Eurogamer has Multiple Personality Disorder: Sybil Edition

I really, really, really want to write something positive. There are a lot of good things about the game business, even in these times of layoffs and economic hardship. But I am more motivated to rant about things that really bug me than things that are going along swimmingly. One of these triggers just occurred in connection with Legendary, which in the interest of full disclosure, I helped to place with publishers . . . twice - that's another story.

A couple weeks ago the folks at Spark Unlimited were happy see their hard work was being recognized in the September 2, 2008 preview on Eurogamer which said:

Instead it focuses all of its resources into doing one thing: providing really good, entertaining, run-and-gun gaming. Stripping away the various complex systems and ideas which have accreted on the FPS genre since the days of Doom, Legendary instead focuses on using the power of modern hardware to increase its scale. In part, this means putting plenty of creatures (dozens, in some cases) into your encounters, recalling the frantic energy of Doom itself. It also, however, means really turning up the scale to epic levels in other ways. . . .

We ended our tour of duty pretty satisfied with the excellent shotgun and scoped assault rifle combo we'd picked up, but there are presumably plenty more choices to be found later in the game. . . .

The scale, as mentioned, is impressive, and enemy animations aren't half bad either. You also flay skin and flesh off your bestial foes as you pepper them with small arms fire, which is a "nice" touch (for some very unusual definitions of the word "nice".) . . .

Legendary was looking remarkably polished when we saw it, with no major outstanding bugs evident in the 360 version apart from some stuttering in the cut-scenes. That's a pretty good sign for a polished launch for the game, which we're expecting to appear on 360, PS3 and PC simultaneously in October or November. It's unlikely to set the world on fire (literally or metaphorically), but for straightforward, well-executed FPS action that's perfect for a half-hour stress-relieving blast, it's looking like you could do a hell of a lot worse this autumn.

Not exactly the verbal blowjob given to a Gears 2 or Fallout 3, but as a first installment of a franchise, it didn't merit that type of praise. This preview was followed by the Eurogamer Germany's review which said:

Had he not so uncommon and would Bulli, which is the way forward, a few liberties here and there present, it would be more. But even as friends action should take a look at Legendary throw. They are at least accustomed to that in such a plant a coherent story a rare and especially part is completely optional. And they also know that New York is destroyed. Always.

That didn't really make sense to me either, it is German run through Google's best impression of a Babble fish. The important point is the review ended with an award of a 7 out of 10. Again, not the best rating but probably within the range of other reviews, like OXM, which scored the title 10 points higher than its Dead Space review with a 75.

This is why we were all so surprised to see Eurogamer follow its positive review and sister site's review with a score of a 2 out of 10. That's right, 2 out of 10. Dan Whitehead, the author who takes great joy in his use of flowery language wrote:

Legendary is the gaming equivalent of cheap supermarket own-brand beans, but instead of costing eleven pence it costs the same as a prime steak cooked by a top chef. It's a bad, bad game. One of the worst I've played on this generation of consoles, in fact. In that regard, at least, the title is surprisingly accurate.

It kind of makes me wonder whether he knows how he skewed the metacritic score and how many publishers rely on this score to give publishers their next job. Sure, it is not his fault, but as Spiderman teaches, with great power comes great responsibility. In this case, he not only shirked his responsibility to the developer, but to his readers, his publication, and his own credibility. Here is the site's scoring policy for granting a 2:

Avoid at all costs - this is less entertaining than setting fire to a ten-pound note. You'll have barely ever seen a 2/10 on EG - and for very good reason. A game this bad almost certainly won't reach our eyes, because publishers generally know better than to send games of this standard to us in the first place. In many cases these are your typical "straight to budget" titles that no sane publisher would try and release at full price, and they certainly wouldn't want us to rip them to shreds in public.

