"Sarge, are you sure the camouflage is still effective in the cold water?"
They say things happen for a reason, that there is no such thing as a coincidence. I'm not sure if I subscribe to that theory, but I'm willing to accept that every so often it feels like things happen just so I could write about them. This week I managed to snag an invite to beta test Sony's upcoming online shooter, SOCOM 3: U.S. Navy SEALs. With the game set to be released in September, Sony is doing some last minute tweaking and combing for bugs.
Although there are already dozens of squad-based shooters online, SOCOM has always managed to stand out from the crowd thanks to some amazing level designs, deep game play, and great graphics. I have spent literally hundreds of hours defending my base and sneaking up on people from behind ... it's just one of the most visceral game experiences I have had this generation. I couldn't be more excited about SOCOM 3; I loved it when I played it at this year's E3 and I'm counting the days before I get to put it in my PlayStation 2. So you can imagine how surprised I was when I read that the newest issue of Blender gave the game three stars out of five.
At first I was disappointed, after all this is one of my most anticipated games of the year. I worried that it wouldn't be able to live up to the high standard the first two games set, that it would break what seemed like an indestructible formula. But hang on a moment, how is it that Blender was able to give such a
Just what is a music magazine doing reviewing games, anyway?
definitive review to a game that won't be out for months? Especially one whose success hinges so much on the online portion of the game? Could it be that Blender didn't actually review the final product?
Blender's review is vague and uncritical; it consists of no more than 63 words: "Everyone loves a good terrorist hunt. Good thing, too, since the third iteration of SCEA's SEALs game takes heavily armed soldiers through Poland, Morocco, and Bangladesh, searching for tangos under every rock. Twenty vehicles have been added to the mix - Humvees, SOC assault boats, T-72 tanks and more - all
Blood Rayne 2 is just one of the mediocre titles Blender gave 5 stars to!
decked out with heavy artillery, turning this battle into a cross-country tour de morte."
That review neither compliments nor criticizes; it's nothing more than general info about a hotly anticipated action game. They fail to mention anything about the online aspects of the game, the fact that it allows 32 players online, or how large each level is. They don't talk about the graphics or the sound, they failed to mention anything about the control, and don't even get me started on the whole customizable weapon feature that has been added to this sequel. This sounds like nothing more than a review of the E3 build with some random information they gleaned from Sony's product guide thrown in for good measure.
As I thought about my conspiracy theory I realized that it might not have been that far from the truth. To get this issue out by July 14 the writing staff would have had to have completed this by the middle of June, which would have meant that they would have recently played the E3 build and had plenty of documentation about the game directly from Sony. Simply by doing the math it's clear that Blender did not review the final version, something that should have been disclosed right up front.
Knowing that they reviewed an early version of the game (or even just a demo) I started to think back to some of their past reviews. Could this be an isolated incident or does Blender always review games based on how they "think" they are going to be? This could explain their five star ratings for both Blood Rayne 2 and the PSP version of Spider-Man 2.
"Are you sure we haven't been here before, I remember that bombed out bridge!"
Now that I think about it, most of my favorite games seem to get three stars at best. Midnight Club 3: DUB Edition, Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory, and the Chronicles of Riddick: Escape from Butcher Bay only managed to get three stars, while underwhelming titles like Red Dead Revolver and Need for Speed Underground took the coveted five-star rating!
I hate to quibble over scores and stars, since everybody is entitled to their own opinion. Maybe they actually do think SOCOM 3 is as bad as DRIV3R and Nightshade. But it still doesn't get us any closer to figuring out how Blender was able to review a game months before the game even went out for beta testing. It doesn't matter if they are reviewing the hype or simply judging a game based on its demo, no matter what they did they should have a disclaimer explaining the situation. Let the people know that you are not reviewing the final product; if only as a courtesy to the company who let you play the game in the first place. Without them disclosing their review policy the reader is unable to make an educated decision about the game or the review. We should expect more from our video game reviews - even those found in non-video game magazines!