The cake is NOT a lie!

This has been a long week, so I’m going to write about a game that makes me exuberantly happy.

It’s short, but uh-mazing. My love for this game knows no bounds.

The premise is simple: you play from a first person view, with a portal gun. You make your way over, under, around, across, and through various obstacles by shooting portals and stepping into one and straight out the other. The portals don’t affect velocity, so if you find a way to hurl yourself through one at high speed (such as leaping into a portal from a high place) you’ll fly out of the other portal at high speed. This lends itself to all sorts of interesting scenarios. The puzzles are challenging, and the satisfaction of finishing each one is addictive.

Portal has received wildly positive reviews from myriad sources, so I’ll leave further straight-gameplay review to them and get onto things that I particularly like about it. SPOILERS AHOY!

I love that this is such a female-dominated game. There is not one male character in evidence. Now, I’m not advocating that we get rid of dudes or anything (hiiiii, Leon S. Kennedy!), but as a member of a population often underrepresented, or (maybe?) worse, represented like this in video games:

…it was a delightful treat to play a kick-ass game featuring women in which their bodies are not the focus!

I began the game knowing the main character was female. Playing in a first-person view in an environment with no mirrors and a character who doesn’t speak (like Valve’s other hero, Gordon Freeman of Half Life), I had no idea what she looked like for a good chunk of the game. Through some clever positioning of portals I finally managed to get a glimpse of “myself,” and was delighted to find that not only is Chell a woman, she’s a woman of color! A woman of color WITH CLOTHES ON! Be still, my heart!

And nifty heel-springs so she can land safely, too.

The real star of the show, however, is GLaDOS (Genetic Lifeform and Disc Operating System). Chell is only a lab rat in GLaDOS’s test of the portal gun, and her voice follows you throughout the game with instructions, admonishments, and hilariously disparaging commentary on your progress. She promises cake as an incentive to finish the course, which turns out to be more of a….bending of the truth, technically, than a lie. The implication that Chell would receive cake, however, is patently false.

Previous test subjects didn't get cake either.

If you escape her attempt to kill you, navigate through the inner workings of the test building to find the main body of the computer, and defeat GLaDOS, you are rewarded with the most amazing song in the history of video games. Mordin of Mass Effect 2 does a pretty mean Gilbert and Sullivan, but he’s got nothing on GLaDOS’s masterpiece, Still Alive. I don’t think any game has ever had more engaging end credits. This left me drooling to see how Chell, the portal gun, and maybe even GLaDOS will be integrated into the larger world of Half Life.

Ellen McLain, who voices GLaDOS and all of the turrets that try to kill Chell at various points throughout the game, deserves some sort of award for making Portal so entertaining. I enjoyed the fourteen extra puzzles released on the Portal: Still Alive download for Xbox 360 in 2008, but the game just wasn’t the same without GLaDOS around.

I missed you too, Companion Cube.

Portal is short, but offers replay value with advanced (read: super hard) versions of the puzzles, and challenges to complete puzzles in the least amount of time, taking the least amount of steps, or using the least amount of portals (the only one I had any success at). As previously mentioned, the downloadable Portal: Still Alive offers fourteen extra challenge maps, some of which force the player to utilize the portal gun in entirely new and unexpected ways from anything offered in the original game.

Portal is unlike anything I’ve ever played before or since. It forced me to think about physics and consider my environment in an entirely different way, and I had the time of my life doing so. The puzzles challenged and at times frustrated me, but I cherished the opportunity to apply critical thinking skills in a game. The satisfaction of completing the puzzles and the entertainment value provided by GLaDOS’s commentary remains unparalleled. The thrilling knowledge that the game features kick-ass female characters is just the icing on Portal’s cake. I cannot recommend this game highly enough.

My cake ain't no lie, either.


3 Responses to “The cake is NOT a lie!”

  1. 1 cate3710
    February 19, 2010 at 11:29 pm

    For some reason I was under the impression that this game was much older. Huh. Maybe it’s because the credits, which is all I’ve seen, look so old-school? I know of it in terms of “the cake is a lie!” and ‘Still Alive’ because I have some really geeky friends. Apparently the song was written by Jonathan Coulton, which further explains why some of my friends know all the words to it. And why I can assure you that “we’re not unreasonable, I mean, no one’s gonna eat your eyes”.

  2. February 19, 2010 at 11:58 pm

    Nope! Only 2007. It seems like it’s been a lifetime ago to me, too. I distracted myself through a horiffic breakup with Portal, and never lost my love for it- or even had any reminders of the breakup when playing the game since, at all.

    That’s something, come to think of it- this game distracted me from an epically bad time in my life, and I never even associated the game with that mess- in the slightest way! This game will distract you from anything. Birth, death, divorce, alien attack….Portal will absorb you. I meant it when I said I couldn’t recommend this game enough. You’ll love it forever, regardless of life situation when you start.

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