It's been a year since Portal has been released and while there have been many levels and map packs created, the lore has remained largely untouched. There have been countless retellings of Gordan's alternative adventures, Barney and Professor Kleiner even. It was beginning to seem that maybe the game's both critical and commercial acclaim had rocketed the Portal canon into an elevated, sacred plane. Something no one would dare try to interpret in their own way—until now.
Portal: Prelude is the brainchild of French native Nicolas Grevet. Unhappy with the prospect of just releasing another map pack, Nicolas crafted a story around 19 test chambers set in the pre-GlaDOS days of Aperture Science. Put together in a span of only nine months, coupled with a rarely seen (from a mod, at least) shock-and-awe style of unveiling, Portal: Prelude has caught the attention of many people—for good reason. It is a fine example of the kind of quality tightly focused development with little to no resources can bring about. The product delivers a genuine, challenging experience that doesn't try and overextend itself.
Prelude takes on all the hallmarks of the original game that inspired it. There's science to be done, delicious cake is promised and observers nonchalantly mock you as you make your way from chamber to chamber. During the course of the experiment, you will be introduced to a number of staff employed—seemingly by force—that keep Aperture Laboratories running. It's during the banter between the humans watching you behind frosty-paned glass that the mod reveals its only real flaw: the voice acting and writing.
Understandably, the French-speaking creators decided to go with English voice synthesizers instead of real voices. The results of this, while they may have worked for the robotic GlaDOS, seem out of place for your flesh-and-blood overseers. This is compounded by the fact that the actual dialogue is quite drab. After chatting with Nicolas, he confirmed that quite a lot was lost in the translations from French to English. A future update with real voices and some spruced up dialogue could add a lot of color to the story. As it stands now, the synthesized voices do little to convey emotion and most of the banter falls flat.
If you're looking for a challenge, then Prelude should be your top choice. There's a few people out there who may exhibit some sort of natural portal wizardry. These people will have posted speedrun videos that will make you dizzy within the first week. The average gamer, the ones not used to thinking with portals outside of a couple months at best, will find this mod hard. Initial playthroughs with the ModDB staff had us a couple of failed attempts shy of thrashing about like some angry German kid. The difficulty starts off at an advanced level and ramps up from there. You can count on every test chamber to employ advanced techniques (multiple portal flings, timed portal shots, etc) and some new tricks/traps that haven't been seen before. For the less graceful, it's a combination of trial and error with some luck sprinkled on top that will see you through to the end.
And oh boy, the end is worth it. Developers spent about 1/4 of their development time on that sequence alone and it shows. No spoilers here, but you'll find that it dovetails very nicely with original game. A delectable treat (cake?) for the fans that makes the hours of frustration and cursing all worth it. True masochists can even check out the advanced maps after they finished the game. Developers even added commentary to the levels which I recommend checking out (make sure to turn on subtitles if you don't speak French). Overall, there's very little this mod gets wrong. Everything from its development timeline, implementation and strategies for attracting media attention are shining examples. Make sure to add Portal: Prelude to your Steam catalogue when it releases here on ModDB on October 10th.
Portal: Prelude trailer
* UPDATE: Also another Portal mod, Chell's Legend, was announced today.