Economy of Effort

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Why I'm A Play Magazine Ex Subscriber

I’ve been increasingly dissatisfied with Play Magazine in recent months. I grow tired of the constant over-coverage of any anime-licensed game, and the high scores for these often barely-functional pieces of junk.

The last straw, as one might put it, is Dave Halverson’s review of Sonic the Hedgehog, another barely-functional game, this one for the Xbox 360.

Most media outlets gave the game a very low score, below a 5 out of 10. Halverson gave the game a 9.5. Now, bucking conventional opinion isn’t a crime. However, this, like many other platformer games in the past, reeks of Halverson fanboyism. Halverson later fessed to the fact that his review copy had the same insane loading times that the final game did, yet because he was promised these would be fixed in the final game, he did not account for them in his review. Of course, optimization is among the final processes a piece of software goes through, and reviewing not-quite-complete game code requires taking this into account. Still, some degree of critical thinking is required, rather than taking the promise at face value. Halverson later updated his review, adjusting the score to a still quite laughable 8.5.

Even all of that isn’t enough to make me stop reading. Sure, Halverson is entitled to his opinion, even if that opinion is so rose-colored as to be nearly useless to anyone not named Dave Halverson (which is a problem when it comes to reviews). Here is the real problem, in Halverson’s updated review:

Sonic isn’t for everybody, it’s for fans. Just as a game like SOCOM or Medal of Honor 10 is for fans. I’d give any military FPS a 3-5 tops for the sheer fact that they’re so very tired, not to mention packed with realistic killing, which is why I don’t review military FPS titles. I don’t like them but I respect the opinions of people that do enough not to insult them. Shame the door doesn’t swing both ways.

I had to basically pick my jaw up off the floor after reading that. Suddenly, everything makes sense. Although a truly “objective” review is impossible, as personal opinions and biases will always factor in, any reasonable reviewer (or even game fan) should be able to recognize intrinsic level of quality in a product that isn’t necessarily one’s favorite genre. A “professional” reviewer claiming that an entire genre would get no better than “a 3-5 tops”, and then trying to justify that mentality by saying “that’s why I don’t review them” would be a joke if it weren’t so unfunny. (I also love the claim that the genre is “so very tired”, as if 3D platformers like Sonic aren’t every bit as “tired”). As someone who is very soured on Japanese console RPGs, I could not imagine claiming that I would never give such a game a high score just because I don’t like the genre. It’s not hard to recognize quality. A critic should recognize his own biases, but also recognize a good product even if it’s not in line with those personal biases. That would be called “being a professional”.

And then there’s the kicker at the end. Halverson erects a nice straw man by confessing his own biases, and then obliterates it by implying that those who pan Sonic are just biased against it - but worse, they aren’t confessing them and thus are intellectually dishonest.

It’s become crystal clear that Halverson has no concept of being a professional. Some accuse him of being a hype factory for his precious platformers, regardless of whatever the actual reality of those games may be. I don’t know if Halverson deludes himself into buying into his own excitement for the game, or if he truly does like the games as much as he says he does. What is obvious, though, is that he lacks the clear, rational, even-handed critical thought to write reviews that are of use to anyone else. Because, as some forget, that is the point of printed reviews. That is why people spend $5 to buy the magazine - to get reviews that are useful to THEM, not to read a Dave Halverson love-letter in the guise of a review. A review needs to be informative to the reader. Failing to point out the myriad of flaws and even game-damaging bugs games like Sonic the Hedgehog have make Halverson’s reviews a complete failure at what should be their intended purpose: informing potential customers. A game review written for any other purpose is not a review at all.

So, I am voting with my dollars. Once my Play subscription lapses (very soon), that will be the end of that.