When I loaded up Portal Stories: VR I was greeted with familiar sights and sounds from the Portal universe. A disembodied voice told that I was about to take part in an Aperture Science Virtual Reality Experiment, words I was absolutely thrilled to hear.

Portal Stories: VR is a free Portal 2 (2011) “mini story” recently released for the HTC Vive. It was developed by an independent group (Prism Studios) and brings with it 10 brand new puzzles, specifically designed for room scale VR.

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Stepping inside, the Aperture Science Laboratory buzzed around me as I looked about, with transparent tubes transporting cubes to and fro, while familiar exposed framework of the immense and mysterious Aperture Science compound sprawls out before me. After taking in the surroundings, I quickly became acquainted with the two tools I was holding.

Photo courtesy ‘demonixis’

In my right hand was the Aperture Science Instant teleportation Device which works by pointing where you want to be teleported too and pulling the trigger. This movement system works well and is very comfortable for the VR user. Every time you teleport the controller gives a satisfying buzz letting you know the transfer of matter from one location to the next was successful.

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The Aperture Science Instant Teleportation Device serves two purposes in the Portal Stories: VR world. The first is to create comfortable VR movement by replacing the typical movement system of a controller and dual analog sticks. The second is to act as the portals did in the Portal games, creating an interesting way of moving around the environments and puzzles. Sadly, the classic orange and blue portals that are the namesake of the mod do not make an appearance in this relatively short (approximately 30 minute) VR experience.

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In my left hand was the Aperture Science Apparatus Retrieval Tool which functions much like the gravity gun in Half-Life 2 (2004). You point it at an object and pull the trigger and the object will be pulled to you. When you release the trigger the item drops in place. This can be used on a number of objects throughout the various puzzles as you progress. To help add difficulty, the player cannot teleport while holding an object with the Retrieval Tool.

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After being introduced to the world of Aperture Science I was tasked with completing 10 different levels similar to those seen in the previous Portal games. Each new puzzle is somewhat harder than the previous one and builds on the different skills you acquire as you play. The familiar big red buttons, Aperture Science cubes, lasers, turrets, and emancipation grids appear in these puzzles along with a few new VR-friendly additions.

It was quite satisfying to be able to manipulate a lens cube over my head to redirect lasers precisely where I wanted the beam. I found it much easier to be accurate with my own hands in a 3D virtual space than using a controller or keyboard and mouse to manipulate objects. Ducking down behind walls to hide from the automated turrets was quite terrifying and was my favorite part of the experience!

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The overall experience is well polished and feels like a Valve creation. The development team clearly took care to make this game as true to the Portal tiles as possible. However there were some major gameplay differences that subtracted from the overall experience.

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The puzzles were not particularly challenging, only ever taking one or two tries for even the most difficult moments, and while the developers did a good job working with what tools they gave themselves, I found myself wondering what could be done to improve the experience. The levels were well thought out and creative, but with the limited tools I had as a player, I never got the ‘AH-HA’ moment of solving a challenging puzzle that the other Portal games gave me.

Removing some of Portal’s better known tools and mechanics is an understandable choice from a developer standpoint. Flying through portals and bouncing off walls via repulsion gel would be a nauseating experience for even the most seasoned veterans of VR. But is the world of Aperture Science still be interesting space to explore without the portals themselves, the fictional corporation’s most impressive invention? For me the answer was no.

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I found myself entertained for the first few puzzles, buzzing around the Aperture Science Laboratories like a good little lab rat, but I kept wondering when the puzzles would get interesting or challenging and it simply never happened. Before I knew it the experience was over and I was left in the empty room that I started in, just staring out at Aperture Science Laboratories. The developers did a wonderful job of staying true to the look and feel of Portal using Unreal Engine, but the experience falls short.

While there are a lot of things that Portal Stories: VR does right it takes out one of the coolest and most interesting aspects of the original Portal games, the actual portals. Eliminating portals removes many abilities and functions that helped make the first two Portal games so much fun and such interesting puzzle games. It removed the sense of creativity from the gameplay. A Portal game just isn’t the same without those orange and blue transdimensional portals.

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Granted, for a free mod, Portal Stories: VR is worth picking up, especially if you are a diehard Portal fan who will be content simply stepping inside of the iconic Portal world; just don’t expect the same type of varied gameplay that we have grown accustom to from the original games.

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  • Sam Illingworth

    Oh, that’s dissapointing!

  • PianoMan

    Played it last night. Was ok, not very challenging and very short.

