Valve Corporation’s 2007 first-person puzzle title Portal is often cited by game industry critics as a paragon of game design. Indeed, taking what is ostensibly a simple concept and spinning it on its head until it becomes an all-consuming experience, the combined gameplay style and puzzle solving found in Portal is taken to new heights by the unique first-person presentation that truly immerses the gamer in the action.
Deploying a subtle narrative that posits you being the center of a psychological experiment of some kind, Portal takes the “portal gun” concept and essentially lets you lose in what is an escape room experience in a slick modernist setting that varies between laboratory and dungeon-like venues. Released as part of The Orange Box collection of games, Portal could be easily mistaken for a side game or an incomplete experience but it is anything but that.
Breathing new life into the puzzler genre, Portal continues in the tradition of titles like Myst in bringing puzzle solving and a mysterious narrative together for a potent combination not to be missed.
In this article we’re going to offer up some games like Portal that we think you’ll enjoy. Tied together by a general spirit of puzzle solving, these games are nonetheless compelling examples of the modern puzzler genre and worth a look if you’re a fan.
Take the psychological aspects of Portal’s gameplay and turn them up to 11 in this title from Bruce Alexandre that debuted in 2013 and features “impossible architecture” as part of its core gameplay construction.
Way more abstract than Portal, the two are nonetheless tied together by the central conceit of being some kind of psychological test. The solutions to the puzzles are often delivered through hints that give some idea about what the player is expected to do.
That said, much of the game takes place in environments that are impossible to exist in reality and this jarring mismatch between expectation and what the game puts you in adds to the overall vibe of Antichamber.
Oddly enough, there are also tiny aphorisms about life scattered in throughout which serve as part of the psychological aspect of the whole experience. Solving puzzles is heavily based on player movement and, like Portal, perspective plays a particularly key role in this title. For gamers that want Portal but with a bit more LSD thrown in, Antichamber is the perfect title.
Short for Quick Understanding of Block Extrusion, this physics-based puzzlers takes the jumping and leaping around that players enjoy in Portal but with a more tactile approach.
In this game you are gifted with special gloves that activate color-coded blocks in order to solve puzzles in the game. Red blocks can be pulled out or pushed back in while yellow blocks are specifically used to make stairs up or down.
Blue blocks act as a platform from which to spring up to greater heights while purple blocks will rotate walls to allow access to new areas.
Early on you have to manipulate these various in-game elements in order to reach the exit though this goal becomes increasingly complicated as time goes on with more and more puzzles within puzzles to be solved before the player can move on.
Less psychological than Portal but no less mechanics and physics based, QUBE is a really cool game that almost occupies its own space if it weren’t vaguely reminiscent of Atlus’ platforming puzzler Catherine.
This puzzle platformer is oozing with charm and really has only a science fiction basis in common with Portal, an otherwise dreary affair. If you like charm and puzzles, Quantum Conundrum not only recalls classic PC titles like Commander Keen but also implements some of the most compelling action we’ve seen in a while.
Basically, an experiment goes awry and you’ve got to write the wrongs caused by its aftermath. Armed with gloves capable of manipulating the different dimensions that the sections of the house finds themselves in, the player has to make their way back to power generators in order to restore order.
Unlike Portal you’re not explicitly the subject of the experiment but you are the focus of the action. There is also a bit of a Back to the Future style Mad Scientist tale that underpins everything which only adds to the charm of this game.
Thekla’s 3D puzzle game The Witness is a spiritual successor in many respects to the classic PC game Myst, itself a pioneering game in the realm of puzzlers and immersive experiences. Released in 2016, this game, like Myst, involves solving puzzles around an island and progressing along as you do.
Featuring design from Jonathan Blow, himself a bright light of the video game development community, The Witness is simultaneously a graphical experience and a gameplay treat.
You don’t have the freedom of movement that you do in Portal nor is physics that big of a deal in the game but if you like atmosphere and mystery, The Witness has you covered. And with 650 puzzles to solve, The Witness promises more than enough content for you in your off hours. A true puzzlers delight, The Witness stands as a testament to classic puzzlers as well as their more modern, moody incarnations.
Magrunner, a first-person action puzzle game, takes a lot of Portal elements and spins them into something different but not entirely original.
Billed as a cyberpunk version of the Cthulhu story, Magrunner also boasts of a strong narrative and atmosphere to complement its gameplay.
As a trainee on a facility floating in deep space, you’re thrown into a world that gradually takes on the appearances of something not of this realm.
The mixed science fiction dark fantasy atmosphere with compelling action similar to portal in that you use a gun to activate different nods with varying environmental effects, Magrunner is divided into acts that each have their own unique theme and places a premium on telling a story.
Bulkhead Interactive’s 2016 puzzle video game The Turing Test takes its name from the famous criterion used to establish whether or not an AI is human or a computer and that is basically if a human can interact with a computer AI that sufficiently convinces the human participant that it itself is a human then there isn’t a sufficient difference distinguishing the two intelligences.
As Ava Turing you’re a NASA engineer on a space station that has to save her crew by solving a series of puzzles designed to be completed in tandem with an AI, called TOM in the game. Delving deeper into the station, Ava and TOM uncover the mystery of what is going on in a gripping narrative that is as well crafted as Valve’s Portal.
Teotl Studios first-person action adventure game The Ball is about an archaeologist exploring an ancient ruin wherein he discovers a relic that can repel or attract a gigantic metal ball that must be manipulated in order to solve puzzles and act as a platform, among other things.
Combining the atmosphere of Tomb Raider with the gameplay of something reminiscent of The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, The Ball is a creative puzzler that often takes convention expected in platforming and adds an interesting twist to them.
In this title that arms you with a gun capable of firing three different colors the player solves a series of puzzles involving color-based triggers in the individual levels.
Wearing its inspirations from Portal proudly on its sleeve, ChromaGun is a challenging puzzler that doesn’t emphasize physics-based puzzles as much as Portal, instead favoring moving part puzzles and first-person shooter elements.
This Metroidvania-style puzzle platforming game from Facepalm Games and released in 2013 initially for Windows PCs but then making its way over to other systems, The Swapper is a side-scrolling, science-fiction themed escape room style game that puts you in control of a person looking to leave a sprawling space station.
One mechanic that is interesting and somewhat different from other puzzlers on this list is that the player gains control of up to 4 different clones in order to solve puzzles.
Gone are the kitschy narrative and foreboding, post-apocalyptic science experiment gone awry feel of Portal and instead is a sense of isolation and a sense of impending, inescapable doom that will consume you no matter what happens.
This virtual reality puzzle game takes a lot of inspiration from classic PC titles like Myst and involves a mechanic that requires players to overcome obstacles in the game’s levels to retrieve tetromino sigils to unlock further parts of the level.
The vibe of the game is classic and the puzzles and progression, while linear, are completely understandable within the game’s logic.
As stages become more complex there will be more and more puzzles for the player to solve in order to proceed forward but, with a narrative highlighted with bits of Greek mythology, The Talos Principle keeps everything interesting right until the end.
Almost as well known for its creators antics as it is for being one of the best examples of a platforming game currently available on any platform, Fez is a side-scrolling platformer that involves world rotation and puzzle solving that makes use of a player’s ability to puzzle out perspective-based problems and stick to a platform.
Dripping with charm and sporting a unique graphical style all its own, Fez is a modern classic that fans of Mario-style titles and puzzlers should both experience.
Man, I loved creating this list, if you have any feedback or have any games that I missed please put it in the comments below.