One of the more captivating and original games in recent years has finally arrived via the Orange Box or by download on Steam. The game is Portal and it embodies good old fashioned puzzle solving, with a creepy story and plenty of action.

Players start the game in a cell in a mostly antiseptic environment. They have no idea how they got there, but are told by a computer voice that an experiment is to take place, where the player will be put through a series of tests.

Once the cell opens, players enter the first room or chamber and are tasked with finding a way to the exit. While this seems simple enough, there are obstacles that have to be moved, and puzzles to solve in order to get from point A to point B.

Eventually players are able to obtain a portal gun which allows them to open portals in each chamber.

Once players have the gun, the game shifts into high gear as the chambers become more and more complex, and eventually deadly, as players have to not only manipulate a way to exit the chamber, but dodge and disarm traps, as well as manipulate objects such as platforms and power ups needed to complete the chamber.

This often requires some out of the box thinking as some of the solutions for each chamber are real head scratchers while others are fairly straightforward. As you progress through your “testing” a computer voice interacts with you mixing praise with threats, some veiled and some not so.

As you progress in the game, it becomes clear that something has gone very wrong at the facility as certain areas of the test chambers are broken, which allow you to explore off the grid, and you see hand written messages telling you that the promised reward of cake is a lie, and other chilling underscores that you are in mortal danger.

As you progress each chamber has a diagram on the floor which gives you a slight clue as to what you may need to do in order to pass the chamber such as indicating that you will need to build up speed via a fall in order to reach an unreachable ledge. This skill becomes vital in the later stages of the game, as being able to make portals and launch the player high into the air or across a distance is vital. Thankfully the player (which is female) is equipped with devices that enable her to fall from great distances and land without taking any damage.

As important as this skill is, cunning and strategy are vital, especially with some of the lethal turrets and traps players will face in later stages of the game.

Based on the Source engine that powers Half Life 2 amongst others, Portal combines a great concept and story with inspired gameplay and puzzle solving as it deftly blends traces of horror and science fiction to create one of the most original and entertaining games ever.

While the graphics are not cutting edge, they are solid and convincingly convey the unusual environment in which the game is based.

At times I was reminded of the “Cube” film series in the premise, but the game is very original and leaves aspects to the imagination. Upon completion of the game, players will have a real sense of accomplishment, and can challenge themselves by playing advanced levels of the harder levels of the game as well as enjoy the commentary by the creators of the game.

In an age where many designers play it safe and give us more of the same, hats off to Valve for stepping up and once again setting new standards in gaming.

5 stars out of 5.