Portal and I didn’t get off on the right foot. My first encounter with it happened in the middle of my brother’s playthrough, where he was already halfway in. I picked up the controller just to try it out. Sure, the concept of creating and traveling through portals was immediately alluring, but I couldn’t have solved that level if my life depended on it. Based on that, I figured that I would always be too dumb for it.
Had I not watched my girlfriend play it from the beginning, I probably wouldn’t have given it a second chance. What a shame that would have been had I gone any longer without it.
Portal is a wonderful one-trick pony. It takes one core gameplay mechanic, explores it to it’s full potential, and ends. The overall experience can be beaten in 3 or so hours. I’m glad that it was a short and punchy experience. Starting from the middle was a huge mistake, as I didn’t give the game a fair opportunity to teach me the ropes. Thankfully, basically half of the game is a tutorial that is elegantly weaved in with the plot.
Speaking of, the minimalist story about a girl, her portal gun, and GLaDOS the antagonistic AI still shines as one of the best narratives in modern gaming. Everything that GLaDOS says is comedic gold and the few key story beats that play out really hit home.
This game’s influence doesn’t just begin and end with the portal gun. Sure, the idea has been riffed on and ripped off many times since, but it’s also noteworthy for its amazing story and its short-and-sweet structure. After Portal, we saw countless other games that leveraged one solid gameplay mechanic and explored it only as far as it needed to go, regardless of how short that experience was. Even if it didn’t spark a bigger movement, the experience of playing through that game for the first time would have been just as magical.