Play or Pass: Portal

Welcome to the next post in my year-long series “Play or Pass” that takes on the proverbial “must before death” theme with video games. Every other week I will be covering one or two games from “32 Video Games You Have To Play Before You Die,” a list compiled by BuzzFeed based on a reader poll. I will not be critiquing the list itself, but rather I’ll be discussing each game or games in whatever manner feels fitting and will attempt to answer a couple simple questions: Have I played [insert game name here]? If yes, do I consider it a “must” and why? If no, do I want to play the game before I die? I’ll be going through the games in the order in which they appear on the BuzzFeed list. Good? Good. Let’s get on with the games!

Week two: (3) Portal

In 2012, I wrote a post about Portal that turned out not to be about Portal at all. Not even remotely. In fact, the only reason that post occasionaly rears its ugly head in my stats is because it contains a picture of waffles.

Now we all know waffles are d-e-l-i-c-i-o-u-s, but they don’t have a damn thing to do with Portal. And everyone knows about Portal anyway, right?


We didn’t get The Orange Box way back when for Portal. It’s primary draw, for my husband at least, was Half-Life 2. And there was also Team Fortres 2. And then there was this little throwaway game called Portal. Nobody knew that this funny little addition would hammer the world of gaming with its awesomeness.

So how about some basics first? Portal is a puzzle game (and action-adventure puzzle game, if you will) that puts you in the drivers seat as Chell. As the game opens, Chell wakes up in a strange facility that she soon discovers is called the Aperture Science Laboratories computer-aided enrichment center. There she is a test subject who must maneuver through a series of chambers overseen by GLaDOS (Genetic Lifeform and Disk Operating System), a seemingly serious and super sarcastic artificial intelligence. At Chell’s disposal is the inimitable portal gun — it creates orange and blue portals that Chell needs to solve the puzzles in each chamber. The blue portals lead out and the orange portals lead in. So buy shooting a blue portal on one wall and and orange portal on an opposite wall, Chell can enter one wall and come out the other. The game relies highly on actual physics in using the portals, so maintaining a particular speed when entering and exiting portals is often but not always a key factor in success.

There’s more to Portal than simply shooting portals here and there, of course. With the portal gun, Chell can also pick up objects. And sometimes she has to activate switches, avoid trouble spots, and land on trampolines, all the while often avoiding the dulcet and deadly laser turrets peppering some levels. And your single companion throughout it all is GLaDOS, with her “helpful” suggestions and backhanded comments.

Honestly, if it hadn’t been for GLaDOS, I might not have latched onto Portal at all. Because I didn’t really expect to play the game — my hesitation then at playing first-person perspective games kept me away. But at my husband’s insistence after he completed it, I eventually gave in. I played for the puzzles by stayed for GLaDOS. Sheer curiosity and wondering if GLaDOS’s next quip could possibility top her last one, propelled me through each puzzle. Portal was not an easy game, and it wasn’t typically “fun” either, (Some of those puzzles were goddamn frustrating!) but the depth of play that came from figuring out how to best use your portals in each puzzle was second to none. And there wasn’t a complex story to get in the way either. The game certainly told its own story, and you learned more and more about GLaDOS and Aperture with each level, but the game was more about giving a player freedom in an enclosure. Considering that some claimed “open-world” games don’t offer much in the way of freedom, Valve’s ability to bestow differing levels of freedom to players within the confines of Portal remains remarkable.

So there’s my actual post about Portal. Time for questions and answers, then.

Have I played Portal?

If yes, do I consider it a “must” and why?
Yes. Portal is one of the best puzzle games of recent years. Even nearly a decade later, its innovative design and mechanics hold up. Portal is a game for all gamers because it offers a little of everything — drama, comedy, action, solitude, planning, preciseness — and it does that better than most. In a sea of reboots and wannabes, Portal is a true original.

If no, do I want to play the game before I die?



  1. I am not a fan of first person games either, but I loved Portal. Some clever puzzles and Glados’ humor make this game a lot of fun.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Portal, in all its humor and tight gameplay, really helped me accept first person games again. They still aren’t my favorite, but I don’t completely shy away from them like I used to.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Portal is probably in my top 3 all-time favorite games; I could probably talk about it’s good points at length, but you’ve already done that here. Red Metal might be right when he says that Portal 2 is better (it probably is, especially when it comes to the coop chambers), but there’s no recapturing the magic of the original. This is one of those few games that definitely deserves its internet fame!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yeah, as excellent as the sequel was, it didn’t quite have the magic of the first one. But it more than made up for that in expanding the story and offering up some of the best puzzles of any puzzle game. (Plus, exploring the dilapidated Aperture facility was awesome!) Portal and Portal 2 are definitely a win-win!

      Liked by 1 person

    • The game is first person, and that’s exactly the reason why I stayed away from it at first. First-person perspective games made me queasy. But the game does a really nice job of easing you into the first person view. After a just a few puzzles, my first-person trepidation had melted and I wasn’t even thinking about it anymore.

      Portal Pinball sounds amazing, even without the theme song! (Though that would certainly make it sooo much better, I bet. :D)


  3. The way I see it, when the internet latches onto a game, it either ends up a passing fad or a true classic that would be ignored if it wasn’t for them. This was a case where they got it right, for Portal and its sequel are some of the most creative puzzle games of all time. I think the sequel is better, but you really can’t go wrong with either game. I also like how they are well-written and have no filler whatsoever. It demonstrates that a quality game needn’t be long. There’s not much more to say; they’re both games I recommend to everyone.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Couldn’t have said it better myself! You point out that neither game has any “filler,” and that so true. Everything you do, every puzzle, every moment you take to listen to GLaDOS has meaning. Though the games are short time-wise, they feel so much longer and more fulfilling than 100+ hour games where you spend half your time fetching stuff and escorting people.

      Liked by 1 person

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