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Editorial

Release Day Reviews Are Losing Relevance, and Single-Player Games Have the Most to Lose

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Reviews

The exact date of when reviews began to lose their relevance is indeterminable. Perhaps it began in 2014 with the release of Destiny—the first major games-as-a-service title to claim to cater for single-player gamers. Perhaps it began with the widespread availability of internet-connected consoles in the previous generation. Perhaps it began earlier still, with The Sims, Civilization II, and other games that expanded after release thanks to add-on content. Whenever it began, the effect is clear: release-day reviews can no longer be regarded as gospel truth.

The latest game to mark the trend is, of course, the highly controversial Anthem. BioWare’s latest project has been savaged by critics, with negativity focusing on the long loading times, unbalanced loot systems, overall game structure, and story (or lack thereof).

In response to the critical savaging, Xbox’s Corporate Vice President Mike Ybarra took to Twitter to defend Anthem by attacking a reviewer for expressing a perceived “lack of knowledge” about the game’s mechanics. After his initial tweet met with a frosty reception, Ybarra suggested that the entire review process needs to be rethought:

Ignoring the slight against the institution of journalism (and freely admitting that journalistic integrity with respect to the gaming industry is, perhaps, not as fashionable as it should be), Ybarra may not be wrong in suggesting the need of a “’modern review’” process. However, his outline is flawed.

Over the past few years, the world has become engulfed in rhetoric about fake news and post-truth, and those terms are applicable to the gaming industry. The means of that relevance: online connectivity. Gamers reminisce about the days—not so long ago—when buying a game meant receiving a complete package. No more. Many games now receive a day one patch to fix issues unable to be fixed before the gold master. Many games also receive some kind of post-launch support to make them better, longer, or more engaging than when they first appear on store shelves.

In such a landscape, the enshrined process of reviewing a product at launch is deeply flawed. That kind of review is a snapshot that even on the day of publication may be outdated. Releases are accompanied by roadmaps featuring content yet to come. For Anthem, that roadmap is a three-month plan. The Division 2 and Destiny 2 have also received similar treatment from their respective developers.

Each of these games-as-a-service games proves the fallacy of allowing a launch day review to be the final word. In respect of this argument, Bethesda was something of a harbinger. A few years ago, the single-player-oriented publisher announced a decision to not provide review codes until release day. The most likely reason was an attempt to protect its profits from the effects of negative reviews, but the decision reflects a truth that has become ever more evident: single-player games suffer the most damage from a negative first impression.

In this landscape of post-truth reviews, single-player games have the most to lose. Fans can safely expect Anthem, The Division, Destiny, and even Call of Duty and Battlefield to be expanded on and improved after release. The need to cater to a live audience ensures that. The same cannot be said of single-player games.

The Sims 4, No Man’s Sky, Agony, and Street Fighter V are just some of the recent games that have had their single-player offerings excoriated on release. However, in each case, the developers listened to feedback and instituted changes to appease the fanbase. Those games improved (to a greater or lesser extent) over time, yet they never really received a fair go from the critics.

Few journalists returned after six months or a year to examine the changes made to these products and determine whether the flaws so egregious on release had been rectified. The failure to do so makes sense: news moves fast. In the gaming world, last year’s game often may as well be last decade’s because the rate of releases is frighteningly high and many gamers—or at least the most vocal ones—do not have the patience to wait for a title to improve. Once burned, twice shy.

No doubt some readers are even now flexing their fingers, preparing to term me an apologist or a shill and launch an attack against a perception that I am defending the practice of releasing a flawed game. Not so. Developers absolutely should be made aware when what they have released is not up to par, but the players and critics should also be aware that, in the modern age, games are no longer analogous to books or films. In those more established media, the released product is the final one. Occasionally a re-release will include some editing or an alternative ending, but nothing on the scale of what is available to game developers.

The review process that has heretofore been applied to games is centuries old, but has always been carried out on immovable objects. Games, though, in this digital age are malleable and prone to transformations carried to them through fibre optic cables. The old-school review is simply no longer applicable; no longer can it stand upon its hill—it must be buried beneath it. A new approach—even if it is to systematically revisit games six months after launch—needs to be found to suit a medium more flexible than any that has come before, and, if it is not, single-player games have the most to lose.

