Valve's Portal 2 has been unlocked on Steam early, albiet by mere hours, thanks to the collective efforts of gamers participating in an indie game 'Potato Sack' promotion.
In what will surely go down as one of the most innovative of game marketing campaigns, Valve kicked off with a surreal online Portal ARG (online reality game) which served to neatly segway into the 13 indie game Potato Sack promotion.
In a spoof of distributed computing projects much loved by performance PC enthusiasts, GlasOS@home showed cumulative CPUs for each of the indie games in the pack, promising to unlock Portal 2 early if enough players got in on the act.
As was perhaps inevitable, some gamers and critics took exception to what they perceived as moving goalposts at the end of the ARG game, believing that the game would unlock last Friday without needing to buy an extra pack of games.
Furthermore the game was barely released early at all, though it's not clear if that was by design or Valve overestimating the number of gamers that would participate. If the game was released much earlier then that would have cut short the indie promotion.
However PC World's Matt Peckham complained: "Portal 2 should’ve come out early, whether by a day or a weekend. You don’t put that possibility out to a fired-up player base, charge extra admission, then fail to deliver the goods."
Ultimately for every jilted gamer and pundit, many more PC gamers expressed enthusiasm for the the chance to gain early access to the biggest ticket PC game, the sequel to a widely praised classic and a rare game from PC gaming maestros Valve. The excitement on forums has been extrodinary.
Twin hat-wearing Valve is not just a game developer but a strong advocate of indie games through the firm's own Steam content platform and having been been responsibile for the commercial success of more than a few indie classics.
Whether or not the Portal 2 glaDOS@home Potato Sack promotion is a bit on the cheeky side for getting "gamers to pay for their marketing stunt," as Peckham uncharitably suggested, it can't be denied the promotion was win for indie gaming.
Now Portal 2 is available to play, focus will shift on to whether Valve has delivered the goods. The game's Metacritic score is currently riding high on 96 per cent, virtually an unheard of level of universal praise.
A small collection of critical praises follows:
"I actually felt a little melancholy once Portal 2 was over, simply because it's so rare to find a game this smart, this funny, and this rich with detail."
- Giant Bomb (5 stars)
"A mere ten minutes here will yield more memorable moments than you're likely to squeeze out of the entirety of most other games this year."
- Videogamer (10/10)
"Portal is perfect. Portal 2 is not. It's something better than that. It's human: hot-blooded, silly, poignant, irreverent, base, ingenious and loving."
- Eurogamer (10/10)
Portal 2 is available for Xbox 360, PS3 and PC. The PC version on the Steam store £29.99 or $39.99 in the US.