The Escapist

By Shamus Posted Friday Aug 22, 2008

Filed under: Random 33 comments

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.

Game review sites like Gamespot and IGN ceased being relevant to me years ago. I’ve tuned them out in favor of blog-style sites like Kotaku or Rock, Paper, Shotgun.

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.


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33 thoughts on “The Escapist

  1. Robyrt says:

    So true! I’ve moved to sites which have a clear, obvious bias towards things I care about instead of an unstated bias towards Halo and Madden fans (who care about graphics, multiplayer, and previews).

    Rock Paper Shotgun, for example, wishes it were 1994 again and looks at news from that perspective, and I’m fine with that. Eurogamer is another site I trust, because they love art games regardless of their hype level, and so do I. The Escapist’s reviews are underwhelming, but fortunately the rest of their content is wonderful.

  2. Heph says:

    Well, you may be completely right about their content. You are, sure as hell, right about most other review sites. However, the Escapist simply has such horrendous web design that I flee as fast as I can.
    Frankly, I’ve gone there, and even when I know what I’m looking for, I find it hard to navigate to your Stolen Pixels or to Yahtzee’s reviews.
    It’s horribly graphic-heavy, there’s a list of articles somewhere in the middle of the page, somewhere on the bottom left of the page, a menu on top and some menu buttons on the right – which do different things…Gah!

    Seriously, I’ve read reviews there before. I liked them. I’ve read some editorials and they seemed at least OK. So, contentwise, I’m all in favour. But for heaven’s sake, why do they need to rape my eyes? Admittedly, it’s not as bad as the Adrenaline Vault or Gamespot, but still. Put their site in your webdesign and I’ll read it every day, promised.

    *edit* in rereading, I’m a bit harsh. Anyway, their site design sucks monkeyballs, which is unfortunate and keeps me from being a regular reader; otherwise, the site itself is chock-full of goodness. I’m not evil, just a poor guy with a slow connection and an 800*640 screen at work who doesn’t like the fact that there are 12 (TWELVE) different lists of things of interest on their home page to wade through. I just found there’s a – pretty big – button straight to Zero Punctuation, which I just missed last time…Because it’s 4 screens down, in the 10th list.

    *second edit for “oh good lord the poor typo’s!”

  3. lebkin says:

    The key to me is getting to know the people behind the news and reviews you read. Jeff Gerstmann of Giant Bomb will have a different emphasis and viewpoint than Richard Mitchel of X3F, both of whom are different CheepyD of CAG. Part of the reason I listen to a lot of video game podcasts is because it gives me a view into the people behind the opinions I read online. If you know a person’s biases and values, you can better judge their position and how it relates to your own.

    Also, I want to agree with Heph. While I love what the Escapist has to say, I really hate how they do it. What a painful website to navigate.

  4. Radio Babylon says:

    ditto on the site design… hate hate HATE it, enough to avoid the site as much as possible… although the current design is a whole lot better than i remember it being, so at least its moving in the right direction…

  5. Dame HelenNet says:

    The main reason I haven’t looked around the site more is because I thought they were just like every other gamer site, which I’ve stopped going to for the very reasons you listed. I guess I’ll have to take another look.

  6. Zukhramm says:

    That’s something I found at The Escapist that I really like. Small games focused on exploring one particular aspect and an article to go with it.

    Other than that, I have not really read anything there. Been on the forum though, but I’m not sure I really like that place.

  7. Clint says:

    Off topic — Shamus, could you get in contact with me via the email address I used to post this comment? I have something I’d like to get your permission for regarding Free Radical, and have apparently failed in getting your attention via email. Thanks!

  8. Morzas says:

    Looks like you’re not the first to take notice of video game journalism being bullshit:

    We need more people like you and Kierkegaard telling the truth.

  9. Tizzy says:

    Not only are close scores unlikely, but, as an editor, what is the point of publishing a second opinion if it is anything else than radically different from the first? How would that help readers get a handle on the subjective experience?

  10. Ryan Speck says:

    I also agree that the site design is less than intuitive at The Escapist and limits my looking around.

    Though I disagree about gaming magazines, as there were quite a few good ones for the PC, until they were killed by various stupid factors.

    Computer Games (or Computer Games Monthly) was a really good, unbiased, often brutally honest magazine that put good writing and interesting or amusing articles ahead of design and flashy graphics. The scoring metrics, they admitted, were subjective, a guideline, and you should read the review to get the full understanding of how the game was. I never disliked an issue and subscribed for about 5 years, even though I wasn’t doing that much gaming.