Damien Lawardorn is an aspiring novelist, journalist, and essayist. His goal in writing is to inspire readers to engage and think, rather than simply consume and enjoy. With broad interests ranging from literature and video games to fringe science and social movements, his work tends to touch on the unexpected. Damien is the former Editor-in-Chief of OnlySP. More of his work can be found at https://open.abc.net.au/people/21767

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Editorial

Three Single-Player Games to Watch Out for in May 2019

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May

May offers no respite from the big, bold games that have released so far in 2019, bringing with it a host of games almost certain to appeal to gamers of every stripe.

Close to the Sun

Release Date: May 2, 2019
Platforms: PC, consoles later in the year

May’s first major release may also be its most intriguing. Close to the Sun has regularly attracted comparisons to BioShock for its art style and premise, though the relationship between the two titles is, at best, spiritual.

Players take the role of journalist Rose Archer as she steps aboard Nikola Tesla’s ship, the Helios in 1897. Like Andrew Ryan before him (or after him, depending on perspective), Tesla has created a microcosm in which scientific freedom is unrestricted, with disastrous outcomes. Rose’s first impression is of a quarantine sign at the entrance to a still, dead ship, but she presses on regardless in search of her lost sister.

With Close to the Sun, developer Storm in a Teacup aims to provide an intense horror experience. The Helios holds none of BioShock’s shotguns or Plasmids. Instead, players have no means to defend themselves, with gameplay focusing on hiding from and escaping the threats on board.

Check out OnlySP’s final review of the game here.

RAGE 2

Release Date: May 14, 2019
Platforms: PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One

For anyone to whom the slow, meditative approach does not appeal, Bethesda is busting out the big guns with the long-awaited, little-expected sequel, RAGE 2.

This time around, id Software has tapped Just Cause and Mad Max developer Avalanche Studios for assistance in developing an open-world game. The result, if the trailers are any indication, is a breakneck, neon-fuelled experience that focuses on insanity and ramps up all the unique aspects of the earlier game.

One focal point of development has been ensuring the interconnectedness of the game’s structure, and the teams have promised a greater focus on narrative this time around. Perhaps in keeping with that, RAGE 2 is being distanced from its predecessor, taking place 30 years later with a new protagonist and a whole new story, though some callbacks will be present.

Although id’s legendary first-person gunplay is a driving force throughout the game, it will be supplemented by some light RPG elements, robust vehicular combat, and post launch challenges and support (though the developers deny that RAGE 2 is designed with a games-as-a-service model in mind).

A Plague Tale: Innocence

Release Date: May 14, 2019
Platforms: PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One

Out on the same day as RAGE 2 is the vastly different A Plague Tale: Innocence. A historical adventure, the game challenges players with overcoming obstacles with brains rather than brawn.

Players become Amicia, an orphan girl struggling to survive in a plague-infested medieval France while also keeping her younger brother safe. With the landscape rife with rats and members of The Inquisition, one of the core tenets of gameplay is reportedly the need to use these threats against each other. As such, though Amicia has a sling to use, the gameplay is designed more as survival puzzles than combat ones.

Developer Asobo Studio is not a household name, though it has a lengthy history of adaptations and support on major titles, including Quantum Break and The Crew 2. Furthermore, even though A Plague Tale is yet to release, publisher Focus Home Interactive has displayed remarkable confidence in the project by extending its partnership with Asobo.

Honourable Mentions

Although RAGE 2 is the incontestable action-blockbuster of the month, gamers in search of another kind of frenetic may want to wait until May 21, when Curve Digital drops American Fugitive, which has a more than passing resemblance to the earliest Grand Theft Auto games. Alternatively, PlayStation VR owners may want to look into Blood and Truth come May 28.

Sega also shines this month, dropping Team Sonic Racing on May 21 and Total War: Three Kingdoms two days later.

Anyone looking for an RPG has indie’s answer to The Outer Worlds, Within the Cosmos, to look out for on May 30, while those looking for slower stories get the latest episode of Life is Strange 2 on May 9, Observation on May 21, and the fjord-noir Draugen at a yet unspecified date.

Have we forgotten anything that you’re excited for? Let us know down below or on our Discord server.

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