I feel a little dirty after penning this review, but only about the scores, to be honest. Gamer Limit has a published review score policy that I have to adhere to when I write for them, and "Purchase for some, rental for others" is precisely how I feel about Reach, so I gave it an overall score smack dab in the middle of the appropriate range because I really think a gamer could go either way on owning this title or not.
My issue isn't with Gamer Limit, for the record, but rather at feeling as though I might not have stuck to my guns. When I write reviews, I try not to be entirely subjective, if such a thing is possible. I blame my film background on this. Fellini films are boring to me, but I learned about why he's considered a genius and I can't argue with those perspectives from a technical standpoint, and so I would never mark down one of his films simply because *I* didn't like it.
Reach is not a bad game, I just don't really care about it anymore. That, to me, is a measure of a game: do I want to play it again once the campaign is finished? I can't see myself getting into the multiplayer because Medal of Honor comes out next month, and that is likely the online shooter that will hold my attention. Right now, I'd rather get my Neutral character in Fallout 3 up to Level 30 and then run Mothership Zeta to get all the Achievements and truly put the game to rest before New Vegas comes out.
But just like Fellini, Bungie does certain things exceptionally well from a technical point of view, and I feel I have to acknowledge that in a review.
Shortly after I took the EIC position on Game Kudos, I had a talk with the site Director about formalizing our review score system because we wanted to get listed on Metacritic, and quality and consistency of reviews is a factor in whether they list a site or not.
As much as anyone may dislike Metacritic, they drive substantial traffic to gaming websites such that only big sites like Kotaku or G4 can afford to snub them (Kotaku uses no system that can possibly be translated into scores, and G4 purportedly asked Metacritic to stop listing their reviews because G4 didn't like the way their system was being translated into numeric scores). Game Kudos is new, and could use the source of traffic.
There were two basic systems we could have chosen from. Eurogamer uses a 1-10 system where 5 is the average. Most everyone else uses a system in which a 6 or a 7 becomes the "average" score, and there are cultural bases for this differentiation regarding the minimum passing grade in either country's primary school systems.
I made the call to go with the "7 is the average" score not because I like it, but because I feel that's what gamers understand the most, and too many of them don't read reviews. To wit, I could have scored Halo: Reach a "5" on Game Kudos because my reaction was a decided "Meh" when all was said and done, but the average reader would certainly have interpreted this as a failing grade, and that's not what I mean at all. Reach doesn't fail, it just didn't excite me at all, to the point where I resent the $60 it cost me.
Some of the GK writers pushed back against this decision, and so myself and the site Director sat down and looked at a matrix of review scores from various print magazines and web publications which assigned text definitions to their scores. What we found was that even among the sites which were circumspect enough to do this, and which used the "American" score system, there was little, if any, concurrence on what the fucking scores MEANT. After an hour or so boggling at the lack of logic, and then getting some of the writers who were having the issues on Skype and showing them the results of our research, we collectively threw our hands up. What mattered was internal consistency, and what we'd drawn up would work.
I'm proud to say that Game Kudos tends to score lower than the Metacritic average, so to a point our writers' concerns may have been overblown...but I'm still amazed and how little sense scoring makes. I'd made peace with all of this, but helped out Gamer Limit with a review of Reach when the assigned writer couldn't follow through on the assignment, and then had to confront scores all over again because GL uses their own system...and so I expressed my frustrations in this piece on Bitmob. Enjoy.
The spectre of abolishing the used games market has been raised due to a U.S. District Court case confirming the right of Autodesk to restrict used sales of their drafting program AutoCAD. I personally wouldn't mind if the used games market went away, but I admit it would be entirely for selfish reasons. I just hate having to decide whether to trade something in or keep it, and like I argue in this Bitmob piece, I was a gamer before we had a used games market, and never suffered for it.
I've finished my Ken Levine interviews for the immediate future, and wish I'd had more time to speak with him in a more of a free-form manner. In my second interview, he walked into a discussion between Chris Remo and I about Abbie Heppe's Other M review at G4, and the nature of reviews and critique, and Ken said, to paraphrase, that the problem with Other M was "I just wanted Samus to turn into a fucking morph ball." Maybe he didn't drop the f-bomb in there, but that's how I'll always remember the comment because it was so curtly to the point. Ken just wanted to play a game, and from what I'm reading of the reviews of Other M, a lot got in the way of that. More importantly, it highlighted what I think is so fascinating about the man. Even with all his accolades and attention and success, he's really just a gamer.
Speaking of reviews, I've been wondering who's going to write the Halo:Reach review for Game Kudos. I've made my feelings on the Halo series quite clear in the past. I know that I'm not expected to be entirely unbiased when I write a game review, but I've been reading perfect scores coming out of gaming sites, and it makes me a little ill. I'm not sure what "perfect" is, but I know that Halo:Reach ain't it, especially coming off of playing and researching so much BioShock over the past few weeks. They are completely different games, but they both occupy the first person shooter space, and so making critical comparisons isn't outrageous. Compared to BioShock, Halo: Reach is a derivative title, derivative of itself even, and while it may be a good game, I don't think it's close to being a great game.
I must have gone through four drafts of that GL piece, because whenever I'm responding to someone like Holkins, I take it very seriously. I look forward to the day, if and when, that I have an established presence as a video game commentator such that I feel less tense about invoking an established name, but in my mind it's a matter of respect for one's "elders," after a fashion. Product of a painful upbringing.
I still maintain that the responsibility for the existence of the used games market ultimately lies at the feet of the publishers...but when I wrote that GL piece, I wasn't writing the way I prefer to. I feel that I lapsed into the lesser side of video games journalism. There was a more respectful way to approach Holkin's comments, and when I spoke with him at PAX for about 20 minutes, I felt a little ashamed at my comments, because he deserved a better response from me.
So, I offer this Bitmob piece as a mea culpa of sorts.
Never mind all this world traveling, old-school journalism reporting, and cavorting with high-profile game designers. What Dennis does best is spouting his mouth off, so I got some pieces out today.
First, I wanted to praise Edge magazine for holding back their Halo: Reach review. I can't afford the town criers, but I can post something up on Bitmob. It's hard to be too proud of Edge for holding back the review considering that we already have more reviews than we really need. That's the thing about reviews; because they are traditionally so devoid of criticism, you only need to sample a few before you get the idea. And when writers do try to work criticism into their reviews, depending on the website, it might bite them hard on the ass, as Abbie Heppe found out over on G4.
Second, I try to pay more attention nowadays to how I feel while I play video games, as I've decided that I'm down with "New Games Journalism," partially as a reaction to having some event coverage under my belt. There's certainly a style and an art to writing up previews and reviews from these events, but there's still such a stilted quality to it. I like to write pieces that have some heart in them, and so emotional experiences while gaming are precious gems for me that I have to hold onto.
In the case of this cblog for Destructoid, I reflected on that phase of any RPG that I'm playing, towards the end of the main story, where I run around finishing all the loose-ends of quests I have to get through, and how essentially silly that is. Product of being a perfectionist, I suppose.