Sometimes I feel guilty about putting up these long-winded reviews and over-analysis on ten year old games. I enjoy doing it so much that I just assume I’m being horribly self-indulgent. I’m lucky in that many people seem to find this sort of thing entertaining, and so together we form a nice symbiosis – I get to scratch my itch for esoteric blather, and you get to read stuff that (I’m assuming) you can’t find elsewhere.
But whatever faults and excesses I might engage in here, at least I know I’ll never do anything as goofy as writing a nine-page print
preview for a still-buggy pre-release game and giving it a 10 out of 10. That article has scans of the review of GTA IV from XBox 360 magazine, where the reviewer dings the game for various bugs and shortcomings and then gives it a perfect score anyway.
I’m glad it’s not my job to review GTA IV and try to assign a numerical value to it, because it’s essentially an impossible task. It’s greatness is directly related to what aspects of the game you cherish. I don’t like the stories. (Ugly and meandering.) I don’t like the main characters. (Wearisome thugs.) I don’t like the core gameplay. (DIAS.) But I derive fantastic satisfaction from inhabiting and exploring a sprawling simulated world of lavish detail, and no other series can hold a candle to what GTA has in that department. Since you have to slog through the parts I loathe to get to the parts I crave, I’m at a loss as to how I might rate the experience. How do you rate a restaurant that serves mouth-watering steaks for $5 and a punch in the face before the meal?
Other people have other value systems and a completely different perception of the game. I am generally not fond of these people, not for their opinion but for their constant insistence that I must be an idiot for not reveling in the perfection that is the core GTA gameplay. Everyone has their reasons for playing this thing. Are you here for the mission-based story of murder and jackassery? For the hooker-punching, car stealing, car-exploding, cop-evading, freeform rampage? For the open-ended exploration and experimentation? The mini-games? The car races? The driving sim? The quasi-RPG character building? The graphics spectacle? I can’t assign one score to the game, because it’s half a dozen games and I hate half of them.
Yes, assigning numbers to games is a ridiculous task anyway. I’ve probably given that dead horse more than my share of whip marks. But the review discussed above is an even more ridiculous problem, in that it’s assigning a score to a game before it’s completed. While such a review is of no real value to the reader as a guide to purchasing, the benefit to the editors and the developers is obvious. The editors want to sell magazines. The developer wants to sell games. At some point the two forces realized they could do lots of both by working together to blur the line between journalism and advertising.
Jon Hicks, author of the XBox 360 review, stands by what he wrote. Just as I’m glad I don’t have to figure out what numeric value to assign to something as nebulous as personal opinions, I’m even more glad I don’t have my name on reviews like this one. I don’t think he’s trying to dupe gamers. I think he’s just trying to pay the bills at a job which has been rendered a sham by forces beyond his control. The firing of Jeff Gerstman was a fairly public execution of a critic who was perhaps more critical than the system was prepared to tolerate, and I think it had the intended effect. People like Hicks must continually make the choice between doing their job and keeping their job.
Note that I’m not going to be playing GTA IV anytime soon, so I’m not all that exercised about this review in particular. It’s just another new low, and it’s always good to mark these sorts of occasions.
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