    I’m wondering that the ending with the lift shaft section is a teaser for a bigger game?

  • Raphael

    ” Flying through portals and bouncing off walls via repulsion gel would be a nauseating experience for even the most seasoned veterans of VR. ” – i have issue with this statement. Not true. No VR experience makes me sick. I’ve tried them all and it makes me angry that games are being chopped, sliced, watered-down, or deleted because of one section of gamers who perhaos shouldn’t b be using vr at all. Half Life 2 was one of the games taken away from me by valve and i was told by non-vr users that i couldn’t play it because any FPS game will induce nausea. I was told that only flying or driving are practical in vr.

    I loved HL2 in VR… It really brought the game to life. Now i can’t play it anymore because valve disabled vr functionality. Some members of the nausea clan were saying its a good thing hl2 vr has been disabled.

    Needless to say i am sick of the nausea crowd.

    Funnily enough it seems their impact on games may be starting to cause some discontent. There’s an RPG for vive on steam with excellent reviews but some are saying the teleport mechabic destroys immersion. For this reason I’m not buying it.

    • RavnosCC

      I think this might be worth debating a bit. I generally do not get motion sickness at all. I jumped into High Fidelity the other night and someone had a couple of grappling hook guns, I picked up one in each hand (Vive) and proceeded to use them in tandem to pull myself around the world very quickly. Once I tricked my brain into thinking I was just “surfing” any hint of nausea went away. I also found I could easily move around w/out actually walking by simply walking in place. That tricked my body into “feeling” the movement. I am going to experiment with pointing a fan my face as well to try out more stationary movement.

      • Raphael

        Yes and i think others could learn to reduce their uncomfortable sensations too. Someone else posted that he was making a determined effort to overcone nausea with vr and it worked.

        I think too many are off the mindset of quitting a game as soon as they feel sick and then declaring the game unplayable. I’ve sent rants like that on steam for many games including hover junkers.

        They want to force developers to reshape games so they never feel any discomfort.

        It really makes me angry.

  • Raphael

    I will give this a miss. Will have to rely on vorpx for portal. Valve are 7 years away from making a portal vr game for vive.

  • Daniel Gochez

    People who are complaining about the lack of difficulty are people who finished the other portal games, I blitzed through all the levels too but I let a very smart person try it that had no Portal experience and they found it way more challenging.

    • dogtato

      People who haven’t finished the other portal games probably don’t own Portal 2 already, so it may be more challenging but it costs them $20 more.

  • glyphery

    My experience with, and impressions of, Portal Stories: VR almost precisely parallel’s Garret’s. I was initially thrilled to be immersed in a fully-realised Aperture Science Laboratories VR environment. I’ve wanted something like this ever since running the SteamVR Performance Test and running into some old friends from Portal 2.

    When I realised that neither of the two gizmos I was holding would actually create portals, I was admittedly somewhat disappointed… but I reckoned the team that had clearly poured so much work into this must have come up with some fiendish puzzles despite only having these two mechanics (teleport and pull) at their disposal.

    This isn’t the case. Knowing there were 10 test chambers on offer, I anticipated a difficulty progression along the lines of: 1 (basic controls), 2 (simple obstacles), 3 (multi-stage/double-back puzzles), 4 (intermediate pathing/new mechanics). Then, over the course of 5 to 7, the gloves would start to come off and by the time we got to 8, 9 or 10 we’d be in test rooms where we would need to spend considerable time roaming around and viewing the area from different perspectives to come up with a viable solution.

    Instead, the difficulty remains fairly low throughout the majority of the arc. I was very grateful when the beam splitter cube made an appearance, and loved that you actually have to crouch down in your room-scale play area in order to get cover from turrets. The experience is enjoyable (and the lift shaft bit with their Cave Johnson quite amusing), but it’s such a shame that they didn’t implement the portal mechanic. I’d certainly recommend everyone with a Vive give it the half hour or so it’ll take to breeze through. Sure, you’ll want more at the end of it, but perhaps more is coming!

  • wheeler

    Enjoyable, but tame. Would be nice to see a content base stemming from Portal Stories: VR so people can develop proper Portal experiences on UE4.

  • Harald Heide Gundersen

    Never experienced motion sickness with teleporting. Works quite well. Also if developers limited movement (walking) to only be a linear movement in the direction you are facing. (or reverse) the problem seems to be drastically reduced.
    Sideways accelerated/decelerated movements induced from a gamepad is bad for business… :-)