IT R3ALLY DO3SN'T
incompetence and corruption: one, two or three things?
Let's get one thing
clear from the start. Medical science in the latter part of the 20th
Century and the earlier part of the 21st has advanced at a dizzying
speed. The average lifespan (at least in the First World) has been
extended by decades in the last century or two, and the pace of the
advance of that science is accelerating, not slowing. With stem-cell
research, breakthroughs in cloning, keyhole surgery and more, humans
will soon become all but immortal. There will be no illness, no
injury, no trauma so severe that it can't be repaired, perhaps using
replacement organs grown from your own cells, taken at birth and
stored until they're needed. This is a good thing.
Because it means
that, hopefully within our lifetime, it'll be possible to take the
people responsible for signing off Atari's "Driv3r" as finished and
ready for sale, imprison them in a dingy dockside warehouse, beat
them to a prolonged, blood-soaked death over a period of several
days using jagged rocks, then bundle them into a waiting car, take
them to a backstreet clinic, have a corrupt surgeon quickly revive
them before brain death occurs, carefully and diligently restore
them back to health over a recovery period of weeks and months,
probably involving lots of exhausting and painful physiotherapy, and
then drag them back to the warehouse and beat them to death again.
Except slightly more brutally.
That this is an
awful, awful game is beyond any reasonable doubt.
from 3/10 (Edge) to 3/10 (GameCentral) and all the way up to 3/10 (Eurogamer)
testify to that (your reporter, incidentally, on playing the game
for himself can confirm that both the reviews and the scores are
accurate), and enough has been written about the game already for
there to be no need for the finer details to detain us here. All of
the elements of a good game are in place, but only in the same way
that all the elements of a spaghetti bolognese are in place if you
chuck some dry spaghetti, cold tomato puree and frozen minced beef
into a bowl. What you don't do then is declare the job finished and
serve it up to the customers in your restaurant for £45. But that's
precisely the stunt Atari have attempted to pull this month, in
foisting the most blatantly, appallingly unfinished game in living
memory onto the world's gamers - and having the mindbending gall to
do it at a "premium" price point five quid higher than the
already-extortionate norm for good measure.
"Awsome game. just
look at the grafik and the things you can do I thiunk it's
- real unsolicited testimonial from the Driver 3
So far so mundane, though. After all,
shoddy half-baked products are the videogames industry's speciality
- when did you last buy a DVD movie or music CD that needed you to
download a separate "patch" off the internet to make it work
properly? That, of course, is why we have the press - to warn
consumers off such cynical and shabby would-be cash-ins and protect
gamers with honest and perceptive professional
doesn't always work out like that.
A storm of
controversy has blown up around the wildly out-of-step high-scoring
reviews given to Driver 3 by, most notably, print mags PSM2 and Xbox
World, both of which are published by UK magazine company The Future
Network, which controls most of the British games-magazine market. Word rapidly
circulated that the scores were the result of trade-offs between
the Future magazines and Atari's marketing department, whereby the
magazines would be allowed exclusive access to review code in return
for guaranteeing 9/10 scores in advance. The twist was that this
review code would be several weeks away from completion, buggy, and
not necessarily representative of the final quality of the game.
Nevertheless, the mags accepted this deal, and duly delivered
the scores required of them.
Not long afterwards, disgruntled
consumers, on playing the game for themselves, began to
the reviews, and in the light of the leaks, the magazines' staff
were forced to admit that they'd knowingly ignored the problems in the game -
most of which survived from the early "review code" into the
finished product - in order to get the exclusive reviews. In other
words, entirely abdicating their responsibilities to their readers
in order to generate more revenue for Future and Atari. (And it
should be said that reviewing unfinished code isn't the problem
per se here. The problem is reviewing unfinished code while
pretending to your readers that you're not. Just so we're
a great game and we stand by the review... perhaps a 9 was a
little too enthusiastic"
- Nick Ellis, Deputy Editor of Xbox World, responds
uncertainly to the criticism on the Games Radar forum
This isn't, of course, the first time this sort of thing has
happened, nor anywhere near it. Your reporter was subjected
(unsuccessfully) to similar pressures by Future management when he
worked for the company as far back as the early 1990s, and tales of
other games benefitting from such chicanery are legion. Who could
forget Rise Of The Robots - from a previous
incarnation of Atari - garnering 90-plus scores from various Amiga mags? ("Arms were twisted... let's leave it at that", said
one editor a few months later). Or Lucasarts' diabolically useless
Phantom Menace game notching 9/10 from Official Playstation Magazine a
year or two later, coincidentally after some lavish trips to the
Skywalker Ranch in America for some Star-Wars-fanboy journos? And the less
said about the same mag's run of 10/10 scores for all of the
increasingly-rubbish Tomb Raider series the better.
