Sunday, December 16, 2007

Full Undertow Review

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My review of Undertow, one of the Xbox Live Arcade's best titles has been posted on Talk Xbox.

"Have you ever wondered what a full-scale war would be like...underwater? This scenario, in which people from various civilizations wage war in the depths of the ocean for control over its vast waters, has been realized in Undertow. This is the first game from Chair Entertainment, an independent developer and publisher. It comes as no surprise that this is one of the most original games on the Xbox Live Arcade, but it did surprise me that this title is so much fun to play."

- Justin McBride, Talk

Check out the full review at the link below and remember, you can catch all of my latest Xbox 360 game reviews at that site.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Rest In Peace, Journalistic Integrity…The Week After Retrospective

After a long debate, I finally decided I should chime in on how I feel regarding the now infamous termination of Jeff Gerstmann. It’s been about a week now and I’ve cooled off significantly, but this issue is too big for me not to say anything about, especially given my ties to the gaming industry. I’ve grown up playing games; I’ve seen the evolution of gaming from the 16-bit era to the HD Era. In that time, I began to read gaming related publications and developed an enormous interest in the numerous facets of gaming journalism. So when this news crossed my desk, It immediately captured my interest.

When I began to hear the rumors, I blew it off, thinking it was just another rumor started by some anonymous whistleblower to get some attention. That's when the evidence began to mount. More websites began to report the rumor. More people began to speak up about it. With each passing second, its validity grew as the news spread like wildfire across the internet.

Funny thing about rumors. Most of them are true...

I began to think to myself, "No way". There's no way any company would fire someone (let alone their longest tenured editor) due to advertiser pressure. CNET has denied these claims but I don't know if I believe them. After all I've heard over the past few days, all the reports that have come out from anonymous GameSpot editors and all of the cryptic messages hidden in staff blogs (and former staff members)...I just don't trust them anymore.

I think I'm beginning to lose faith in the gaming industry as a whole...

As an up-and-coming journalist, this hit me particularly hard. My whole worldview is shaken for a multitude of reasons. GameSpot has been my primary source for reviews for the four years I’ve been coming to it. I may not have agreed with every call they’ve made, but I’ve always respected them. One of my highest goals in working in the gaming industry was one day working for this very site. Up until now that is. Since I no longer trust CNET, I wouldn’t want to work under their umbrella network and subject to the same managerial team that terminated Jeff Gerstmann for giving his honest opinion.

This experience has opened my eyes to a new side of the gaming industry, a side I never wanted to see. A side of the gaming industry that has been corrupted by capitalism. As a direct result of the industry growing from a niche market to one of the largest markets for entertainment, the potential for making money has increased, and each one of the multitude of publishers wants a slice.

As the industry grows, so does the role of the gaming journalist. More and more gaming related publications have appeared, especially with the advent of the internet. Millions of people read these gaming publications for the final word on quite a few games, to see if ‘X’ game is worth their hard-earned money.

New moral and ethical concerns begin to appear. Put yourself in the well-polished shoes and finely tailored business suit of a marketing executive, concerned about your bottom line, hoping that your newest property will take off and become a highly profitable franchise for your organization. The first thing you would think to do is advertise, after all, that is your job right? Well, what if you flooded one particular site with advertising money…you would expect a decent return on your investment…right? On that same site, you would hope that your game would receive a good review to further garner public opinion in your favor and get them to drop $60 on your game…right? See where I’m going with this?

Now CNET stated Monday that Jeff Gerstmann’s termination is not a result of advertiser pressure and a few GameSpot editors said on the HotSpot that the Kane and Lynch review was not the cause. But honestly, I don’t know if I completely believe that. Joystiq confirmed recently that there have been numerous changes to the original Kane and Lynch review. CNET representatives stand firm on the issue stating, “Neither CNET Networks nor GameSpot has ever allowed its advertising business to affect its editorial content” but can we truly believe that? CNET sure wants us to, since they published an article in which they answered many of the burning questions people wanted answers to. In this article, one of the questions was concerning the editing of Jeff’s Kane and Lynch review. Their official response? “Jeff's supervisors and select members of the edit team felt the review's negativity did not match its "fair" 6.0 rating.” This shows that CNET does indeed respond to advertiser pressure, since the review was modified to match the score, and not vice versa.

Now you can begin to see why I’m so shaken by this news. To see the credibility of my favorite gaming publication shattered so quickly was extremely disheartening. While the Kane and Lynch review may not have been the cause of Jeff Gerstmann’s firing, the court of public opinion has already ruled against CNET and unless we get official statements from either CNET or Gerstmann himself (which won’t happen, for legal reasons) that ruling will not change.

Perhaps I am blowing this out of proportion. Perhaps I don’t have all the facts. That’s an understandable position to argue, but with all of the evidence I’ve seen supporting my claims and a much smaller list refuting them, I don’t believe I’m on the wrong side. Shady practices such as these need to end. Unfortunately, such is the state of the gaming industry in which some publishers decide not to use their money to improve their games and warrant a good score, but to try to buy one from the gaming press. This is bigger than Jeff Gerstmann; this concerns every facet of gaming journalism and personally, I won’t stand for it.