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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Great post, Mat.
As you already know, I get very uppity when it comes to video game reviews. It’s outrageous that he can give the game a 4.5 out of 5 when bashing it so harshly. It’s as if Joystiq just took a pile of EA’s money and gave them their integrity in return.
Many of the reviews have bashed the single player campaign, yet it’s still receiving near top scores. Is the multiplayer just so good that you it outweighs all the negatives of the rest of the package (which is bullshit as a product review is meant to cover every aspect of it) or is this guy completely incapable of writing a review? Seems pretty obvious which one it is to me.
Arthur did the same thing when he reviewed Rage. You guys are trying to punish this dude for being transparent. It appears as though everybody who’s reviewed it so far loves the MP so much so that it outweighs the other aspects of the game that fail, similar to the narratives in Fallout 3 and Oblivion. The package around the main story thread was so good that the lacking main quest didn’t make the game worse. Having not played it, I can’t say that I agree or disagree, but it seems your main beef is not getting the game early enough to get a day one review. Is that Arthur/Joystiq’s fault, or EA’s? You could always not give them any press going forward if you’re that upset about it. You could choose not to review the game, or review it poorly, or do anything else, but you guys chose to try and pile on this guy, and for what?
“Many of the reviews have bashed the single player campaign, yet it’s still receiving near top scores” that could be reversed and said for games like Dead space 2 which had an appalling multiplayer but awesome singleplayer. And that game got high scores and no one really complained.
I just hate the way people always accuse major games news sites of taking bribes from publishers without actually having any evidence for it. Its just as usual a bunch of coincidences. I’m just saying, where’s the outraged reviewer who was fired for not giving a high enough score to an EA game.
His words do not fit a 4.5/5 score. And that he has to further explain it afterwards is embarrassing. IGN gave the game a 9 and they didn’t like anything about the campaign either. How the hell is that possible? I played Bad Company 2’s multiplayer. It was good. Merely good. Not brilliant, not astounding. I carry doubts that in a two year development cycle they’ve mastered the art to the point that it alone can carry a game’s “score” from 0% to 90%. And who cares if a game is as good as its predecessor? A reviewer shouldn’t be afraid to say hey: this has been done before; sure you’re building off the same engine that has a wonderful shooting feel, lovely graphics and tip-top presentation, but this has been seen before, so the slate should be wiped clean. You’re not scoring points for putting new rungs in the same ladder.
To surrender your integrity by slapping on a fear-based score is sad. He should indeed have posted his follow up comment, and only his follow up comment, in lieu of an actual review.
Some of us can see through the bullshit veil that are Metacritic’s number scores, but many people rely on them. Things need to change. They need to change so the people buying games get better quality, and they need to change so the people making games can be criticized constructively without losing their jobs.
Here, I’ll review the game for you guys right here:
Battlefield 3 incrementally builds upon its predecessor by introducing the bare minimum in what EA would consider fresh ideas or innovation into the genre. It features an overly explosive single player campaign with more action and explosions than a Hollywood summer blockbuster, and a plot that glorifies war by depicting combatants as superman-esque heroes of epic proportions. It also features multiplayer, but I don’t play multiplayer, so maybe I missed out on something there.
Also, I don’t play Battlefield games, so I’m sure I missed out there as well. Boo fucking hoo.
I’ve felt for a number of years that game reviewers frequently favor multiplayer over single player for most games because there’s a perception that it’s the more popular mode. I’ve seen some games ride on their multiplayer (Halo 2 and 3 were both carried to 9+/10 by their multiplayer offerings, despite the merely adequate single player experience). Likewise, I’ve seen some (though, thankfully, less) get shafted for a tacked-on multiplayer mode when they’re really more about their single player anyway.
Besides which, there’s definitely a level of anticipation bias that goes into reviews. Some outlets – major online outlets especially – know that with something like Battlefield 3, there will be vocal fans that will shout down a lackluster (or even average!) review more or less sight unseen. A lot fewer people get incensed about reviews that are too forgiving.
But most importantly, EA shafted Tap Repeatedly. This means war.
Ahem. That all said, I think it’s harsh to assume that this reviewer lacks in integrity. Clearly, he’s tied to the rubric of his employer. He admits he finds flaws with it, but that’s the way he’s asked to do it.
He thinks that Battlefield 3 is definitely a must-play for fans of the genre – I presume the multiplayer-focused shooter genre, which is what I assume when I hear the Battlefield name. By Joystiq’s standards his score is valid.
Are such things too vague? Yes, as he implies. But he’s writing to the audience the game is marketed toward. Fans of epic cinematic single-player campaigns are probably not giving Battlefield 3 serious consideration in the first place. Those that are could possibly care less about the campaign game – I know people who buy this kind of game and never once touch the campaign.
I take issue with a lot of things I see here. I don’t always like the ways in which critics review games (or outlets dictate they are reviewed, perhaps). EA’s limited distribution definitely sounds fishy regardless of the scores.
That’s like almost not screening for critics, which in the movie world almost always means that the film sucks and the filmmakers know it. And in the Internet world, early negative buzz can cannibalize sales. It’s understandable that EA would be invested in avoiding that, especially if there’s risk of it happening. This is a disingenuous business decision at best, but I expect nothing less from such entities at this point.
