Enjoy an unreal gun with real physics in a centre run by a computer addicted to cake!
The Portal experience is brought to you by Aperture Laboratories in the form of the Enrichment Centre - a place where test subjects pit their logic and puzzle-solving skills against a series of progressively harder test chambers. There are 19 chambers in total. And perhaps another bit too, if you count the following area separately.
You take control of a female character after waking in a cubicle. She does not speak, but that doesn't stop the testing facility from engaging in polite and often hilarious commentary on your actions throughout. You may notice you can actually see yourself at various instances through the portals you make, even though it is a first-person shooter, and surfaces are not reflective.
After a bit of mucking about you will find your first gun, only able to make one half of the enter/exit portals. After a few more chambers you will find the other gun, giving you complete control of the portal technology, allowing you to open entrances and exits with just the tap of either mouse button (default).
What makes Portal so unique is the gun itself. There is so much you can do with it you will find yourself at the end of the game saying "Is that all? I want more!" If you are quick on the uptake and have excellent puzzle-solving skills the game could be over in twenty minutes or less.
But what can you do with it? You could make an entrance on the floor and an exit directly above and fall forever. Then you could make a new exit on the wall while falling, and find youself able to jump great distances. Or make the exit on the floor and shoot yourself straight up into the air. There are challenges for the expert player too - advanced maps that change the original levels (eg. resurfaced walls/ceiling with non-portal-able material), timed challenges, least portals and least steps. While some of these can be hella hard, there are numerous vids on youtube to give you an idea of the sort of mindset you need to think in to finish these.
Story-wise, the game is limited. But to the discerning eye, there are hints of a deeper story behind the research centre. Some of the chambers have areas that seem not meant to be part of the Experience (but are intended for the game). They are in the form of engineering-type sections, typically featuring walls that have come away, or have portal-able panels, or crawl-spaces allowing you entry. What you find there can be disturbing. Wall scrawl and an assortment of survival items, implying the Enrichment Centre isn't all it claims to be.
The commentary is eerie, and right from the start you can tell it isn't "right". It glitches, promises things then cuts out before it finishes its sentences, offers dubious advice, and often mentions cake rewards. It even goes so far as to say any apparent threat of pain or death is an illusion and merely part of the Experience, or thereabout.
The voice itself is not annoying. Sometimes it is helpful, other times you will grin, or perhaps crack up. Talk about the "Weighted companion cube" and euthanising it, "Thank you for helping us help you help us all", an electrical safety seminar, cake, "Weee....!" ... are just some of the memorable moments that help set this game apart from the pack.
There is minimal music, but the sound effects are done to great effect. The rushing sound as you pick up speed while whizzing through the air, the opening noises when you fire portals, and even the little elevator music playing from the tinny radios all have their place in this strange facility.
If you want it but you don't want Half-Life (i.e. Orange Box)? You can buy it on Steam on it's own! This may take a while to download, depending on your connection though.
In the end, Portal is a huge success. You should try it. It's bizarre, it's wacky, it's weird. It's out there, but it's also done so well that you find yourself wanting more - unfortunately a lot more than the game has to offer. Despite the shortness though, it gets top marks for it's innovation and comic humour. I don't want to spoil anything big, but you will enjoy the last segment of the game. I doubt many will be expecting that!