When playing Portal, the most interesting aspect to me was Portal’s status as a first-person shooter game. As a first-person shooter, Portal, therefore, is a game that belongs in a category with fellow shooters such as Call of Duty, Halo, and any game featuring James Bond. However, my experience playing Portal was vastly different than my experience playing these games.
The majority of first-person shooters are action games. The player controls the main character as they battle his/her way through numerous enemies armed with various guns. Throughout the game, the player tries to shoot the majority of the non-player characters (NPCs) before they shoot the protagonist. The game boils down to a test of the player’s reaction time—can you pull the trigger/press the button before the NPCs?
Portal takes this trope and flips it on its head. For starters, the “weapon” that Chell—the main character—is armed with, the Aperture Portal Gun is not even a true weapon. The portal gun does not fire bullets or ammunition, but instead fires non-damaging portals at walls. In a battle, this gun would be worthless, except as a means of escape.
Firing portals is useful to Chell, however, as in this game she is not truly battling. Yes, Chell does take damage periodically from robots controlled by the antagonist GLaDOS, and she does battle GLaDOS at the end of the game, but this “battling” is more about avoidance and relocation than combat. In another break away from the genre, Portal is less of an action game and more of a puzzle game. Instead of trying to shoot first, Portal encourages the player to think strategically. The game is about finding your way out of a predicament rather than simply battling through it. While many first-person shooters are about destroying, Portal is more about creating. The player must use their weapon to create a solution to their problem, as opposed to most first-person shooters which require their players to destroy their problem.