Prologue: In order to fully understand this piece, I implore you to read IGN’s review of Prey for PC by Dan Stapleton.
On the 10th of May IGN’s Executive Editor of Reviews published his review of Arkane studios recently released dark action-shooter Prey for PC. In this review, Dan explains that while he enjoyed his time with the game, he eventually encountered a game breaking bug that halted his progress. Upon receiving a second save from the developer, Dan encountered this once again. Having been unable to complete the game, Dan filed his review and gave the game a 4.0.
Now on the face of things, this is a very low score considering the average at the time of writing is a 79 on PC, but for those who bothered to read the review as opposed to simply jumping to the score, Dan explains that his experience was a good one until the bugs made the game impossible to finish. This raised a few questions. The first being; should the review have been published without a score, in order to reflect the unfinished nature of the game?. The second being, if the game isn’t able to be finished, isn’t that worth less than a 4.0? And the third being “I’m having no issues, the score isn’t reflective of my experience” which is less of a question and more of a confused statement, usually made by those who feel uncomfortable something they have spent money on is being questioned. Let’s look at these in turn.
The first question of whether the review should have been published without a score is the one I'm most inclined to agree with. This is mainly because I believe the use of review scores is largely arcane, but I understand reader confusion when IGN themselves have used the “review in progress” model before. Dan himself introduced the idea of scoring reviews in progress just last year, so why when encountering a situation like this, would you rush a score? Well, if you read the statement that accompanied the introduction of scored reviews in progress you’ll find that the system is designed to give an at a glance verdict on “live” games when the reviewer has had time to play them in pre-release conditions, but not under the circumstances of an average player.
“This new policy will allow us to present you with at least temporarily scored reviews of games like Battleborn, which we’ve played in betas and on 2K’s internal servers but not yet in a live environment; Overwatch, which we’ve played extensively in the beta and anticipate no significant changes between the preorder access period and the formal launch; and Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End, which we’ll have played thoroughly in single-player and in multiplayer on Sony’s servers, but not in a live environment.”
With Prey, what Dan reviewed was the retail version of the game. The bug Dan encountered has been reported repeatedly on the Steam forums and even though Bethesda has now released a patch, they still released a game that had a catastrophic bug on PC. The question becomes when does the statute of limitations end and the game is officially "reviewable". How can a reviewer be confident that the save bug being fixed didn't break something else without replaying the entire game to completion? It's a tough situation.
The second question is one raised by another writer, Kotaku’s Jason Schreier. In a series of tweets Schreier wrote;
I get where this is coming from, but I also think this ties into the idea that Dan enjoyed his time before the bugs, therefore it does warrant some merit, but Jason does have a very good point in regards to this being an example of review scores meaning nothing in this context. Especially in a culture that has grown to see the review scale mean that a 4 is basically awful. IGN is a site that is often criticised for their high scores, so I can see why it’d be jarring to see the score out of context because no matter how many times reviewers say not to, plenty of people simply read the score and move on. If there wasn’t a score attached, people would have to read the entire review (I know, imagine the toil) and digest what Dan had to say.
The third point has mainly been raised in the replies that Dan has had to endure constantly in the past few days. It basically amounts to “I’m not experiencing that bug, the review is wrong”. The answer to this is simple; reviews are one person's opinion, reflecting their personal experience with a game. While this will be referred to as “IGN’s” review of Prey, the review is written by one person. All reviews are the view of single people. This is what makes the idea that certain sites have a bias towards games or series misguided, do you realise a number of different people that work for these sites? Do you not think that it’d be extremely dishonest of Dan to give the game a high score because he’s heard other people having a good time? If you want a list of features of a game, read a company's website. If you’re reading a review, it should be for that person's opinion on a game, which is written based on the things that reviewer experienced during his or her time with the game. Dan had two game ending bugs and his review reflected that.
I wrote the Prey review for PS4 for this site and gave it a 6.0. I’m on the lower end of the scores, but it was an honest review written based on my experience and feeling on the game. Personally, if I were to encounter bugs that made it impossible for me to progress in the game, I would have elected not to score it, but that’s my personal opinion, screaming at Dan for making a judgement call is asinine. Invoking the idea that the developers will be damaged by IGN’s review is not only misguided but also pretty ironic, if the developers didn’t want bad scores, maybe they should have made sure there wasn’t a repeatable game ending bug.
This is certainly an interesting case, with no "right" answer per se. In an age where more and more games release riddled with horrible bugs and technical difficulties that border on ridiculous, shouldn't reviewers have the responsibility to tell their readers when they run into bugs which in this case, ruin the game entirely? It's not like Dan's review is the only one on the internet. If you want to read other impressions of the PC version of the game there are hundreds of reviews, videos and steam forum posts to inspect before you make your decision.
You can follow Dan Stapleton on Twitter @DanStapleton