By now you’ve probably played Mass Effect 3 a handful of times. If you’re a Toy-TMA regular, or perhaps stumbled over from The Escapist and wondered what I do when I’m not being a fool on camera, then you may be asking, “Hey Chris, where’s your review of Mass Effect 3?” Well random regular/confused Escapist viewer, I’ll let you in on a little secret: I won’t be reviewing Mass Effect 3. Why is that? Well, let’s get into a whole story, and then I’ll make my opinion of game reviews painfully clear. Here’s why I will not review Mass Effect 3.
In no short terms, the current review structure on the Internet is broken. There are too many voices all crying out with the same tongue, and no one individual can be pulled out save for a few (which I’ll get into in just a moment). The review auteur is a fantasy, not something that truly exists in the mainstream just yet. Again, we’ll come back to this, but first, my sad story.
A few years ago, Other Chris convinced me to play the two Mass Effect games as the second had recently come out. He was convinced that I’d love them, and sure enough, he was dead right. I hungrily consumed all that the pair had to offer, playing through each twice, something that’s rather rare for me. However, when Mass Effect 3 was announced, I saw no need to rush to stores and pre-order it immediately, partly because I have a habit of waiting for a while with games if I can help it.
Flash ahead a while, about a month ago in fact. EA finally really reveals what all will be in their N7 Collector’s Edition, and for once I actually want the upgraded version rather than the standard release. “No matter,” I say. “I’ll just pre-order this now and it shouldn’t be a problem.” This was my thought roughly two weeks before the game was slated for release. Much, if not all, of my reasoning came as a result of pre-ordering Batman: Arkham City about four days before it launched from my local Best Buy. I assumed that Mass Effect 3’s collector’s edition would be the same.
It was not.
I spent an afternoon calling around, getting told by Best Buy that they were sold out of pre-orders for the N7 Edition, having GameStop explain to me that they stopped taking pre-orders for those back in November, finding it sold out everywhere online. The aggravating part is that I was looking specifically for the Xbox 360 version. Both the PS3 and PC N7 Editions were still in stock essentially everywhere, but the Xbox 360 version was long gone. Still, despite what I assumed were minor setbacks, I managed to reserve a copy with FYE.
Now, if you haven’t heard of FYE, there is a reason: Because they’re quickly going out of business due to being fools of the highest caliber. I say this because coming up to ME3 launch day, I noticed that my pre-order details had yet to be processed, leaving me skeptical that I’d actually get my copy anywhere near the release day. These fears were confirmed when the day after launch I received an email informing me that my order had been cancelled. I called tech support, furious, and got the response I expected from someone who wasn’t actually to blame: “We took more orders than we could fill.” Knowing that I wasted two weeks where I could have searched for a more respectable company and a full launch day lost where I could have scoured the city looking for a rogue N7 Edition, I was not at all happy.
From here everything becomes what you’d expect, specifically that part about scouring the city for a rogue N7 Edition, though just one day removed from release. The usual suspects were all sold out, including my faithful standby, Best Buy. Oddly, I learned that pretty much nowhere received any N7 Editions, but with help from my wife, I found a Best Buy willing to take orders for the following week.
As I write this on Tuesday night, I still have not received my copy. I’ve been tracking it and it appears that Wednesday, the day this article goes up, will be my first chance to get a hold of it. Because of this delay, the soonest I could really get my review up would be Monday at the earliest, and I don’t want to rush things. So, reason one for no ME3 review: I missed the window, and anyone can tell you that the clock starts ticking from the second that the first review goes online. Every minute past after that is another thousand clicks gone to the point that it bottoms out as interest has entirely faded.
When I started at Toy-TMA, I was asked to review games that I myself had not personally played and was given the option of using a pseudonym. I figured that I was comfortable attaching my name to my work as I didn’t feel that I was making any significant claims beyond the general review consensus. I thought I had been clear on this account and that I was specifically relating a summarized version of the overall feeling. There has yet to be a game that I’ve reviewed that I’ve changed my opinion of after playing, but when Other Chris brought up the issues, I learned that I had not in fact come off as a third party.