    It’s a damned shame their stupid parent company lost a lawsuit from MySpace after they spammed thousands of people about their VoiP venture. They got a multi-million dollar judgement and shut the magazine and its website down the next day.

    Computer Gaming World was okay, but no Computer Games. Then they became Games For Windows, which was a crap title but an excellent magazine. They picked up a few people from Computer Games and put out an enjoyable magazine that I liked reading, often multiple times, even if I haven’t really bought a game in years.

    Too bad it got canned too this year. But I guess most of their would-be content ends up at 1Up now, not that I read it. I’d rather have something in my hands to flip through while leaned back at my desk.

  11. John says:

    While I admire the escapist’s lack of fanboi-ism, and I admit they have great *ideas* for articles, I find they fall pretty flat in the execution. The writing is pretty bland and I don’t find that they ever really develop much of an argument. I don’t know whether it’s just style, research, editing, or something else, but I’ve not seen a single article that really keeps my attention.

    And, as others have said, the site design makes my eyes bleed.


  12. Rustybadger says:

    What I am curious about is the copyright notices on your comics. Why in the name of all that is holy are they being copyrighted by The Escapist? I am assuming that Fair Use doctrine allows the copyrighting of parody that uses copyrighted images or text, or it would be a moot point. But why do they get the copyright, rather than you?

  13. Zukhramm says:

    “But why do they get the copyright, rather than you?”

    Becuase they, like everyone else in this day and age are currupt madmen.

  14. Reluctant DM says:

    I liked this video series about table-top gaming:

  15. The Lone Duck says:

    It’s a nice site. It could use some better organization. I have a little bit of trouble finding articles I wanna read, vs articles I have no interest in. But by and large, the content is well written.

  16. Shamus says:

    Why do they get the copyright, and not me? Why does New Line get the copyright and not Peter Jackson?

    They pay me for the comics. They’re buying them from me. What kind of ass would I be if I sold them a comic but told them they didn’t own it? That’s the kind of stuff 2kGames does: Sell you something and then keep it from you.

    I’ve been writing software for years for my employer, and they get the copyright. I’ve never regretted the arrangement for a minute. :)

    I admit that copyright law is screwed sideways. But in this case I have no complaints.

  17. AndrewNZachsDad says:

    Hehe…I don’t think most of us realized that Escapist were paying for your service. Well, I wasn’t aware, but in hindsight I now wonder why not…

    Anyhow, loved the (oh so subtle) kick at 2K. Nice shot.

  18. Chris says:

    My feelings towards The Escapist are mixed. I must also admit that when Zero Punctuation got bigger and bigger, the community got dumber and dumber. They went from a great forum to “Well, looks like I’m heading back to the Wii60 forums for some intelligent talk”.

    The major thing is, the site as a whole feels like it is just doomsayers of the industry. Games aren’t good enough anymore, there’s this problem, that problem, etc. Maybe it’s because I’m a console gamer that I’ve been enjoying more titles since the SNES era, but I doubt that’s really all there is to it.

    It seems one of the major issues is “Adventure games are dead, so games suck now”, which just irritates me.

    Overall, I do like the site for news, and while I haven’t had interest in the articles in some time, when I do read I enjoy quite a few well enough.

    However, I have never enjoyed their reviews because it seems like it’s a drastic reaction to the inflated ideas of so-called “gaming magazines and sites”.

    The major gaming sites give crap like GTA4 perfect 10’s, while The Escapist is going to take a game like Turok and say it’s bad for all the wrong reasons. No, it’s not a great game, but if you’re trying to SHOOT the Raptors instead of stabbing them then you are, without a doubt, playing the damn game wrong!

    I’d hate to see The Escapist’s perspective on a game like Earth Defense Force 2017.

  19. Sungazer says:

    A review sight that I like is Press the Action Button. I dunno, something about verbose critiques of games really entertains me…

  20. Pete Zaitcev says:

    Shamus, are you familiar with Scott Kurtz’s opinion on the subject of copyright in comics? I’m talking about these:
    If yes, does it count into your own? Would it, if you drew SP from scratch?

