Ugly Moments in Gaming "Journalism"

Today’s ugly moment is brought to you by Gamedaily and Steven Wong’s The Witcher “review”.

Here’s a hint, if you’re going to review a game, make certain the review a) actually plays the game, b) has a bloody clue.

Exhibit A.

When the reviewer doesn’t know WHO made the game, its off to a bad start. Atari was merely the North American publisher (and maybe Western Europe, not certain on that). CDProjekt made the game.

Exhibit B.

I remember this fight. The fellow clearly tells you he needs you to kill some violent plants in his garden. The fact that you are drunk when you do it sort of added to the excitement. I know from personal experience I had much more then half my health when I first engage them. So, when he says “players”, he’s actually refering to just one, himself.

Exhibit C (minor spoil).

I remember exactly two people who gave out bounties in the inn, the alchemist and the merchant. Oddly enough, the game will pretty much force you to interact with them in the next chapter, and I was able to get paid that way. Long story short: he didn’t play Chapter II. A huge ommission considering there are 5 chapters.

Exhibit D (evidence in absence).

Number of times review mentioned branching stories or consequences for past desicions which is a major selling/strong point of the game… 0.

He does, however, spend a page (which is 50% of the review) talking about combat. Bad reviewer, bad!


Maybe the game will eventually stink, I know my puny 1 gig of RAM has caused me to keep a book handy while playing it. But, I admit I’m only halfway through chapter 3, which is clearly more then the reviewer has done.

Yeah, I agree that this gives the impression that the reviewer didn’t bother to play the game much past Chapter 1.

I’d like to nominate PC Gamer’s review of Hellgate!

Yes. The review stunk and the reviewer didn’t play the game through. The guys’ busted and a 100% reject rate by people who have read the review pretty much caught the guy red-handed.

He’s busted.

By all means do so, just tell us who may not get PC Gamer nor play Hellgate why.

That is pretty bad and I’m glad the comments are universally negative.

However, I’m beginning to wonder how many games actually get completed by reviewers now days. For example, Gamers With Jobs, a very good site, had what appeared to be a review of the Painkiller expansion last week that was pretty negative. Which is fine except the reviewer admitted in the post-review comments thread that all he actually played was the demo. I was rather disappointed that while other key site writers were aware of this, they felt that since they didn’t actually assign scores and call it a review, but rather a “perspective,” that it was ok. I think all commentary pieces need to be clearly labeled as to what the writer has actually done, because otherwise we normally assume it’s based on completing the game.

Ugly moments in Games Forum “Posting” about Gaming “Journalism”.

Exhibit A.

Firstly, pick up on a minor factual error which isn’t really relevant to the guy’s opinion on the game he played. It’s important to start with a clear, unarguable error - no matter how minor - as it creates the idea of incompetence off the bat.

Exhibit B.

Now that you’ve created the idea of incompetence, undermine someone else being annoyed with something in the game because it didn’t annoy you. Imply that clearly you had the “Correct” experience.

This is the “You’re playing it Wrong!” argument. It’s untenable.

Exhibit C (minor spoil).

This particular argument is true. Evidence is, he didn’t play the whole game, or more than 20% of it. And specifically the reviewer was particularly being hasty and rubbish judging something like this without playing further.

It’s also based on the idea that someone should play the full game before reviewing. Which is a popular one with many gamers, but - actually for a consumer’s guide - not that relevant. If something is shit for the first 10 hours, it’s shit and there’s no way you can recommend it. If someone I’m having a drink with spends the whole evening pissing in my drink, you’re not going to properly recommend anyone stays there if they’ll give you handjobs at closing time. You recommend you drink with the person who buys you drinks all night and THEN gives you the handjob.

OMM put the argument better than I did, but I can’t find the link right now.

EDIT: For the record, the better the game is, the more important it is a reviewer should complete it. Something being bad for 10 hours is enough to make you not recommend something, but if you do recommend something you need to know if it’s actually good throughout.

Exhibit D (evidence in absence).

Or the reviewer came to the game expecting an Action-RPG, which it’s also been hyped as. That he considered one aspect of the game - the game bit, for the record - more relevant of discussion than branching stories doesn’t really show anything other than his priorities. And it’s okay for people with their own tastes to review games. Because otherwise, Greatatlantic would be doing all the reviews in the world and he’d be incredibly tired all the time.


The poster fails to understand that it doesn’t matter if he got to Act 3 and thinks it’s awesome, it doesn’t change the fact the reviewer played Act 1 and thought it was pretty mediocre at best.

Because - let’s be honest - we wouldn’t have this thread if he’d played the first act and given this 9/10. This is about you being annoyed someone didn’t like a game you like. It’s a pretty shitty to mediocre review, but it’s certainly not worth a thread for reasons which amount to nothing more than “He didn’t like it, and I like it, and I’m right” and giving it 6/10 rather than the 8/10+ you would have.


Was last months ‘game journalism is broken’-thread late or is this months just very early?