Since then, over a year ago, I haven’t reviewed a single game that I haven’t personally played (I’d like to point out that Gus has always played the games he reviewed first). As a result, we’re not pulling in a few extra views in a week for the biggest new releases, but that doesn’t bother me knowing that we can feel confident in the work we do produce, and if there is a review then it is done when we are good and ready to get to it.
A lot of the review process has shown me just how pointless it all is, unfortunately. Any review done by a gamer that’s had to shill out the money and represents the “common voice” is brushed aside so that the larger sites can get their high profile reviews out. These big sites are able to suck in thousands of views on a single review partly because their sites are so large, but also because they are capable of getting reviews out before the games in question are even released, and this is at the heart of the problem. It’s like the best athletes are given a head start in every race just because they’re already so fast.
Beyond that head start, getting the game for free also taints the process a little. To keep things very simple, being given a game for free before the game is released and purchasing a game with your own money will dramatically change the way you view the experience. A dull game seems fair when you’re not experiencing a monetary loss. A great game can seem disappointing when you paid so much that you can’t afford another game for a while. Typically, a game reviewer looking into a game doesn’t have to sacrifice something in order to play that game. The rest of us do.
This brings me back to one of my earlier points, about reviews lacking a real voice in the mainstream. I hate reading reviews of games. I enjoy the video reviews that GameTrailers does because the content does fairly address everything within the game, though the final score is ultimately worthless. I find some fun in reading reviews Jim Sterling does on bad games as that means there’s a show in store. I couldn’t care less if he’s reviewing a good game as, well, even with his solid original voice, when he’s saying positive things about a popular title it just sounds like every single other review out there. The difference is that with a bad game, he will actually take a stand and rail against it, and especially if it’s a game like Mario Kart 7 where his opinion stands out from the usual shouts of praise. I haven’t encountered another reviewer that will throw a hate party over a game save for Ben Croshaw every Wednesday on Zero Punctuation, though with Yahtzee he almost suffers from the inverse (every game review he does sounds the same except for when he really loves the game).
I don’t want to lead anyone to believe that I’m the sort of person who can only get excited when negativity is involved…but I guess I don’t really know how to end that sentence. The reason for this, specifically when it comes to video games, is again, I’m not surprised by anything anymore. I can see from trailers whether a game is going to be good or not. All the sites are going to say that the next Call of Duty is at least an 8 out of 10, if not higher. Some random Triple A knockoff? Probably a 7 or an 8. It’s become more rare to see a game score poorly than to see one snag a safe 7.5.
Reviews are meant to be every bit as entertaining as the games themselves. Siskel and Ebert realized this with movie reviews ages ago, seeing the entertainment value of an opinion. That’s why the Internet has seen some awesome series crop up, such as the Angry Video Game Nerd, the Nostalgia Critic, and the aforementioned Zero Punctuation. Taking a stand on something, for good or ill, makes people take notice. If a game reviewer liked a game so much that they demanded it deserved an 11 of 10, then we really know it’s an amazing title from their perspective. If they write that they enjoyed it a lot and then give it an 8, how do I compare that?
To sum up, because I didn’t get an early copy of Mass Effect 3, there’s no point to do a review any time soon. Oddly, this hiccup in my plans has given me more time to actually play through Skyward Sword at last, which is easily on track to be the next Bad Games That Should Have Been Great (which I’ll explain when that happens). Overall, I’m proud of our reviews despite not being high profile, Gus’ especially. You can feel his passion for the series he plays, series that are usually overlooked despite better judgment.
However, if you happen to be a game producer and want us to give your games some early buzz and some handy plugs, damn right we’ll do it. Conform or revolutionize I suppose, and since we don’t have the resources to do either, we’ll just keep doing what we’re doing until something new comes along.
See, this is what happens when I don’t get games I pre-ordered until a week after the launch. How does everyone else feel about the current game review structure on the Internet? Am I way off or am I preaching to the choir? Leave a comment and let me know. Otherwise, how can I ever get better?