And in any case, that wouldn’t justify any reviewer holding it against the game itself. That would just be absurd, like boycotting Shadow Complex because of Orson Scott Card’s politics.
In the end, we should also not lose sight of the fact that reviews are ultimately one person’s opinions and nothing more. They’re given a certain gravity by being critics, but that’s in deference to experience and eloquence, usually. The numbering system is a convenience, and an unfortunate one at that; frankly, though, I don’t have much sympathy for players who don’t at least skim the text to discover the reviewer’s actual opinion. 4.5 leaves too much left unsaid.
I’d think that this is evidence that Joystiq’s rubric is broken more than anything else (with regards to this review). With a ‘4’ a MUST play for fans of that particular genre? Fans of that genre are going to be biased towards the game anyway. Smells of an unrealistically skewed grading system if you ask me.
Keep an eye on the Metacritic spread, the difference between the critic and the user scores. Rage leads the pack with a whopping 39 point difference (pc version) between the user and critic evaluation and in this case I’d expect limited critical access will serve to exacerbate this spread.
IMO, DICE does not have the ability to release a game that works well on release.
I think they do develop games that are very hard in a purely technical sense. Some of the exploits I’ve seen are simply beyond that which a team can honestly test for and still make money. In this environment DICE makes games that get 95% of the way to the goal, BUT, they also seem to be unable to find a way to polish their games to completion despite a willing and able upgrade nation.
I spent 170 hours on Battlefield 2 and probably another 200 with AIX. This is what I am forecasting for BF3:
– There will be endless tweaks and nerfings (deadening over-powerful weapons and tactics) and counter nerfings and DICE will never quite get it right even after nine months.
– In roughly six months there will be an expansion pack that defeats the value proposition of owning the vanilla game. Servers, of course, wont be compatible between versions and to add insult to injury some of the new weapons introduced in the expansion will actually work in the original (flashbangs anyone?)
– Roughly six months after that Battlefield 3142 will be released.
– Roughly two years after the original release date, after all the on-line bitching and moaning has finally ceased, Allied Intent Xtended 3 will be released, finally bringing proper handling, sound, game-play, maps, and well… fun to the game. This is what will be played until DICE bugger everything with BF4 in 2016.
Regarding the reviewer simply reviewing the game by Joystiqs own standards, I think this was part of my point in that his follow up piece would have made more sense had he chosen not to review the game.. although I accept I didn’t specify that all that clearly above.
The score itself doesn’t bother me. The overall circumstances surrounding the review conditions do. Arthur specified he was given 3 days to write a review. 3 days to play 3 seperate and presumably time consuming game modes and review them critically. I don’t think that’s enough. Clearly, neither does Arthur. Evidently by his follow up, he’s frustrated and annoyed enough about the situation to write about it away from his review. There’s even an expression of discomfort on his part because many of his peers didn’t get allocated the game and he did. It sounds like a pretty uncomfortable scenario to me.
However, that would have made more sense to me had he sent this message without reviewing the game. If Joystiq had said “No, we don’t want to work under your conditions” then Id be lauding them from the rooftops. As it stands, we have a reviewer who clearly doesn’t feel comfortable with this practice or that his site have been chosen ay the expense of others, and yet EA still get what they want out of it. A good score.
I suspect that might rest on Joystiqs head more than Arthurs. Im not calling him out personally over this, absolutely not and I hope that’s not how this is perceived. I respect the fact that Arthur was open enough to talk about this and I think its refreshing to see. I just think should a frank admission would hold more credit without the review and without giving EA their desired score. But hey, that does probably rest with Joystiq rather than Arthur.
Regarding the review itself, I dont really care about the score other than what it means in terms of EAs practices here. Arthur wasn’t just reviewing the multiplayer component, he was reviewing the whole product that people are paying £40 for, and two thirds of that product are described as “not fun”, a “mess” and that it “stinks”. Even in terms of the reviewers comments on the multiplayer, some of what he says strike me as issues with class and loadout balance and problems with the scale of the maps. Even ignoring the other problems, it doesn’t sound to me like the multiplayer is a fault free experience either.
I’ve read Joystiq for years, since before they even scored reviews infact, and even by Joystiqs own scoring system the review doesn’t tie in with the score. Under normal circumstances that’s something id probably raise an eyebrow at but then move on within 30 seconds, but with this possible preassure from EA on the reviewers shoulders, in this instance I think there’s more to it.
Over the recent years, game journalist have always talked about military shooters in terms of their multiplayer component. They’ve come to the accept that single player campaigns are pretty throw away and that most players buy the game for multiplayer.
If I reviewed the game I would still strongly consider the single player experience and whatever else they offered as part of the score. I believe nowadays the ratings are based off of the multiplayer.
We can always get into a long conversation about review scores as well.
To be fair mate you’re not wrong. In those instances however I prefer the multiplayer component to be reviewed apart.
