Not to sound like I'm endlessly in love with Mass Effect and I'm sure this is old news to some, but I stumbled across Dean Takahashi's recent review fiasco regarding my favorite game of 2007, and had to say something.
In a nutshell, Dean (who is primarily known and respected for being a serious games journalist and not a reviewer) posted his official rundown on BioWare's opus. His take was that the game was seriously lacking, going so far as to refer to it as "Mass Defect". In particular, that the game's combat was a mess and he felt like he was wasting a huge amount of effort on one of the game's bosses only to be defeated for one reason or another, which led to his amassing a big ball of negative energy somewhere in his midsection.
Turns out that over the course of his playtime (somewhere in the 8-12 hour range according to his estimate) he was not leveling up his characters or improving their skills. Basically, he was walking around with starting-level characters, getting wiped, and then crabbed on the game based on his experience.
Nobody's perfect and I've certainly had more than a couple of my own "duh" moments, but this situation raised a few issues for me. Primarily, it sort of suggests that Dean thought writing a review would be no big deal or that reviewing games is easy. I mean, would a serious journalist like Mr. Takahashi have dashed off a "real" news piece with an equivalent cursory look-see and no research? I doubt it. So what made him think he could do so for a review?
In all fairness, he printed an apology/retraction sort of thing and admitted his boo-boo, and for that I give him props.
On the other hand, as someone who's written several hundred reviews over the last eight years and committed a serious amount of time and effort to my reviewing process, it chaps my hide to see someone like Takahashi (and he's by no means the only offender) phone one in after some half-assed gameplay and what must have been a minimal amount of examination. After all, the options he was overlooking were featured prominently on the pause screen that he must have seen at least a few dozen times over the course of 8-12 hours. Besides that, he didn't even finish the game even after he came out to re-render a verdict and admit his errors. (Mass Effect is known for having an extremely brief playtime in terms of RPGs if all one does is stay to the critical path.)
I could go on, but the point I guess I'm driving at is that it's extremely easy to write a bad or even mediocre review (after all, the 'net is full of them), but it takes a lot of work and dedication to do good ones—let alone great ones. I'm not saying I've mastered the art of reviewing myself, but I try my best and I try hard. Maybe it's a bit petulant or resentful, but I feel that even an established journalist with name recognition and strong readership like Takahashi needs to pay his dues when it comes to reviewing. With this fiasco, I guess he ponied up a big down payment… Hopefully others will see how this all went down and take reviewing just a *bit* more seriously.
Read more at Drinking Coffeecola blog.