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Feature; Nov. 7, 2011; Channels: Video Games; By Robert F. Ludwick
Subtypes: Opinion
Gearbox co-founder Brian Martel doesn't understand how game reviews work

Last week, Eurogamer published an interview held with Gearbox co-founder Brian Martel at Gamescom in August. My first question here doesn't have much to do with Gearbox; it has to do with Eurogamer -- why the hell did you wait until November to publish that interview? Maybe they were holding it to, um ... Do research, or something. You know, standard journalistic stuff.

Duke Nukem Forever

In any case, Martel told Eurogamer that he thought the video game publications reviewing Duke Nukem Forever were treating the game unfairly and using it "as a soapbox." In fact, he said it was obvious publications were using it as a soapbox, simply because the review scores were only in the extreme ranges -- high and low without much middle ground. By golly, he must not have been reading OMGN at the time! We published one of the few mid-level review scores of the game, with a 6.5! Hell, our score was much higher than the average you can find at Game Rankings, where the PC game averaged a paltry 48.52%.

My first problem here is the assumption this poor man jumps to. Just because there weren't a lot of middle scores, the game is being used as a soapbox? A soapbox for what, in fact? He never says, at least not according to the Eurogamer piece. So maybe it's a soapbox against using over-the-top machismo and 1990s-style shooter mechanics. Well, in that case, I guess -- Wait. A soapbox against using 1990s-style mechanics? That sounds like something that should have happened, actually!

Think about it, Gearbox. Duke Nukem Forever's development started in the '90s. The video game industry has progressed so much since then. So much! Do you really think gamers want a brand-spankin'-new game to come out in the year 2011 that plays like an antique from the '90s? Maybe if DNF was actually released in the 90s and then re-released today, people would love it. Because it would be retro. But no, this is a new game that plays like it's retro ... And nobody liked it.

Duke Nukem Forever Screenshots

So Martel goes on to compare DNF to Half-Life. He implies that if Half-Life were released into today's market as the game it was when it came out, it likely would have been received as poorly. On this implication, I have to give him a point. It probably would have. Because it would have been using old mechanics. How is this even up for discussion? This isn't worth arguing about. Gamers want modern games released today, not some bastard child of a billion different parents -- and DNF certainly looks like it had a billion different parents.

To add insult to his own self-inflicted injuries, Martel says he didn't think anybody could have managed expectations for DNF. He keeps coming up with excuses: Gearbox was just a victim after deciding to pick up the Duke Nukem IP and, by its own good graces, put the game out for the rest of us to play. Because the company is such a gaming industry saint.

Maybe I'm being too harsh on the guy, and the studio in general. But seriously, Brian, do you know how game reviews work? The reviewer plays the shit out of the game and takes into account the entire experience. Then he compiles this experience into key points to hit in his review ... And then he writes the review. If the vast majority of DNF reviewers out there felt they had a poor experience, then the common denominator here is the game itself. If you wanted DNF to get better reviews, then you should have made a better game.

Game reviewers have no obligation to review games highly. We're supposed to be objective to all games we review. In fact, we have an obligation to our readers -- we're supposed to tell our readers if the game stinks ... or rocks. And unfortunately in DNF's case, the majority of video game publications out there thought it stank.

What I want to see out of Martel here is an acknowledgement that DNF did not live up to expectations. Maybe he said just that when he complained that nobody could have lived up to the expectations. I understand why a studio wouldn't want to admit to mismanaging a game or that it put out a sub-par product -- it doesn't ease the investors' feelings and can put jobs at stake. But, at some point, you've got to stop putting the blame on the video game journalists because it's not our fault you made a stinker.

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