Revolution… in reviewing?

Civilization Revolution is about to hit US game store shelves. What separates this game from the horde of other games coming out on consoles is the record amount of bugs in a console game. I kid, I kid. What it does bring to the table is an adaption of the incredibly deep PC-based Civilization series, and from initial reviews and demo play Civ Rev is sleek enough for consoles without sacrificing the Civilization flavor.

It’s rare that a developer makes a platform jump like this, and even more so when they alter an existing franchise successfully. Naturally, Civ Rev is far from perfect, but it seems (at least based on initial reviews) that this jump was successful and it’s a fun game with reasonable single player appeal and a strong multiplayer mode.

What’s fascinating to observe, is that because the game is daring and fun, but flawed reviewers have no problem giving it scores in the 7-8 range. With today’s “score inflation” from the big review houses such as IGN, such a score, particularly from a well known publisher, would be considered a death knell. The truth is, at least in this case, it seems to accurately reflect the game: it’s fun, it’s solid, but it’s not exceptional.

But considering what Firaxis did, it’s a great first pass, and sets the stage for future generational improvements. However, reviewers are giving it reasonable scores BECAUSE it’s a first pass, and BECAUSE it’s daring. Because Firaxis dared to depart the PC for consoles (largely for financial reasons, but that’s a separate article), they get a score of an 8, which serves as a “pat on the back” from the review community for trying something new that would receive a mediocre score had the reviewer gone strictly “by the numbers.”

What infuriates me is that somehow this honesty can’t be found when reviewing mainstream games. GTA4 scores 10s from everyone, when the game is overly ambitious and tries too hard to be too many things and takes too long to get going. Some of the review community has had some buyer’s remorse and expressed that the reviewers may have been generous in handing out 10s. I’m not sure why it took them so long to figure this out–my guess is that they feel after a month of sales it’s OK to go against the big game company because said big game company has already collected the bulk of their sales and might be less inclined to be retaliatory–as long as the initial 10s stand.

The sad fact is that most members of the current gaming journalist community are either idiots or cowards. I can’t fully blame them–there are sufficient anecdotal tales of reviewers who are blacklisted by the industry after writing something negative. It’s bad enough that we attempt to use numbers to describe an experience, and even worse that we consider those numbers objective. But when those numbers are applied honestly only when a developer tries something new–as opposed to a sequel or double sequel or some other re-hash – it’s time for the gaming journalism community to take a long look at themselves–or time for the rest of us to stop reading their reviews.

5 thoughts on “Revolution… in reviewing?”

  1. much of it is due to audience. The people who made and buy GTA IV are the kind to flip out over a bad score. Neither Firaxis or its fanbase will look at an 8/10 with a great frown. People will buy and enjoy Revolution, new games will come, and life will be good. In fact, I would imagine that communities surrouding Firaxis and similar companies (let’s call them the classier side of the industry) would appreciate the candor to an extent.

  2. Hah! We gave GTA IV an 8.5! But they still won’t let us into E3… 🙂
    And I, for one, am definitely going to give Civ: Rev a spin. Along with Advance Wars, Civ has got to be the most addictive game ever made, and I’ve simple GOT to see whether that still holds true on a console :))

  3. Well that’s why they won’t let you, 10’s only!!

    I’m actually not sure I like Civ Rev so far. I need to play multiplayer, but one of my friends got red ring’d of death. So the in-house MP is on standby.

  4. I played the XBL demo the other night. Twice, because the damn thing is as addictive as ever. My two main impressions were that a) I don’t really miss all of the micromanagement too much, though it does make it a rather different kind of game and b) I keep looking for a mouse pointer. I could see how I could eventually become comfortable with the interface, but so far I do feel constrained by the controller setup.

    Other than that, the graphics are attractive enough and the classic gameplay is still mostly intact.

  5. Thanks for the info Max. I’ve been hearing similar sentiments that the game does a good job of keeping the Civ flavor even with the changes made. Pretty great for an attempt on consoles.

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