I’m going to put this out there. I’m not all that comfortable with how EA have gone about their distribution of review code for Battlefield 3.
This is why.
For those unaware, the word on the street is that EA have essentially vetted out those websites they believe will give them a good score before distributing review code. Fair game, you might say. EA are under no obligation to send review code to anybody and are entitled to pick and choose who gets to see the finished product early even when they do. But this is a little different. At the lifting of today’s review embargo, some of the industry’s most popular and respected magazines and websites were nowhere to be seen. There’s no Eurogamer, no Giant Bomb and no EDGE for starters. In fact, Metacritic currently have just sixteen reviews available for Battlefield 3, compared to thirty six for the PlayStation 3 exclusive Uncharted 3, which had its own embargo lifted on the same day. Another casualty is Ars Technica, for whom Ben Kuchera only received his review code earlier today; far too late to review the game in time for tomorrow’s US launch and far too late to potentially influence those all important day one purchases. It wouldn’t appear that Ben is on his own, either. Oh, and Ben also received a copy of the Xbox 360 version of the game, despite the fact that reviews for all those sites specially selected by EA were exclusively for the PC version.
That’s pretty fishy, right?
I should probably outline at this point that I’m in no way bemoaning the lack of review code available to Tap Repeatedly. We are neither Metacritic listed nor have any sort of PR relationship with EA in any capacity, so it was always a long shot to expect an advance copy of the game to miraculously drop through our letter box. What did catch my eye however was the review of the game by Joystiq, seemingly one of the sixteen Metacritic websites listed to be lucky enough to receive the thumbs up from EA’s PR bods and a website that I have personally read and trusted for some time. More specifically, what really caught my eye was a pretty frank and honest response to his own review by Joystiq’s Arthur Gies.
I’m sure I’m not the only one who finds it strange that a reviewer should elaborate on – or even feel the need to explain themselves – following on from a review. To me, that doesn’t seem like normal behaviour. Rather than go too deeply into this myself however, mostly because it’s late but also because I’m still not 100% sure where I’m going with this (and I’m copping out from writing a proper article. Arf!), I’d like to open up the floor and see what the rest of you think of both EA’s practice here and of Joystiq and Arthur’s review and response.
First off, you can find Arthur’s review of the game for Joystiq here. Below are some choice quotes from his review. You might want to bear these in mind when you consider the circumstances behind how Joystiq were allowed to write this review, and the almost perfect 4.5 stars out of 5 awarded at the end.
But it’s not much fun.
Battlefield 3’s campaign isn’t just a straight line, it’s tactically linear. Firefights almost always unfold the same way. This is partly due to enemy AI that often seems stuck to a six foot leash from where they initially appear, but it goes deeper than that. For all the talk of destruction and immersion, Battlefield 3’s campaign is a step backward from the manic calamity of Bad Company 2. There’s no more blowing holes through walls to make an alternate route. Environmental destruction is cosmetic or scripted.
Battlefield 3 is clearly referencing that blueprint, but it fails in this regard. There aren’t that many enemies to shoot, and DICE has made up for that by allowing them to fire through geometry with pinpoint accuracy. It leads to a lot of trial by death and memorization.
It’s not fun.
Battlefield 3’s campaign never quite figures out what it wants to do, and it frequently goes for emotional resonance that it doesn’t earn. The quicktime events don’t really accomplish anything. Story moments that should be shocking struck me as exploitative.
The enemy AI remains as murderously un-fun to fight as it is in the single-player campaign. Theoretically, things should be more fun with a friend, but I found it doubly frustrating.
Taking only the campaign and the co-op into consideration, Battlefield 3 is a mess.
But having to run (or even drive) three or four hundred meters before I could even see the action wasn’t fun.
There are some minor things that I think will become issues later on; Recon players have entirely too much ammunition, and engineers feel woefully underprepared for enemy armor. Meanwhile, planes make too short work of opposing tanks and troop carriers, which can lead to bizarre stalemates on some maps.
