Comparing Portal against Half-Life is like comparing a puppy against its daddy dog. But the dilemma is that the puppy is a lot cuter than the older dog now, and also knows new tricks. Anyway, both games were made by Valve, the legendary game developers behind Steam (who also can only count to two, even if it meant saving their lives).
As a result, each game franchise only has two official or chronological games to their names. Even so, they both have been considered as among the best first-person shooter (FPS) games which not many could imitate nor surpass. So, if for any reason you're torn between which two game franchises to play, here's a rundown of which is actually better based on our totally scientific criteria.
10 GAMEPLAY: HALF-LIFE
The very first Half-Life game was a revolutionary gem in the gaming community and successfully blended fast-paced FPS fragging with mind-bending physics puzzles. The only thing that overtook it in terms of gameplay was Half-Life 2 with the gravity gun and the more robust physics engine.
Both Portal games, by comparison, had simpler gameplay with only the puzzles involved. As a result, there's no adrenaline rush involved in its gameplay, in fact, one could even redesign the game as a 2D sidescroller with the portals and still achieve the same results and a level of enjoyment. For having better gameplay variety, Half-Life wins.
9 LEGACY: HALF-LIFE
Half-Life was released back in 1998 back in a time where the most popular FPS games were either Doom, Quake, Wolfenstein, or Duke Nukem. All of those were quite primal as FPS games go since the only interaction you do with the game is killing everything. Half-Life was different-- it introduced a whole new layer of immersion for FPS games and changed the way stories are interwoven into the gameplay as well as how you interact with the game world.
After that, the face of FPS games changed forever. Portal also did something similar but it was arguably less ambitious than Half-Life and its backbone relied on one-trick-pony core gameplay, which is portals. You just can't beat Half-Life at its own game.
8 GRAPHICS: PORTAL
Portal 2 being one of the most relatively recent games from Valve, has had the luck of getting made with the latest iteration of the Source engine. It was actually released on the same year as The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim but had notably better graphics and physics. As a result, Portal 2 came to represent what the aging Source engine was still capable of.
Whereas the last Half-Life game, Half-Life 2: Episode Two, was released back in 2007 and had much more outdated graphics. Even with the mods and the official graphical overhauls, Portal 2's graphics are still a lot more tolerable than the last Half-Life game's. Plus, the physics are better too.
7 STORY: HALF-LIFE
As we mentioned earlier, the original Half-Life forever changed how FPS games convey stories and how they're integrated into gameplay. As it stands, Half-Life, even the first one, had a much more compelling narrative than Portal or even Portal 2. It was a textbook Hollywood science experiment gone wrong but you get to experience it through the victims' perspective.
As Gordon Freeman, you're also tasked with fixing everything. Enter Half-Life 2 and everything becomes even more atmospheric and high-stakes with rebellion and resistance iconographies painted over the Orwellian sci-fi backdrop. It's a story and atmosphere that will likely never be matched again in video games.
6 SOUND: HALF-LIFE
Sound design for both game franchises is pretty similar but Half-Life still wins in this category. That's all due to its more robust and exhilarating soundtrack which matches the tone and the scenario of gameplay astonishingly well. Portal and its successor meanwhile, are a lot more quiet and lonely. "Still Alive" and "Want You Gone" are commendable ending songs from the Portal games but they're made as half-jokes.
Both Half-Life games' soundtrack artists have successfully combined electronica and rock music together to create a more serious tone for both games. Hearing the song "Vortal Combat" while gunning down hordes of antlions is the apogee of Half-Life soundtrack and action, Portal games simply don't have moments like those.
5 MULTIPLAYER: HALF-LIFE
Both games were primarily made to be experienced solo but nevertheless have their own respective multiplayer aspects. For the Portal games, multiplayer is rather limited to co-op where you invite a friend or three to solve multiplayer puzzles which otherwise a solo player wouldn't be able to finish.
Meanwhile, the Half-Life franchise's multiplayer was pretty standard for its time. It had the usual deathmatch and team deathmatch which support up to 32 players, while an expansion pack, called Half-Life: Opposing Force added more multiplayer modes. The PlayStation 2 version of Half-Life 2 also featured a two-player co-op. In that regard, it's clear to see who's the winner.
4 INNOVATION: TIE
Valve is known for its innovation for the gaming industry and both Half-Life and Portal franchises were testaments to their craft and how they (used to) value game development. Half-Life changed FPS forever, Half-Life 2 was similarly revolutionary with its graphics, physics, and the gravity gun.
Portal was also lauded for the fresh new take on the puzzle-platformer formula and Portal 2 expands upon this by having a 10-hour long gameplay. It's hard to picture the FPS genre without these two game titles as they have contributed much. It's a tie.
3 REPLAY VALUE: HALF-LIFE
Portal despite its novel idea, isn't exactly as deep as one would think. Even the first game is basically just a premise where you use portals to traverse the environment. To that extent, Half-Life's core gameplay idea is a lot deeper and more elaborate, particularly in the second game with the added layer of the gravity gun and the vehicles.
Not to mention that the gameplay hours for all the Half-Life games combined are a lot higher than Portal's. You get a lot more game time with Half-Life and plenty more when you realize that you there's a lot of things you missed on a playthrough. Meanwhile, the mods you can install on Half-Life are also better in case you get bored of the usual gameplay loop.
2 ACCESSIBILITY: PORTAL
Despite Half-Life's acclaim, it's still not for everyone. There are certainly some people who consider Half-Life's gore as a little too much especially when paired with how realistic its physics was back in its heyday. Moreover, it's quite a violent game too and the imagery and tension can be rather traumatic-- particularly in the first game.
Portal, on the other hand, is more family-friendly and the only deaths you'll witness are your character's in case you ignored a laser or get gunned down by turrets. It's a game for everyone and even your grandmother won't scold you for letting your six-year-old nephew play Portal.
1 WINNER: HALF-LIFE
Despite Portal being the newer dog with the newer tricks, Half-Life remains Valve's crowning achievement and the Valve game which you should spend your time on the most. If you haven't played it yet, get ready for an amazing ride but do take it slowly since you don't want to exhaust your Half-Life games before Half-Life 3 arrives.