Greetings everyone, and welcome to the Peaches Portal Packtacular. As much as I love nostalgia, I'm here to pump some much-needed fresh games into your web-hole. Too bad I'm poor, so I'll just review some free stuff!
First up is the anticipated (or so I'm told) unofficial prequel to Portal, known as Portal: Prelude. Back before GLaDOS took over the Aperture Science laboratories, the Enrichment Center test subjects had to be monitored by human scientists. Even watching people die horribly is boring after awhile, so the omni-present science guys who taunt you are rather excited that their work will get more interesting once that new-fangled AI system finally gets activated (OMINOUS PLOT POINT).
The characterization in this game does have an interesting twist. You're still a chick in an orange jumpsuit with no background other than a name, but whereas the villain in the original, GLaDOS, was a human-like machine, your tormentors here are strangely inhuman people. I wish I could say the writing did more with it, but the dialogue seems only halfway clever (for example, the scientists monitoring you admit they don't know the difference between orange and blue portals). It also doesn't help things that the dialogue is provided by a voice synthesizer instead of actors. The lack of inflection and emotion (the limp voices aren't even cold enough to be an effective deadpan) really makes the speech more of an obnoxious distraction than anything.
The controls and such are straight from Portal itself, so you know everything's smooth. The problem of the actual gameplay is that, unlike the original game where timing and problem-solving were your best friends, the test chambers in Prelude seem to require more platforming skills. And it's pretty unforgiving. You can't just jump down into the portal and shoot up to get to where you need to be, oh no, you have to run and jump to get the most forward momentum possible so that you can just barely reach that area right up there.
And then do it again. And again.
I don't really feel it meshes well with the original, in terms of level design or story, but it's a mod so I won't fault them on that. I just felt that far too much of my playing effort was spent using the teeny bit of control that you have while airborne trying to get past certain spots. And that's just one of the ways the design is far too frustrating. Thankfully, the challenge isn't a linear progression from hard to harder: there are very welcome chambers that are easy, fun breaks. But overall, the learning curve just never felt smooth enough for me.
The only purpose this mod serves is to challenge those who wished Portal had more platforming elements. But it's not deeply flawed beyond that.
Next up is Riot Act, a mod for Half-Life 2. You are Jamil Lee, an inmate at Nova Prospekt, and you've just been saved from whatever horrid fate awaited you by the arrival of a certain PhD with a crowbar. Now you must fight your way to freedom using weapons and armor swiped from dead Combine soldiers.
... and that's pretty much it. Basically, it plays like a few deleted scenes from the Nova Prospekt level of Half-Life 2. But like the original, it's great fun. The setting was probably chosen because it allowed for simple, clear goals (get your ass OUT), but the atmosphere is appropriate enough, and breaking out is nicely different than trying to rescue Eli Vance.
Your antlions (oh yeah, return of the bugbait) seem even dumber than before, and sometimes the level design just doesn't seem as fluid as it could have been, but... the mod is short and sweet. Things start off fast: a fellow prisoner gives you the lowdown, a gun, and the fun begins and the killing doesn't let up until you're home free. Many familiar baddies make an appearance, from turrets to myrmidons to gunships, not to mention lots of Combine. All this, plus the mod's quick length, keeps it feeling fresh 'til the end. It does what it's supposed to do, does it quite well, and then leaves.
Remember the Flash version of Portal? Boy, I sure do, since it was the only way I could enjoy the game that ate the internet during the Portal hype heyday. Well, now you can get those same levels, plus more, in glorious 3-D with real GLaDOS voices and everything with the Portal: TFV MapPack!
The levels here feel very simple yet challenging, which pleasantly reminds me of the original Portal. Lifted from the Flash version, there are new elements such as walls that will vaporize you but allow your cube to pass through. These are just new enough to shake things up, but they don't feel like they've completely changed the game.
There's not nearly as much story being told as the original or Prelude, but if you're into that sort of thing, there are a few visual treats you get when the game takes you into some esoteric background locations. Another interesting change from both the original Flash version and the original Portal, you have to go "behind the scenes" and sneak into the inner workings of Aperture Science in order to "solve" rooms by getting around, say, "broken" doors or cube dispensers.
Unlike the Flash version, which had some text to represent a GLaDOs-like presence in the game, her lines from the original game have been re-edited to fit a variety of situations. There's a bit of cognitive dissonance in hearing lines in the "wrong" places, but they're generally put to good use.
There's really not much more I can say. The levels are fun, they don't try to re-invent the wheel, and it sticks to the original spirit while still feeling quite new.