The Orange Box Part 1: Portal

By Dan Zuccarelli . October 29, 2007 . 11:06pm


I've decided to take a multi-pronged approach to taking a look at the Orange Box from Valve. Since it includes 4 very separate games I figured it's only fair to do 4 separate play-tests!


I'm going to start this little post with my favorite game in the package, and one of the best games I've played all year. It's built in the Havok engine, and runs just like Half-Life 2. But this is no FPS, in fact there isn't a single enemy to fight. It's simply called Portal. It can probably best be called an action puzzler, but that's doing it a huge disservice. In leiu of the normal FPS style of having a arsenal of weapons, you have one (very neat) gun.  It can shoot two portals, one an entrance and the other an exit. Seems simple right? Well what you can do with those portals will blow your mind, and you'll have a blast while doing it.




Wants to cross a huge chasm? Shoot one on the other side of it and another at the wall (or floor even) right next to you… done. That's awesome but it's also thinking small potatoes. You can take care of gun turrets or move boxes around simply by shooting a portal under them and then one into a wall. It'll fall through the floor and pop out of the wall right where you need it. It's trippy as all get out when you first see it.


The other (awesome) thing about portals is that when you go through them you keep your momentum. So if you want to fly far and fast horizontally, leap off a high ledge, and shoot a portal at the ground right before you land and you'll rocket out of your other portal. You can combo these jumps in mid-air for some truly dazzling effects.


It takes some time to get used to the gist of the game, in fact the first portal or two I went through I had to back up and go through numerous times just to get the feel for what was happening. This is especially disconcerting when you can see yourself though the other portal. Trippy indeed. 


Now normally, what I've told you so far would make it worth a purchase in my book, but along the way the game begins to tell a fantastic story as well. The entire game is built around you being guided by a computer with a female voice named GLADoS through a series of lab tests. In fact in a few of the test chambers you can see observation decks with computers and chairs, everything looks sterile and clean. But as you progress you being to catch glimpses of things behind the scenes.  It's like drawing back the curtain in the Wizard of Oz, and things are not al all what they appear. Things don't look all that great, even though GLADoS is promising moist, delicious cake at the end of the trials.




It's the promises of cake and subtle jabs that GLADoS throws at you that elevates the game to potential game of the year status for me. I can't think of a game that does a better job at the dark humor. This game is genuinely funny, and it gets more and more so as it builds to it's fantastic conclusion. Right up to the end credits, which are simply too awesome to spoil for anyone, but if you've been around the 'net in the past few weeks you've probably heard about it by now. 



The game is sadly short, only about 5 hours long. I'd usually complain, but the story is tight and the game's pacing is pitch perfect. There's no filler, everything you do it worthy of being in the game. So while I wish it were longer, there's a good reason it isn't. It's just about perfect the way it is. I am however looking forward to Vavle releasing the tools to the public to create their own puzzles. I anticipate a big community springing up around this one.

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  • Veilknight

    I agree wholeheartedly with everything you had to say about Portal. Without a doubt, Portal was indeed the stand out title in The Orange Box, as there just isn’t another game out there just like it. The best part for me is, I walked into this game having no prior knowledge of what to expect out of Portal, making the experience that much more unique as I tried to get to grip’s with the title’s unconventional playing style, which didn’t exactly follow the typical flow of your traditional FPS play through.

    As a whole, however, I think The Orange Box is arguably the greatest deal in video gaming history presented to gamers, period. For $59.99, you get so much content without even having to worry about getting boggled down with micro transactions typical of most 360/PS3 titles. Portal may be short and sweet, but the whole package together as one makes up for this truly innovate game’s length.

  • Greg J. Smith

    What a great and thoughtful review! I agree that Portal is going to set the bar high for creative thinking in First Person shooting space. The game is a delightful headfuck! i just wrote a post on architecture and gaming and I couldn’t resist digging into the implications of Portal. I can’t wait to see what this game inspires..

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