on Aug 22, 2008
I want to say some nice things about The Escapist. I hope this doesn’t sound too hollow coming from me, since I’m a contributor now. The following is in earnest, although I certainly can’t claim to be disinterested and unbiased. Adjust your perceptions accordingly.
Here goes: The Escapist is a fantastic site.
Over the past decade or so I’ve come to think of gaming magazines (and their website counterparts) as deafening hype machines infected with juvenile thinking and rampant fanboyism. Their process of reviewing a game is:
- Before the game comes out: An eight page, screenshot-heavy preview lists all the selling points of the game, paying particular attention to graphics and multiplayer.
- At launch: A cookie-cutter review with little or no real entertainment value talks about the game in superficial terms, paying particular attention to graphics and multiplayer. This is followed by a review score that seems – to cynics like me – to be tilted upwards in direct proportion to how big the marketing campaign was.
- After launch: Nothing, unless it’s more about the multiplayer. I mean, who has time to play week-old games? Gears of Halocraft IV comes out in just nine months and look at these drool-inducing screenies!
Over the last decade, games have gotten shorter, shallower, and better-looking. This is ideal if you’re a critic who needs to be able to crank out a review in a week and who wants something that will make for sexy screenshots. This might help explain how game review scores have continued to rise even as the length, depth, and quality of the games has declined. Games are worse as a form of entertainment, but they’re much nicer to review.
But The Escapist doesn’t follow the established media spam template. They have more reviews than previews. Reviews are actual discussions of the game, instead of a checklist of features leading up to a numeric score. They talk about DRM as a bad thing for consumers, instead of reciting the publisher viewpoint or ignoring the problem. They talk to indie devs instead of focusing on big-name AAA titles.
Some good examples are this article by Corvus Elrod or this one by Jay Barnson. Both of those guys are indie developers who maintain blogs that I enjoy on a regular basis. Another example? How about an essay of praise for the days of interactive fiction? Go find something like that on your granddad’s gamesite.
I’ve mentioned before that I read Game Informer for laughs. Alongside their standard reviews, they have these amusing little “second opinion” bits, where another reviewer will jump in and offer an alternate score. What I love is that these scores always deviate by a quarter to a half point on their 1 to 10 scale. The second opinion never contradicts the main review, or deviates by more than half a point. Which, instead of giving them the appearance of journalistic integrity they’re going for, reveals the sophistry behind the entire endeavor. It’s an inept and preposterous sham. You can see the editor, leaning back in his chair, trying to come up with what the point spread should be on this game. He then calls his writers into his office and lets them know what scores they’ll be giving it.
In the real world, where people play videogames and then spout whatever opinions come to mind, it’s really tough to get people to agree on how good or bad a game is. I should know. It should be nigh impossible to find people who will always just happen to come within a half-point of each other in regards to the games they play.
I detect no such shenanigans when I read The Escapist. Their articles on The Witcher reflect a broad and diverse selection of opinions, and the courage to put up opinions that aren’t in line with what the other sites are saying.
So, if you just visit the site to see Stolen Pixels or Zero Punctuation, you might want to have a look around and see the rest of the site. If you’re like me and tend to ignore commercial sites, you might be surprised.
Disclaimer: The digs at other publications are entirely my own thoughts and do not reflect the views of etc, etc. Nothing prompted me to write this other than my own desire to see honest effort met with fitting praise.
Shamus Young is an old-school OpenGL programmer, author, and composer. He runs this site and if anything is broken you should probably blame him.