranny, plateau, and pit in the game is accessible to the player, and just about any ob-ject, provided it is small enough, can be similarly transported through the portals gener-ated by the player. Therefore, this rigidly and deliberately confining space exists so the player can’t reach a spot the developers never intended them to reach, and are there-fore not likely to accidentally break or exploit the game. But this is not simply a random setting created as a result of the necessities required by the game design. Portal, defy-ing all conventions of puzzle games as we’ve known them, accomplishes more than a typical puzzle game. Portal actually has a story; a damn good one, at that.

Waking up from prolonged stasis, the player is a female test subject at the mys-terious Aperture Science Enrichment Center. Guided like a rat through a maze by the Genetic Lifeform and Disk Operating System, or “GLaDOS” -- a fuzzy, electronic, see-mingly omnipotent, female voice -- the player is goaded into completing the tasks of each level by being promised a reward of delicious cake upon completion of the series of portal experiments. The lofty promises of rich desserts soon turn to veiled threats as the puzzles become increasingly more dangerous and even lethal. As you wander deeper and deeper into the rabbit hole, your true fate begins to unravel, and your sar-castic benefactor becomes increasingly more threatening (and often, outright homicidal) and begins to more closely resemble 2001: A Space Oddysey’s HAL than the soft, harmless version you woke up to.

In the past, Valve has indicated that the stories of Portal and Half-Life 2: Episode Two are connected. Without spoiling too much; they are, and the door that the two games together leave open for Half-Life 2: Episode 3 is intriguing, to say the least. The connections is not made apparent through lengthy exposition or forced dialogue. Ra-ther, the connection between the two games relies mostly on the careful observation of the player, and comes through in the environment.

But that isn’t all that Portal has going for it in regard to its narrative. Unexpected-ly, Portal is funny. Really funny. Actually capable of making me laugh out loud funny. That’s pretty rare in the world of games. From the sharply written dialogue delivered by the sarcastic computerized guide, GLADoS, right down to the oddly kind and sympa-thetic gun turrets, whose only objective in their existence is to kill the player, but man-age to utter “I forgive you,” when defeated with clever portal use. The humor and dialo-gue really manage to keep the game moving forward and keep the player grounded in an environment that is completely devoid of any human interaction. Really, I could spend more time discussing the humor of Portal than any other aspect of the game, but it is something you have to experience for yourself.

Many would call out Portal’s length as its biggest flaw. Truthfully, it only took me less than 3 hours to complete. Regardless, those were some of the best 3 hours I’ve ever spent with a game. So much so, that I would contend that one of the things that makes Portal as great as it is, is its short length. If the game had been much longer, it easily could have gotten to the point where every level just felt like another exercise -- like another routine. Instead, Portal delivers a complete gaming experience that can be completed in one sitting and still feel satisfying. Still, that 3 hour main game might not be enough for some people, which is precisely why the game ships with a collection of bonus maps from the main game re-worked to be more challenging, such as blocking certain doors, removing certain objects, or making the gun turrets invulnerable. In addition to the bonus maps is the option to enable several map challenges, such as completing a level with the fewest possible number of portals, or fewest possible number of steps taken. These extra features help to add a bit more meat to Portal, with the almost inevitable possibility of fan created maps, and/or extra maps made available in the future as official downloadable content.

The admittedly brief length of the main game, combined with the white, sterile labyrinth setting, and the fact that the player only has one gun throughout the entire game, makes Portal into a sublime minimalist experience. At the end of the day, Portal is like many puzzle games in that regard -- something simple you can keep coming back to -- and completely unlike puzzle games in most every other regard. The abstract, reality-bending nature of the design and the wry, sardonic sense of humor, combine to bring to life a truly unique and off-beat game. Truly, you’ve never seen or played anything quite like Portal.


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