Critical Play: Puzzles

Portal, a game developed by Valve and published on their platform Steam, is a groundbreaking puzzle game whose gameplay is centered around its signature portal gun. The portal gun can make two linked portals, one blue and one orange, through which the player can throw practically anything. The portals that this gun produces can be considered the game’s only mechanic, but it is a fantastic one because there are so many unique puzzles that can be made which require the portal gun to solve such as requiring the player to jump through the portals at a certain speed, teleporting an enemy’s attack back at them, or moving essential blocks through walls. The infinite teleportation possibilities allow the player to solve puzzles in new and unconventional ways, which make the puzzles that much more satisfying to solve. The puzzles also make the player think critically about their surroundings and experiment with different portal orientations. For example, there might be a platform protruding from the wall at a 45° angle, and the only way to hit the button to open the door and progress to the next level is to make a block fly from this specific wall segment through clever portalling. Besides the gameplay, the narrative plays a crucial role in player immersion, as all the puzzles are cleverly tied to the story. The player is accompanied through each puzzle by a robot-narrator-antagonist GLaDOS who gives the player instructions for each puzzle. As the robot becomes increasingly unhinged throughout the story, so do the puzzles, and the gameplay and plot culminate together at the climax with a final confrontation. Ultimately, the experience of the game is a completely unique one and an extremely engaging one, as playing with portals is so much fun and something you can only do with this level of refinement in this game.

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