May 11, 2013
Gaming Flashback: Portal And Portal 2 (Part 1)
Another Steam sale saw to it that both critically acclaimed puzzle games were added to my library, for $6. It’s been years since Valve blessed us with another Portal release, yet the Steam community has kept the game alive still with incredible modded levels and new content delivered almost weekly. I immediately purchased both games in a bundle and began a mind-challenging journey across Aperture Science’s deserted facility. I will reveal spoilers, so beware.
Portal begins with the game’s main character, a mute woman by the name of Chell, waking up out of stasis for an undetermined amount of time. Chell is the first of only a handful of test subjects in a facility with delightfully clean restrooms. We are greeted by a robotic voice by the name of GlAdOs, an overtly sarcastic personality with an itch to test subjects with challenging puzzles that she spends her free time creating. GlAdOs has a dark nature about her speech; the early parts of the game are filled with encouraging words and phrases that hardly do much to motivate the player to move forward with each puzzle.
To get through each room, we are given a portal device, essentially a dimension gun that has the capability of tearing holes in time and space to send us to different locations at once. The portal device represents the prized possession of Aperture’s final product before its demise, and has been given to the player to test the complexity of GlAdOs’s puzzles.
Of course, we do move forward with each puzzle, with or without her remarks, so we can pretend that she is the comedic relief to this game. Why does the game need comedic relief? For starters, there’s no one else alive in the facility for GlAdOs to talk to. No really, every test subject in the facility is dead. The ethics of life and death aren’t really spoken of until the last few puzzle rooms before she begins to insinuate that our lives are not as secure as we’d hoped.
In fact, these tests have been a mere amusement for her. As the AI that controls the entire facility, GlAdOs gets a bit lonely most of the time and must humor herself with kind remarks, often delivered in a sarcastic tone. Why is it that we find her personality so attractive? We could just as easily exit the game and enjoy a movie or play a game football outside, but instead, we’ve locked ourselves inside the walls of this facility with a robot that wants to kill you. Our success in each puzzle room is the proof of our intelligence and thinking power, showing us that we are, in fact, free of GlAdOs’s rule.
But to truly understand that freedom, we must eventually break free of her grasp. We spend the next few hours touring the innards of the facility’s manufacturing areas; steam rooms and even the assembly lines to get an idea of what has happened to the world outside these walls. Enthusiastic players will find hints and clues from an individual only known as ‘The Rat’, a former research scientist here at Aperture. No one ever sees Rat, but for the most part, we can assume that he is the only survivor of a mass killing that GlAdOs executed on the facility. Again, we don’t know why she would do this, but it more than likely has something to do with her corrupted core.
Up until this point we’ve seen an alarmingly human side of GlAdOs. Emotions such as fear, remorse, gluttony, and even jealousy are presented in her speech. She evens remarks that the player is cruel for leaving her test rooms, consequently “Breaking my heart”.
Oh, GlAdOs. You’re a freak.
As we make our way to the final boss room, we finally see GlAdOs, a robotic core attached to a gigantic node that controls every nook and cranny of the facility. She has no arms or legs, much less a head to offer some familiarity with her form. We do find that her personality has been corrupted (go figure) over the course of previous decades. To combat this, we are offered the chance to exchange her personality cores before blasting the facility with a giant portal hole into the roof of the facility.
The final cut scene of the game sees the player gaining her consciousness as we see the front gates of Aperture. We see trees and a road, the first signs of outside life and civilization ever seen in Portal’s world. But before we can come to our senses, we are dragged towards the facility in our daze by an unknown figure. The game then ends with GlAdOs singing us a song as the credits roll, ensuring us that she is, in fact, not dead, and waiting for her re-awakening by an unknown character.
Portal represented the genius of Valve, and proved that their hit Half Life series wasn’t their last shot at video game success. And still, the sequel would take us on a new journey that we’d never imagined could exist. More on this in a future blog post!
Image Credit: Valve Software