Portal with RTX review: Ray tracing makes Valve’s puzzle FPS scary

Can a remaster change the genre of a video game? After a few hours with portal‘s free ray tracing update, I’m tempted to say yes.

The original portal is shortlisted for the “funniest video games of all time”. Released as a 2007 spin-off of Half-Life, this bite-sized first-person puzzler took the humor of its parent series and yanked it from the periphery into the spotlight. You play as Chell, a human lab rat who gradually outwits a malicious artificial intelligence named GLaDOS, which talks about Mitch Hedberg like Siri. You use little more than your wits, Chell’s physical fitness, and a non-lethal “weapon” that shoots out a pair of interconnected portals instead of bullets. As exciting as it is cartoonish, it’s best remembered for a cake meme and its pop song in the credits, written by comedic musician Jonathan Coulton.

Portal with RTX is, in everything but the optics, the same game. Same puzzles, script and voice acting, dessert reference and endgame ditty. Unless it looks different. To get the most out of the latest high-end graphics cards, GPU maker Nvidia has partnered up portalValve to create an updated variant transformed by the graphical wizardry of the moment: ray tracing.

Image: Lightspeed Studios/Nvidia via Polygon

What is ray tracing? How much time do you have? If you have 20 minutes, I highly recommend checking out this breakdown from the experts at Digital Foundry. However, if you only have a few seconds, here’s the elevator pitch. Ray tracing is a much more realistic way to simulate light in video games. With ray tracing, you’ll see reflections and shadows, as well as representations of the tiny ways light can bounce, bend, and be absorbed by materials.

Ray tracing is especially noticeable in environments where the light itself is most noticeable: wet surfaces, reflective metals, glass, and mirrors. portal‘s maze of industrial test chambers is a natural fit.

In terms of producing an exceptionally realistic laboratory, the creative team for Portal with RTX created a version of portal that puts realism above all else. Assuming you can get this thing up and running – it took an Nvidia RTX 3090 with Deep Learning Super Sampling enabled to achieve anywhere near reliable performance on a 4K TV – you’ll see a shockingly believable version of GLaDOS’ lab. And I mean terrifying.

In Portal, the player faces a portal in the ground.  The portal shows a view of the player from above, indicating that the second portal is placed somewhere above them.

Image: Lightspeed Studios/Nvidia via Polygon

To emphasize the dynamic lighting, portalThe Lab of with RTX is darker and moodier; Ink shadows fill every corner. Many surfaces now look wet and gross, as if you would contract a rare bacterial infection if you scratched your knee. Balls of electricity bounce around, casting a soft, ghostly light. The walls not only look like metal paneling; they look like heavy, immovable blocks of steel. The result is much more claustrophobic.

We’ve seen a similar effect in other classic games that have received ray tracing updates. With natural light instead of artificial light, things tend to get a bit dark and spooky. But adding ray tracing has never been as close to horror as in Portal with RTX. In this case, the game isn’t just darker – there are still plenty of rooms with morbid office fluorescent lighting. By emphasizing realism in the visuals, portalThe overall atmosphere of has shifted from cartoonish to something far more sinister.

Valve’s 2000s video games have an iconic blocky, dirty, and muted aesthetic that flatters the corpo-fascist art direction of its first-person shooters. While other AAA shooters of the era like Crysis and Call of Duty served as technical showpieces that prioritized raw horsepower, the Half-Life series emphasized artistic direction. Valve’s worlds weren’t as technically impressive, but they were given more thought. Appearance served a function.

A room in the portal with the RTX update enabled.  Light reflects off an onyx-like surface to the right as the player looks down at the test chamber puzzle from above.

Image: Lightspeed Studios/Nvidia via Polygon

In case of portal, this feature was fun and humorous. Yes, you play as a human lab rat, but success is never really out of the question. Valve came as close as possible to creating a family-friendly game with no deadly weapons or human targets. And Valve’s blocky aesthetic set a clear division between the real world and the video game. GLaDOS’ increasingly escalated, malicious monologue fitted perfectly against the backdrop of dull, abandoned labs.

But in these eerie chambers of Portal with RTX, GLaDOS immediately sounds more menacing. The big red glass knobs, companion cubes, and towering viewing chambers used to feel pretty silly — but not so much anymore. Now they are set pieces in a corporate haunted house. The result is a different experience than gaming portal 15 years ago.

Portal with RTX is not portal, not really. It’s something different, an alternate vision that feels a little closer half-life 2is Ravenholm. You might find the visual upgrade unsettling, especially if you’re more of an originalist who likes things the way they’re “intended”. oryou might be excited to visit again portal through a more menacing lens.

A player walks up a flight of stairs in Portal.  An orange glow emanates from under the stairs, which is reflected on the industrial walls surrounding the stairs.

Image: Lightspeed Studios/Nvidia via Polygon

Or, if you’re the kind of person who’s obsessed with the future of video game graphics, you’ll appreciate it portal‘s RTX update for what it does best: Prove that ray tracing matters. Ray tracing’s ability to significantly change the mood of the game captures something powerful about the technology that can’t be seen in screenshots or a tech demo video on YouTube.

If ray tracing can have this kind of impact on a game that it should never have, imagine what artists will do if they integrate the feature from the start.

Portal with RTX launches December 8th on Windows PCs and requires high-end system specifications. The game was verified on PC using a pre-release download code provided by Nvidia. Vox Media has affiliate partnerships. These do not affect editorial content, although Vox Media may earn commissions on products purchased through affiliate links. You can find For more information on Polygon’s Ethics Policy, click here.

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