What you're facing here is a game with appalling generic visuals built around an awful design, cursed with cretinous AI, brain-frying audio and controls that feel like they've been designed to upset people or boost sales of replacement game pads. It could just be that the game is just so hideously old fashioned that someone has released the game by mistake. Who knows what goes through the minds of people who feel the need to try and sell crap? Pity them, and pity the fools that stock it and more so the morons that end up buying it without checking first.

I am not going to argue against the score relative to the scores, because we see inflation and disparity with all games. The aforementioned Dead Space ranges from a 65 to a 100 among different publications. I am solely considering the disparity of scores within a single publication. It smacks of a personal issue. It would seem Mr. Whitehead has a personal issue with either Atari, Spark, or both. Maybe he has no issue, but was having a bad day with no dog to kick. Perhaps he was venting against a publisher without the pipeline, and marketing dollars of EA and Activision. Whatever the reason, I am hard put to find it in the game itself. So to Mr. Whitehead, I say shame on you.

As for Legendary, while game has garnered some 80's from reputable sources which will be published soon, I have no more delusions of the game receiving a 100 than I do of the next Adam Sandler mega hit getting a 10 out of 10. The fact the game was completed at all is a testament to the dedication of the team and their belief in the property. While the dedication is impressive, it is no reason to buy the game. You should buy the game because it really is fun. It does what a game is supposed to do. Eurogamer said in the preview, and quite possibly in German.

I am not advocating mediocrity because the reviews are not an indication of mediocrity. They are an indication of the critics opinion which remain out of touch with the consumer. This game happens to be scoring from many critics in the range of games selling in the millions of units. Unfortunately, it's US publisher did not have the strength to garner 50 reviews in this crowded market. The critics lack of awareness, combined with the power assigned by publishers creates an untenable situation.

C'mon publishers, wake up and realize this guy's words are of no value. There is no correlation between metacritic scores and sales. As Robin Kaminsky pointed out at DICE the sales correlation is with scores coupled with marketing. You will note, titles with strong marketing programs get higher metacritic scores than titles without a program. I am not insinuating anything here, it could just be a case of the squeaky wheel getting the oil. More marketing means more awareness, means more reviews, means better scores. You can take this a million different places. This is not the time or place for me to do it. All I am saying is there is no reason for you to pay attention to a guy who feels empowered by diminishing the efforts of the others at the expense of credibility and the integrity of his own site.

Don't take my word for it, I am an interested party, try the game.


Mike said…
I can't comment on the game, but I think you're getting to something really interesting here. It would be nice if there were more avenues for post-release coverage and a space where developers and critics could actually talk to each other about the games in question. There's nothing wrong with subjective opinion, and subjectivity is at the heart of all great criticism, but we do everyone a disservice when we try and hide our own personal opinions behind a shroud of objectivity. At a certain point shrill critics become effigies of themselves. Remember those Lost Highway ads that features "Two Thumbs Down" from Siskel & Ebert with the slug "two more great reasons to see the movie?"
Anonymous said…
Dan Whitehead's self-absorbtion is seriously damaging to Eurogamer's journalistic quality.
The Commish said…
Don't like the reviews, start your own review service and set the guidelines.

The point is well taken that other measures would be better to determine whether someone loses or keeps a job. Maybe something like sales, or profits, or meeting deadlines?

What if the reviewers' jobs were on the line based on someone else's opinion? Hey, why not let game industry insiders and consumers rate reviews with a thumbs up or thumbs down? When someone is way out of whack, all those thumbs down get them fired.
Robin said…
Extraordinarily low review scores require extraordinary proof, especially on the wildly inconsistent Eurogamer. They almost always read as misguided attempts to "make an example" of a title that has transgressed the reviewer's arbitrary definition of what constitutes a 'proper' game.

That said, it's REALLY poor form for developers to publically whine about review scores, unless they have a verifiable grievance (e.g. the review is factually inaccurate, as was famously the case with one particular review of the Dreamcast game Headhunter). It never turns out well.

I won't be trying Legendary for myself based on the developer's past form and poor word of mouth. Baselessly insinuating things about the motives of freelance reviewers isn't going to help change my mind.

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