In this instance however its the whole game that has been reviewed. The whole package that people are buying. According to that reviewer, significant parts of that package are barely acceptable. They’re certainly not good. I’m also unsure if it’s fair to give EA a free pass if the single player is terrible. Sure, there are lots of people who buy Battlefield for the multiplayer. Probably even the majority. But there are still lots of people – myself included – for whom single player is always the priority. If a game features a single player component then I will always play that before stepping online, and I don’t think it should be ignored if this is crap. EA have also been very vocal about Battlefield 3’s single player campaign. DICE have gone on record as saying its the biggest SP effort they’ve ever done and EA have been very quick to show off aspects of the campaign throughout the PR trail. In BF3’s case, the single player is not an insignificant part of the package.
Bearing in mind that the reviewer was reviewing the whole package and not just the multiplayer (which I don’t think he sounded totally convinced by even then), I just can’t fathom how writing off two thirds of the game as being below acceptable can possibly equate to a 4.5. Either by Joystiqs own scoring or anybody elses. Like I say, I wouldn’t normally get hung up on scores (it certainly doesn’t effect my buying decision either way), but in this case im suspicious of how that review and score fit in with EA’s review distribution process.
I think Arthur regrets his 4.5, to be honest. It seems like he struggled mightily with the review and the circumstances surrounding it.
At this point, though, what can anybody do? Should he ask joystiq to go back and lower the score? I think, as someone else said, this is more an argument for a different rubric (or going away from scores altogether-again) than anything targeting one outlet or one review.
Or, you could just be pissed at EA, as they set all of these events in motion with their borked handling of the review process.
I am pissed at EA for this, yes. The crux of the matter is that im not happy in the slightest with how they’ve handled the Battlefield 3 press launch. I think it’s a pretty dirty tactic to play and I hope it doesn’t set a precedence.
I also don’t expect Arthur or Jostiq to do anything at this point. Joystiq have a website to run as they see fit and Arthur reviewed the game as required. It just seems to me that he did so with a hot iron prodded into his back, and I think thats clear from the disparity between the wording and the score, and the fact that he felt the need to comment further on the review process afterwards. My beef there is with EA, not Arthur or Jostiq as such.
I just think it’s a shame that Joystiq didn’t set an example here in refusing to accept the review code in these circumstances. It would have been really refreshing for them to say “This is bullshit”, and Arthurs piece could have been a really interesting spearhead in that. Instead, EA get the score they want irrespective of Arthurs obvious discomfort with the whole scenario.
But like I said in the piece, I dont know if it’s realistic to expect a site like Joystiq to do that. This is a hits driven business I suppose, and it’s easy for a writer of an independent blog to say to a bigger site “cut all your relations with the second biggest publisher on the planet”. But it would have been nice.
I think part of this is being driven by the fact that EA is still trying to push Origin to make up for the revenue loss they will be taking from not releasing their products on Steam. It seems to me that they were fishing for positive reviews to drive sales and sign up new users and doing so in the shadow of the upcoming release of MW3. Last I saw Origin had around 5 million users registered, whereas Steam has upwards of 35 million. MW3 will also be available on Steam and whether or not it’s even a good game, or a better game, its going to blow BF3 out of the water in part because of their presence on Steam. EA seems to have fully committed to shooting themselves in the foot.
For myself, personally, I play SP almost exclusively. So hearing that the SP in BF3 is essentially shit has forever turned me off to the game and I will likely never play it. If Steam were to discount it during one of their crazy sales I might…oh wait. Never mind…
Like you, Kinderplatz, I’m a lone gamer. A lone wolf. I’ll play online with my friends, but never just for the hell of it (or, rather, so rarely as to be essentially never).
In some cases I can see a largely positive score applied to a largely multiplayer game, even in the SP is a mess. It depends on the game. Whereas some games (like Dead Space) tacked on multiplay for no reason at all beyond a bullet point for the box, some games tack on a campaign for the same reason.
The reason I will punish games for this is the time and money Dead Space spent on multiplay could have gone into a more engaging singleplayer experience. The time DICE spent working on an apparently poor singleplayer campaign should have, honestly, been devoted to the online side, where Battlefield has always lived.
To tell the truth, when I review most singleplayer-centric games, I don’t even bother to try the multiplay. Starcraft 2 is a good example. I just don’t care; I care about the parts of the game I care about. To this end I agree with Mat that in some instances, single and multiplay should be reviewed separately.
Did any of that make any sense? I’m not sure any of that made any sense.
It absolutely made sense. When I read reviews for games I almost always skip the part of the review that covers MP. I just do not care.
It would also seem that DICE, opposite the tacked-on MP of Dead Space 2, tacked on SP in BF3 in an attempt to woo we lone wolves and have largely failed. Ben Kuchera over at Ars recently posted his thoughts on the SP and his headline sums it up nicely, “Battlefield 3 has a single-player campaign… unfortunately.” So I agree. DICE should have focused exclusively on MP and tried to sell BF3 as such. For a SP game from DICE I’d rather see Mirror’s Edge 2 (or as I like to think of it, Mirror’s Edge 1.5), which I guess has already been confirmed.
The only real MP I play nowadays is co-op, typically L4D2 or Borderlands, and with that I am able to insulate myself from the harsh world of online competitive play.