By Stephen Strobbe
One of the most highly anticipated games of the year is available today – despite the best efforts of gamers to have it released earlier by playing an alternate reality game over the weekend.
Portal 2 by Valve Corporation is the sequel to the critically acclaimed 2007 game Portal, originally released in a packaged bundle of The Orange Box along with Team Fortress 2 and Half-Life 2.
In Portal 2, players will again take control of the main character, Chell, and must take on the sadistic artificial intelligence GLaDOS (Genetic Lifeform and Disk Operating System) as part of further experiments by the fictional company from the Portal universe, Aperture Science. The main campaign is set several hundred years after the events of the first game, with both Chell and GLaDOS waking from the stasis they were put in at the end of Portal.
A completely separate cooperative campaign is included in the game featuring two new playable robot characters named Atlas and P-Body.
Using the unique portal, gun players are able to create two linked portals through which they can travel, making the game an amalgam of first-person-action and puzzle.
Over the weekend, it briefly seemed that the game would be released early through Steam, a digital distribution platform from Valve, as an alternate reality game tied to Portal 2.
The alternate reality game — a type of game that takes place across varied media, often including real-life events in order to progress a story — began April 1 when a collection of 13 indie-games, titled The Potato Sack, was made available for purchase through Steam. Gamers quickly realized the game pack was tied to an alternate reality game and began organizing their efforts.
Making their way through new content in games like Amnesia: The Dark Descent, The Wonderful End of the World and more, the alternate reality game began to unfold with real-world events such as GLaDOS “taking over” certain players’ accounts and clues and other data files related to Portal 2 found hidden in The Potato Sack games. By discovering the hidden content in the games, players were also awarded “potatoes.”
This, ultimately, led to the announcement Friday on the GLaDOS home page that if players were able to play games from The Potato Sack enough and had collected enough of the potatoes, they could help release Portal 2 earlier than today’s originally scheduled release date.
Gamers from around the world began coordinating their efforts through an Internet Relay Chat, deciding which games to play for how long and decoding cryptic messages telling where to find the secret “potatoes” within the games to help expedite the launch process.
But as the weekend went on, all their efforts began to seem to be for naught. As Monday morning rolled around, hopes of a weekend release were dashed as people started to realize the game would not be releasing earlier than today’s original release date.
Some were left frustrated over the course of events, feeling they had bought and played games in the hopes of gaining access to this hugely-anticipated game days early.
But, as some people like Reddit user Rnicoll noted, “[A] game about an insane AI [Artificial Intelligence] driving people to do meaningless tasks for fictional reward, is driving people to do meaningless tasks for fictional reward. Shocker.”
So perhaps the entire alternate reality game was set up to mirror the nature of the game and its inhuman antagonist.
Combining a creative game-play mechanic with bizarre humor — the stated goal of completing the entire game was to get a piece of delicious cake — the first Portal won many game-of-the-year awards by video game critics, giving the sequel high expectations from fans and critics alike. The game will be released simultaneously on Microsoft Windows and Mac OS X with physical copies as well as through Steam along with versions for both the Xbox 360 and Playstation 3 consoles.
Many video game outlets were holding special events for the release as well. Beth Sharum, a public relations contact for Gamestop, said many of the stores had a midnight release event for Portal 2, as well as the newest Mortal Kombat game and SOCOM 4, all of which are available today.
Trinidad freshman Kade Malcolm said he played the first Portal on XBox 360 but was still not sure if he would be going out to buy the sequel right away.
“I think it’s pretty cool. It’s an interesting concept for a game,” Malcolm said. “But it’s weird.”