  21. DaveMc says:

    I’ll say this for The Escapist: They have a knack for recognizing talent. Case in point: Yahtzee, whom they snapped up just as people were starting to be aware of his YouTube presence. Oh, and one other name comes to mind, but I won’t mention it for fear of embarrassing Shamus. (Oops.)

  22. qrter says:

    It’s interesting, because I think Zero Punctuation actually doesn’t fit with the rest of the site’s content and sensibilities (while Shamus’ comic does fit, I should add).

  23. Carra says:

    I’m still buying the same Flemish pc games magazine I buyed 11 years ago. If they say it’s a good game, chances are high that it is :) Would have missed out on some great games like Soldiers: heroes of WW2 or even the indie game Masq that flew under the radar without it.

    None the less, reviews have changed. I remember when they used to mock Max Payne for being too short (around 10 hours). There wasn’t even a warning for Call of Duty 4 which I finished in 5.5 hours…

    As for multiplayer. Heck, it’s an important part of a game. For a lot of games, it’s the part that keeps the game interesting after the <10 hours it takes to finish the singleplayer. And graphics, while not the most important part, it’s always nice to play a great looking game. But it shouldn’t be the main focus.

    And yep, I’m one of those guys who do only read Zero Punctuation & Stolen Pixels. Haven’t seen any great other columns so far. But I’ll take a look at those two alternate game review sites :)

  24. Shamus says:

    Pete: Wow. Good question.

    I know a LOT of comic artists have signed away the rights to established characters and gone on to regret it. If I had an established, popular comic with copyrightable (or even just recognizable) characters, and if I painstakingly drew it by hand, then you’re right: I would probably be very hesitant to give someone else control of my creation.

    But with SP the stakes are lower. If The Escapist fired me tomorrow and replaced me with a monkey, I’d be disappointed, but it wouldn’t be this deep personal betrayal. Certainly nothing like what Kurtz would feel if he lost control of Brent, Cole, et al.

  25. folo4 says:

    On the other hand, the escapist have more animated ads than bloody warez sites.

    it’s a bloody murder to my connection, I have to refresh at least three times just to see a page of an article, and that is if I’m lucky.

    What the hell…

  26. Visi says:

    I’d read more stuff from there too, but yeah, the site design completly puts me off. For some reason it completly lags. It takes forever to jerkily scroll to the bottom of the page, and on top of that the layout doesn’t entirely fit in my browser window. I think it’s time they looked into a makeover?

    Going there to view you comic, I wait for it to load and then hit the “Block Content” feature of Opera, a ctrl-a will highlight the text so it’s readable, and while it’s certainly not pretty, it’s a lot easier to use.

  27. Steve C says:

    Speaking of bloody murder to my connection, is it possible for a visitor to disable Wavatars in an RSS feed? I like them, but it takes forever to see a post with 50 comments.

    For Stolen Pixels I let the text load, then stop the page and open the pic in a separate window. It’s the only way I can get the whole graphic to load.

    The Escapist might have fantastic content but the site itself is terrible to the point I can’t access the content. Other than direct links to specific articles I don’t read Escapist because it’s just too slow to navigate.

  28. Rustybadger says:

    Glad to hear you’re getting paid for the content! I’m not sure how it works in the US, but here in Canada, unless I sign a specific contract giving copyright of my work (I’m a video producer) to my employer, I still retain copyright. Not that anything I’m producing right now has any commercial value (it’s all educational, and I license it Creative Commons), but it’s nice to know I could take it with me when I left. As an artist, it’s cool- as an employer, I’d probably like it less! But that’s what contracts are for!

    And I’m with everyone else who’s complaining about The Escapist’s craptastic website. Like Steve, I too load the image separately. Blegh.

  29. folo4 says:

    Just thank the Gods I can use a download manager to resume the image download.

    to think that Shamus Young, who have an AGP graphics card, can read the Escapist…

  30. Matt` says:

    Adblock takes care of the ads, RSS feed takes care of the navigation and I’ve never found myself bothered by how the site looks

    So my experience of the Escapist is perfectly servicable…

  31. Chris Arndt says:

    I hate that IGN takes awhile to load, but I find their game reviews mostly trustworthy, if a bit lacking on platform-to-platform comparisons.

  32. Chris Arndt says:

    oh, and half of your stolen pixels never loads on my dial-up connection.


    So screw of Escapist, unless I am away from home.


  33. Adam Dempsey says:

    When I read the title in google reader I thought you were on about the new single by The Streets!

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