That’s a fair argument, but I’d respond with two caveats. One, I don’t think it’s unreasonable to expect that someone who is being paid to evaluate something should evaluate the whole thing. You don’t see movie reviewers walking out of movies they don’t like twenty minutes in, even if they have no intention of recommending said movie. Book reviewers always read the whole book, so that they can speak authoritatively in their review. One could argue that once you accept money to review a game, it’s your obligation to slog through the whole thing. Because (and this is pertinent to your “you aren’t playing it right” argument, above), some readers might be willing to play through a bad first act if the next four acts are considerably better, even if you consider that to be a damning flaw.

Additionally, many publications state explicitly in their writer’s agreements that writers are expected to finish the games they review. So, there’s that.

Two, even if your publication doesn’t have a problem with you giving up on a particularly bad game partway through, then this fact should be disclosed in your review.

I suppose that writing journalism with “” makes you think you are cool or something.

I completely disagree with the text by the way and find it a pretty mediocre review. But, as Kieron says, this thread wouldn´t be here if the review was positive.

I’d have to disagree, here. I think it’s pretty much expected that entertainment reviewers will experience the entire product before they review it. Movie reviewers don’t walk out of bad movies after the first 15 minutes and say “This was obviously going to be a piece of crap.” Book reviewers don’t put down a book after the first 40 pages and say “I hated it and couldn’t get into it.” I understand that nobody likes playing a crappy game or reading a crappy book, but that’s why you get paid to do it, dummy. And sometimes a game has a really crappy first 20 minutes but then gets a lot better – which doesn’t make it necessarily a “good game,” but definitely makes it better than a game that is bad the whole way through. Sometimes a game seems bad in the first 20 minutes, but you later realize you just weren’t playing correctly or didn’t understand a key game concept.

The problem with not playing the whole thing is especially obvious in this particular review, because the reviewer is saying “Hey this quest is easily broken,” but if he had bothered to play through the game he would have discovered that the quest was actually not broken at all – so he’s now put out a factually false criticism, because he was too lazy to play through the game. (At least, that is what I take to be true from the comments here. I’ve never played Witcher myself.)

EDIT: Ben and I are like a hive-mind!

Yours mistake is comparing criticism of two passive and linear mediums with criticisms of an active medium like videogames. A film or a book can “improve” in the middle because the characters are more interesting or the narrative has better rhythm or whatever.

A videogame with bad camera, bad controls and bad IA will not improve, ever.

However, a reviewer should judge when aspects like story and character progression are going to be important and stick with the game if he thinks they are significant and can affect the enjoyment of the title. Obviously, this reviewer didn´t bother and he is receiving his reward on the commentaries.

This is also totally untrue, BTW. You see the same sort of complaints when someone plays the first 20% of a game and gives it a great review, because they hadn’t gotten to the buggy, broken, repetitive, etc. stuff in the 80% they didn’t play.

There’s nothing wrong with that comparison. A bad actor is not going to get better as the movie goes on. An author who writes in a style you don’t like is not going to improve as the book goes on. If the director uses a technique you don’t like (shakycam, fast-cutting, whatever) that’s not going to get better as the movie goes on. But that doesn’t mean a movie reviewer gets to go “I only saw the first 15 minutes of The Bourne Supremacy, because it had that fucking shakycam crap in it, so I walked out. Zero stars.” As a reviewer, you’re expected to experience the whole work and judge the whole work, even if there are things about it you hate right from the get-go that aren’t going to go away. I’m sure a movie reviewer knows that Soul Plane is crap right from the first five minutes and isn’t going to get any better, but they still have to watch the whole thing if they want to write a professional review of it.

Every time game writers complain that they’re not taken seriously as journalists, think about the people defending the reviewer in this thread. That is a big part of the reason why.

Three words: Black & White.

You are speaking of styles and ways of doing things that you may like or not. I am speaking of things that simply don´t work well. Is pretty different.

If a game is broken, it will remain broken and unplayable. That is not necessarily true neither for books or for movies as you exposes with The Bourne Supremacy example (and even that example is discussable, because there are people who can understand the shakycam is necessary and appropriate in the context of the film). But in videogames, a bad camera is a bad camera and you don´t need to complete the game to know that.

By the way, I am not arguing against completing the games, I think completing a game will be always good for writing a review. But videogames offer more objective aspects to evaluate than films or books, so I think it is easier to identify a bad game.

But doesn’t the example above show that the reviewer speaks of something which is broken, which in fact isn’t, but because they haven’t completed the entire game they don’t know this.

You need to complete a game to have all the facts at your command, otherwise you’re not giving the full picture and thus your review isn’t worth a damn.

Worst review I ever read was Gamepro’s review of X-com for the playstation. It was clear that the reviewer never even got to the tactical combat phase of the game!

You are speaking of styles and ways of doing things that you may like or not. I am speaking of things that simply don´t work well. Is pretty different.

I think it’s pretty much exactly the same.

Take Rywill’s example of “bad acting” and your example “bad AI” and you’ve basically got the same thing: and they are both very subjective.

Imagine you have the first level of the game, and it has very bad AI. But the designers intended it to be bad, to make it easier in the first level. Then after the first level it gets much better.

Imagine a movie where the first 10 minutes has appalling acting. Then it turns out the movie is about a guy who makes bad movies, and the rest of the movie is filled with Oscar winning performances.

Not reviewing the entirety of both of those example productions would be a mistake for exactly the same reason.


I think it’s pushed me over the edge to subscribe to GFW.