So in a sense it's
a little surprising that everyone's kicking up such a big fuss about
it this time. The UK videogames magazine business has been so
debased and compromised for so long now that those of us who know
anything about the way it operates find it hard to summon up the
outrage that such blatant and craven corruption deserves. Editors
are rarely told explicitly by their managers to do such things, but
are placed in positions where there is often little realistic
alternative. But the most depressing thing isn't that it happens.
The most depressing thing is how little it matters.
chattering classes are full of
fret about the implications of DriverThreeGate, but the truth is
that there are unlikely to be any. The percentage of gamers who read
print videogames magazines has been in steady decline for years, and is
unlikely to reverse as more and more people get access to broadband
and the limitless supply of gaming information (and more
importantly, moving/playable footage) it offers.
successful gaming magazine currently in print (Official Playstation
2 Magazine) reaches less than 5% of its potential audience of PS2
owners, and most
mags struggle for even a small fraction of that. The overwhelmingly vast majority of gamers never
buy or read videogames publications (and who can blame them?), and
hence what those mags say about Driver 3, or what their reasons for
doing it are, will never even enter their sphere of consciousness.
When the nation's biggest game retailer offers no-quibble money-back
guarantees on any game if you don't like it, why pay someone else
five or six quid
to illiterately and ineptly judge a half-finished version of it for
you, when you can just try it for yourself for 10 days (probably at
least twice as much time as the reviewer got to spend with it, and
you've got the proper finished version too) with no risk and make your
own mind up?
"The whole question of
how trustworthy reviews are has been given an airing again -
along, of course, with the ultimate question of the
credibility of publications which are supported by ads for the
products which they attempt to review impartially."
So here's the real lesson of Drive-three-er, chums. Videogames magazines
and videogames publishers nowadays exist solely as a mutual-support network
aimed at squeezing money out of your pockets and into theirs. They
know only too well that the days of games mags are
numbered, so they have no interest in
building reader loyalty, and hence no interest in integrity. All
they want is to get as much cash out of you as possible before they
die forever. And the best way of doing that is by hyping publishers'
games, artificially inflating readers' enthusiasm, getting lucrative advertising from the publishers in return,
and meanwhile cutting back on staff and budgets to the point that even
reviewers naive enough to want to do their job properly simply don't
have the time or the resources for it.
To criticise games
mags for doing that in the current climate is a bit like criticising
a hungry tiger for killing antelopes. Driver 3 is going to
huge numbers regardless, because gamers are credulous and
97% of them don't read reviews in the first place, so why cut your
own throat and piss off your advertisers by telling the few readers
you have left something that most of them don't want to know anyway?
Also, the harsh truth is that magazine readers deserve no better -
if you're going to buy Official Playstation Magazine in hundreds of
thousands and let the likes of Arcade
die, then you're sending a pretty clear message out to the mag
publishers, and that message is "We like being spoonfed bland
corporate cheerleading tripe that says all games are great and worth
buying, because that makes us feel good about buying them, so please
give us more". The number of people rushing to games forums
defend Atari's right to rip them off with a cynically-priced,
half-finished, shoddy rush job of a fundamentally-broken game (and even if you
somehow manage to glean some enjoyment from it, those things are
true regardless) only
serves to back up that bleak assertion.
and to a considerable extent the entire concept of professional
games reviewing, simply don't matter any more. If you want the job
doing properly, do it
(NB If you object to GAME's high prices, obviously there's nothing to stop
you trying out a game, returning it within 10 days for the refund
even if you like it, and then buying it from somewhere else at a
more reasonable price.) We should be grateful to Driver 3,
and to PSM2 and Xbox World, for providing the clearest illustration
of that truth that anyone could wish for, rather than
bitterly attacking them for it.