Released in 2007 as part of Valve`s `The Orange Box`, Portal was a fearless and original concept that has rightly become regarded as one of this generations most exceptional titles, leaving an indelible mark on gaming culture to boot. Across the internet and beyond, millions parroted “the cake is a lie!” and the lyrics to the wistful end credits song, Still Alive, both of which have become ingrained in gamer’s minds. The game has even made its way onto Xbox Live Arcade in the form of Portal: Still Alive.
In case there are still some out there who don`t know, Portal casts the player in the first person perspective as they use a gun to create two simultaneous “doorways” in relative space. These are used to escape from the various mazes and puzzles contained within the test chambers of Aperture Science, the setting for the game.
The head-spinning ability of using gravity, inertia and surroundings to traverse seemingly impassable areas, having to think on your feet and contemplate manoeuvres that seem impossible, all provide true satisfaction when executed successfully. Thanks to some superb design they also let the player use their imagination throughout.
Still feeling fresh, Portal retains its ominous, detached feel, with only the disembodied robotic voice of GLaDOS guiding you through the nineteen test chambers and beyond. There’s the dawning realisation that all is not well as cracks literally start to appear in within the gleaming, polished surfaces of Aperture Science`s labs, tinged with the deliciously dark humour that peppers the game. The result is an experience that doesn’t conform to the usual gaming tropes that are so readily wheeled out in other titles.
What fans of the original will have been looking forward to are the new Challenge Maps included with Still Alive. These are comprised of fourteen maps centred on the original concept by developers We Create Stuff (which Portal was based on). They provide a similar array of puzzles already tackled in the single player portion of the game, and it recycles four of those to flesh the final number out to eighteen.
Unfortunately these “new” maps suffer from a lack of any new ideas or discernible challenge. Some are as simple as seeking out and placing some Companion Cubes under a grid that will fry the player instantly, or are merely a succession of cube stacking tasks that allow progress beyond a series of sentry guns that cannot be moved or knocked over due to them being encased in cages. At no point do these feel like they stretch the player, and more tellingly the rehashes of the original Portal maps provide the sternest challenges.
If you’ve yet to experience the brilliance of Portal, then Still Alive seems like an attractive proposition, until you realise that The Orange Box can now be bought for roughly the same price as this release and contains an obscene amount of content. This poses the question; exactly who is Still Alive aimed at? A more cynical person might describe this as a shameless cash-in; others would suggest it provides people with a digital version of the game with added extras. Unfortunately there isn`t enough “new” content here to satiate fans and, factoring in the price point, you have a release which is far short of being a triumph.