Portal Review

What do you think of the Portal games?

They’re puzzle games with all their edges shaved off so they communicate to you indirectly the best way to solve the puzzle.

Every puzzle in portal is playtested and adjusted to the point that playtesters no longer get stuck.

The amount of playtesting and adjustment and willingness to abandon ideas in the name of clarity is admirable, but the end result is a bunch of puzzles that I think weren’t made to be all that hard.

Portal 2 especially gets stuck, and can’t make players get stuck, because it had to introduce so many different new mechanics, like the 3 types of paint, the excursion funnels, aerial faith plates, the new laser redirection cubes. It had to take all of these very slowly and slow down every time a new one was introduced, so it wasn’t able to delivery harder puzzles that players might get stuck on.

Getting stuck for a while isn’t necessarily a bad thing in a puzzle game, as long as the player has something to work off of. I think the Witness (or professor layton or antichamber) is a good parallel here. The Witness presented a ton of hard puzzles that had me thinking for a while and actually deducing things, or leaving and coming back later when I had an idea what to do. The Witness also gave me multiple puzzles to try out that might all lead to progress instead of just one, and made progress to the final area dependent on only solving a certain number of puzzles, only lighting up a certain number of lights instead of all of them. Portal has a linear progression system, so if you get stuck, you can’t do anything but continue to be stuck.

Portal 1 was able to deliver on harder puzzles with its challenge chambers that had a number of different ways to challenge the player, from simple speedrun, to limited portals, to a remixed version of the chamber that made it a bit harder, restricted the basic solution.

Portal 2 didn’t have this for some reason and left it up to their community, either modders or the eventual perpetual testing initiative. Also portal 2 was way more limited in where you could place portals, which simultaneously limited alternate solutions, and made the answers to puzzles more obvious. Also the sections connecting the chambers sucked, they were like pixel hunts frequently.

In this way, similar to shovel knight, portal is very much a scaffolded learning experience that was afraid to really push the boundaries once all of its concepts were established and that kinda sucks. Someone once asked me years ago what game I’d recommend to someone who wanted to get into gaming, and I said portal, because it was a game anyone could beat.

One thought on “Portal Review

  1. MasterPokey July 10, 2016 / 4:23 pm

    On this subject, I think games are way too afraid to be legitimately hard anymore, because gamers became so soft. 80’s and 90’s games demanded practice and excellence to see the ending. Nowadays, if people get stuck at all, they cry no fair and blame the developers for a fault that lies with them. Many people expect that a game should never show them a game over screen, or demand improvement, because that hurts their precious little ego.


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