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    Tuesday, March 14, 2006

    Anatomy Of A Poor Review

    When a big release comes along, Future decides which of its mags will get the exclusive. The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion is one of the biggest releases this year, so they gave it to their best selling PC games mag, PC Gamer. But after allocating EIGHT pages for the review, reviewer Tom Francis has managed to fuck it up. Considering he had EIGHT pages to fill, you can’t blame the guy for having trouble finding stuff to waffle on about, but resorting to padding it with NGJ is inexcusable.

    The shit starts on the second page of writing where the review suddenly stops, and Francis starts blathering on like he’s a character in the game:

    “I dismount a good distance from the entrance and creep the rest of the way. Stealth, my friends. The cave floor’s wet inside, but a master like me is still near-silent when – aaaarrghh!”

    We were wondering whether that last bit was where the sub-editor had committed suicide, but it goes on. And on. And on, taking up three-quarters of the page. Then another “story” begins on the next page taking up half the page, until by the end you’ve been subjected to four of them.

    What’s worse than taking up a third of the review with that shit is the justification he gives for it:

    “It would be more informative – and more importantly, fun for me – to recount some of my adventures…”

    There you go folks – it’s there in black and white. It’s much more important for a review to be fun for the reviewer to indulge himself with writing tedious bollocks than it is to be informative.

    To give Francis credit, the proper OGJ review parts aren’t bad, but why give the reviewer EIGHT pages when he can’t fill them without resorting to padding? Perhaps he struggled to meet his word count because he had to drag himself to Take 2’s offices to play through their code (which went gold after the magazine had gone to print) whilst a PR husk was perched on his shoulder. He says in the review that he spent at least 30 hours playing it, but that would have meant going down there every day, 9am-5pm, for a whole week. [EDIT: OK, we've got reliable information from Gillen that he did, but our criticisms stand]

    Reviewing pre-gold code in the publisher’s office isn’t good practice, but it’s not uncommon. PC Gamer’s bitch PC Zone did the same for Oblivion, and all Future’s mags do the same for big releases. Reviewers had to fly overseas to review Half-Life 2, but the reviewer-to-magazine ratio meant some of them had to write the review more than once so different versions (by the same reviewer) could appear in different mags.

    We’re going to get rounded on now by PC Gamer’s brigade for daring to criticise them, but we’ve got no problem with the rest of the mag. They just fucked up their review of one of the biggest releases of the year because Future would rather send reviewers to PR offices to play pre-gold code than wait for finalised code for the reviewer to play through properly. You can judge for yourself when the mag’s in the shops on Thursday, and tell us what you think.


    1. I thought the parts of Tom's review that you're referring to really helped to illustrate the game's appeal.

    2. Could you link us to an example of your work?

    3. This blog's full of my work.

    4. The masthead you've pasted in belongs to our sister mag, PC Gamer US - ours looks quite different.

    5. I know Ross, but I couldn't be bothered finding the new one. The UK masthead used to look like that in better days, so it'll do.

      If you'd have kept quiet, someone might have thought your mag was the world's best seller. You've spoilt it now.

    6. Anonymous9:40 pm

      Ah, go on, RR, throw us up a review so us mortals can see how it's done. Can be any game you want, from Elder Scrolls down to Outrun.

      Actually, probably not that last one.

    7. Anonymous1:27 am

      Since when did you have to prove your ability at something in order to criticise it? How many of PC Gamer's reviewers have ever made a game?

    8. Anonymous9:18 am

      Walker, go play a game on easy mode and then write 1000 words about the game being too easy.

      You expert dumbass you.

    9. Anonymous5:38 pm

      The worst part of all of this is... why the hell are Future reviewing pre-gold code in the developer/publisher's offices?
      What is the point?
      They own all the PC games magazines... so who are they compromising their integrity in order to beat to the shelves?

      Sheer nonsense all of it. The publishers want their heads banged together.

    10. Anonymous11:35 am

      Because they can. Games mags have moved from a point of credibility to a place where they've been breaking the rules for so long they actually think it's ok to review unfinished games. You wouldn't get it in any other industry.
      And yes, you can review some games fairly in a publisher's office, but Elder Scrolls? Really?

    11. Anonymous2:47 pm

      I don't get it. Your one complaint is "It's got NGJ in it", and without ever explaining why that's a bad thing you then use it as a springboard to complain about supposed padding and reviewing the game in PR offices. How any of these things relate, I have no idea, but mainly I just want to know why talking about what actually happened in the game is a bad thing. Anecdotes give the reader a far better idea of what the game is like than "Oo, it's an RPG FPS, and there's orcs and stuff, and the graphics are real pretty."

      I like that you drop "We’re going to get rounded on now by PC Gamer’s brigade for daring to criticise them", because it's a nice way to cover your ass in case someone actually criticises your piss-poor reasoning skills.

    12. sinister agent3:41 am

      It really did leap out from the review like a screeching Giger creation, didn't it? There's no excuse for an eight page review, and even if there were, filling it with crap of that sort is frankly embarassing. He could have demonstrated the same points without wanking all over the place.

    13. Anonymous12:34 am

      Just to leave the whole 'quality of the writing' thing alone for a minute, i'd like to draw attention to Francis' mystifying and total inability to take decent screenshots of one of the most beautiful games of the year. I counted (at most) two screenshots in that picture padded review that WEREN'T of the inside of a dingy dungeon.

      We don't care about your BDSM/dungeon fetish, Tom. Show us some lovely mountains or a forest or something. Jesus.

    14. Anonymous12:42 am

      actually, I just remembered he spent half the review going on about the fucking horse and didn't include a single picture of it.