I grew up with Portal. I begged my parents to get me Portal 2 the day it launched. As such, I've completed both of these games at least a hundred times over the course of 13 years for Portal and 9 for Portal 2. They've always been installed on all of my machines (even Portal is on my Xbox 360 through the Orange Box and Xbox One through backwards compatibility).
So what I'm about to say might be extremely biased, but I genuinely think Portal is a near-flawless game, and Portal 2 is hardly any different, aside from one or two sections that are less intuitive as they maybe should have been.
For this post I just want to focus on Portal 1. Portal 2 is an absolutely amazing game in it's own right, and both games are what I would consider "essential" games to play.
First, I should talk about how innovative Portal is as a game. Puzzle games have had a long track record of being out-of-the-box, as they have to be to stay relevant, but Portal is innovative like no other. You could make the argument that Narbacular Drop did it first, but Portal was worked on the same people and almost completely refined the gameplay. Not to mention the legendary physics engine the game is based upon.
Second: Portal is both entirely based upon, and spectacular in executing, the way it introduces new concepts and expands upon them. As an example, take a look at how it introduces "energy pellets".
Chamber 6 – Energy pellets and their receptacles are introduced in a box-shaped chamber with the pellet dispenser and the receptacle right next to each other.
Chamber 7 – Shows that energy pellets aren't affected by gravity, and can go up, down, or side to side.
Chamber 8 – Shows you how energy pellets can be moved from their set paths by using portals.
The rest of the game then uses these concepts quite frequently.
This cycle can be applied to every new concept that the game introduces, and you're never left with puzzles that drill concepts into your head necessarily, nor moments where the game is trying to teach you more than one concept at a time. The game is paced incredibly well, and that can't be said for every puzzle game.
Third: The atmosphere Portal creates is fantastic, and can be attributed to the game's writing and soundtrack. GLaDOS at first seems like just a strange narrator, designed to help you out as sort of a tutorial, and even pretends to "set you loose" like a tutorial. Of course, this is a lie. And from that point, GLaDOS' check ins and tips gradually get more and more sinister before she eventually attempts to kill you at the end of the game.
Combined with the cryptic "rat man" rooms, the haunting soundtrack, and the cold, manufactured look of Portal, the atmosphere Portal creates is almost crushingly lonely and bleak.
I could go on for hours about how great I think Portal is, with things like how it ties into the Half-Life timeline, the developer commentary, and the additional "challenge" chambers, but I'll stop here.
TL;DR: Portal, through it's execution of concepts, atmosphere, and writing, leads me to believe it's a near-flawless game.
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