The notion of using a third-party browser to navigate Battlefield is bizarre. I won’t mark Battlefield 3 down for it, but it’s not a great user experience all the time.
Without wanting to influence anybodies opinions in what I’m intending to be a comment driven discussion piece, are these the quotes you would expect of a 4 and a half star review? Or of a product where two of the games three modes are consistently described as “not fun” and as “a mess”?
Having read Arthur’s review, you can find his pre-emptive response here. For your reading convenience, I’ve also quoted it below.
Man, what a mess. Battlefield 3 might be the biggest game I’ve ever reviewed, and I can’t imagine a way in which the review situation could have gone worse. 3 days to review the campaign and finalized multiplayer is doable. Obviously, since I put a review up. But it’s not ideal.
But less ideal has been everything surrounding the review and Battlefield 3’s release. I won’t dwell on the weird goalpost moving that DICE and EA have tacitly encouraged over the last few days by insisting that console reviews can’t be done because of a day one patch that, I guess, would fix anything anyone could possibly find wrong with the game? That’s practically unheard of before a game comes out, and having reviewed… one, two, three, four EA published shooters over the last two years (Bad Company 2, Medal of Honor, Bad Company 2 Vietnam, and Crysis 2), it was especially surprising here. Put more clearly, EA has never done this with any of the games of theirs that I’ve reviewed. Even Bad Company 2, which I believe also had a day one patch, was reviewed on debug hardware with a near-final version of said patch.
I just think, having played it, EA made some huge miscalculations in aligning it so closely to Modern Warfare 3. It seems obvious to me that they were scrambling to get it done, and they pushed it right down to the wire. I guess we’ll see how things pan out, in that regard.
I think the hardest thing in all of this was scoring my review. Usually it isn’t so difficult, but here, the lows were so low, and the highs were so high…
I wonder if I was nicer to the campaign than I should have been. It’s not actively bad, usually, but it’s nowhere near what I would consider good, or even acceptable, really. And co-op stinks.
I essentially had to write off two out of three modes in the game. It’s a situation where I have to hope that someone wondering about the game who sees the score will read the review and understand what I tried to say. If they skipped the text, saw the score, and bought the game expecting great singleplayer, then yeah. I feel bad about that. For the number, or stars, or whatever, I just looked at the joystiq rubric again and again, going back and forth between four stars and five.
That sounds silly, I know. But I take my job seriously. A four on our scale is a must play for (and I hate this phrase) fans of the genre, a five, a must play for everyone. So eventually I just decided to split the difference. Battlefield 3 is a must play for anyone who likes multiplayer games. So I gave it the four point five.
Is that a cop out? I don’t know. I hope not.
Other things… I wonder why I got a copy of the game when so many other people in the press didn’t. Joystiq is a big, big site, don’t get me wrong, but still. People I greatly respect got shafted, and it’s hard to understand why that would be. I’m hoping I wasn’t selected on the basis of what EA thought I would give the game. That’s the kind of shit that keeps me up at night, figuratively speaking.
Speaking of being kept up at night, it’s late, and I worked all weekend. So I guess that’s all I have to say about it for now.
It doesn’t sit right to me. It might have made for easier reading had Joystiq chosen to turn down the review code under EA’s conditions, but I’m not sure if that’s me being unrealistic or unfair. Either way, I just can’t shake the feeling that Joystiq’s review and their scoring are at odds with Arthur’s response listed above. The fact that he was so quick to follow up on his review – seemingly without any noticeable provocation or request to do so – suggests to me that there’s a degree of discomfort on the reviewers part with what’s going on here. The way I’m reading it is that there’s a genuinely awkward unbalance between the reviewers opinion of the game and the awarded score at the end of it, and that could tie in dangerously with what appears to be a pretty deplorable act of dictating review scores by EA.
Feel free to tell me if I’m wrong.
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