You can’t really have a list of cheap games without mentioning 3rd-party modifications, widely known as “mods” for short. A game not considered cheap might suddenly become a value proposition when combined with a strong mod community. Mods themselves are cheap, but they require the original game on which they’re built. In this case, you’ll need Portal.
Portal: Prelude is a full, lengthy campaign, set before the events in Portal. It was developed mostly by a small team of three living in Europe. It came as quite a surprise when it was announced shortly before its release, something very unusual in the mod community. The intent was to create a much more challenging Portal experience while retaining the atmosphere. This differs from other map packs in that those focus purely on the puzzles.
A defining feature of Portal was the presentation of its story. Portal: Prelude attempts to match the humor and drama, but its success varies. Given that its a prequel, the original scientists are still running the test chambers. However, GLaDOS must have gotten some of her sadistic nature from her creators because these “old” chambers are just as, if not more cruel and difficult than the ones in Portal. The dialog in this game ranges from satisfactory to poor, with bad grammar and stilted TTS voice “acting”. The story, while introducing some interesting sets, is not its strength.
The meat of the game is the challenge of the puzzles. They’ve introduced new obstacles and remixed some old ones. The diversity is nice, even if some of the new obstacles are non-canon.
This is where it gets prohibitive, though. The difficulty of solving and performing some these challenges is much higher than Portal and perhaps even its advanced chamber bonus maps. Even the first level left me dead the first several times I attempted it. I was simply solving it wrong and there were four turrets aiming at the exit of the first portal. With the recent patch (1.1.0) they’ve made a few of the unecessarily difficult parts a little easier. (including the difficulty of the first chamber, only a few days after I had already beat it) But, it’s still hard, make no mistake. Unfortunately, sometimes it seemed they just threw more turrets and other obstacles in your way in lieu of interesting puzzles.
The first 17 chambers took me three hours to complete. Chambers 18 & 19 took an additional hour and a half. (they added better hints in the patch for those) I finished the whole game at five and a half hours, almost twice as long as it took me to finish Portal. Not only that, but this mod has bonus maps, including advanced chambers and challenge maps. If you had a desire to play through again, you can even take advantage of the developer commentary. This mod will keep you busy
Since I can’t exactly show me solving the non-obvious puzzles, I went with a more artistic approach with this gameplay video. Maybe it’ll get you hyped to play it. The song featured is from the actual soundtrack in the game, 09 GHOSTS I by NIN.
Where To Get It
Some may be asking why I’m recommending a game I seem to dislike. Despite some of my earlier remarks, I did ultimately enjoy the mod. There are many fun and challenging puzzles and a few suprises along the way. So, it’s not for everyone, but if you like challenging Portal maps, this is a great mod for you. Portal: Prelude can be downloaded at their official website. It’s 843MB and once installed it should appear in your Steam games list the next time you start it up.