A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this game.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that this game contains some blood, the potential for the player to die, and some violence against inanimate objects. Parents should also know that the game is set in a near future in which humans are mysteriously absent, with suggestions that they have met some disturbing but unspecified fate.
What's it about?
In PORTAL, the player controls a human character as if in a first-person shooter, only the player doesn't have any weapons, and there are only a few inanimate \"enemies\" to shoot. Instead, the player must work their way through increasingly difficult puzzle areas, guided by audio instructions from an artificially intelligent computer named \"GLaDOS.\"
To solve the puzzles, the player uses a device called an \"aperture gun\" which creates a temporary passage between surfaces. It works like this: shoot at a wall to create an opening, then shoot at the ceiling to create a second opening. Step through the opening in the wall, come out the one in the ceiling. Portal's sophisticated physics engine takes care of the rest.
Is it any good?
Puzzle areas generally take the form of a room or series of rooms through which players must proceed in order to "win." The aperture gun makes it possible to create a portal in order to get to out-of-reach areas, drop onto moving platforms, or retrieve distant objects. That fairly simple formula produces some fiendish puzzles which invite the player to repeat them many times over. That's good, because the game is unfortunately quite short, with only a few hours of game play to finish off the main story. And finishing is required: the charming little song at the end makes the struggle well worth it.
Portal is an excellent game, the standout star of 2007's Half-Life 2:The Orange Box game compilation, which also included the Half-Life 2 saga and Team Fortress 2. As a stand-alone product, Portal includes no additional game content on top of what was included with The Orange Box, so those who own The Orange Box should not pick up this edition of Portal. But since The Orange Box is an M-rated title, if you have a teen looking for an interesting puzzler, this stand-alone version of Portal is an outstanding choice. It represents a new genre of game that combines the sophisticated physics of a first-person shooter with minimally-violent puzzle content.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the possibility of sapient machines in our future and what our ethical responsibilities might be. Because this is set in a future mostly absent of humans, families could also discuss dangers, both real and imaginary, that could cause human extinction.
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