There’s a bit of a controversy about a certain Spiderman 3 review that may or may not have been based on demo impressions instead of the retail game. I don’t care much about uncovering the truth. Instead, I’d like to discuss a problem this fiasco brings up about our modern review system.
A lot of people commenting on this news piece claim that if the reviewer actually had retail copies, then they should have mentioned some of the crippling technical flaws that many sites seem to be mentioning. Having not played the game(s) myself, I can’t say just how bad these glitches are. Putting Spiderman aside, though, imagine if the review were for that game that had some definite glitches in it, but the reviewer never actually encountered them in their play through.
Now imagine that you and I did find them, and they caused us a hell of a lot of trouble. Chances are we’re both pretty pissed, and were we to review the game, it would definitely lose some kudos. Meanwhile, our other reviewer gives it glowing praise thanks to his smooth playing experience. Two very different reviews for the same game, and not because of opinion, but because of experience.
So, now what do we do? We could say the other guy is just wrong and stupid and possibly filthy, because he didn’t account for some serious problems in the game. But it isn’t his fault if he doesn’t run into them, is it? Of course not, but we could still say that his review is null and void for the omissions. But that really sucks; the guy might have put in a lot of work! It’s not his fault the developers didn’t find the glitch (on that note, do you know how hard it is to debug a program?). He’s gotten screwed for someone else’s mistake.
So, what the hell do we do?
Bugs and glitches are a real problem for a reviewer. They aren’t always easy to encounter, but they can be crippling when you do. You can’t hold off on the review and playtest the shit out of it. Otherwise, you’ll be even later with your opinion than videolamer is, and no one in this fast paced world reads reviews for games older than a month. Yet missing out on bugs could cause a lot of problems. Capcom VS SNK: Card Fighters Clash on the DS is reported to have a serious bug in it. While it is thankfully getting replaced, you can see what the difference in opinion when one guy found it and another one did not. Not a good sign to say the least.
Another example is an old feature on a certain site from years back about the then-current version of Madden football. They had readers send in email sometime in the spring, months after the game had been released and everyone had played the hell out of it. Countless players moaned about some very powerful exploits and plays that would often guarantee them victory, even against human opponents. While it took months of play to discover these things, they had a definite impact on how enjoyable the game was.
Since then, I take it with a grain of salt whenever I hear a Madden review say something like “Defense is the main focus this year, and there are a lot of improvements to help your game”, because I know that something in the game is probably going to make that sentence null and void.
Really, there is only one lesson to be learned from all of this; do your homework. There’s no way to suggest that fast and current reviews should be eliminated because there isn’t enough time to play them. Too many people rely on such write ups to help them decide on a purchase. All we can do is look for as many accurate sources as we can in order to get the clearest picture. What one review may miss could be the focus of another. We all know to game smarter, but sometimes it’s important to read smarter as well.