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A necessary change to video game reviews and criticism?

R0land1188R0land1188 Registered User regular
edited January 2012 in Debate and/or Discourse
Recently on Giantbomb a 3 - part series was run titled On Games, Reviews and Criticism where Patrick Klepek and BioWare senior designer Manveer Heir discuss the current review process for video games, and the meanings behind the numbers.

After reading through the article, and taking a look back on some of my favorite review/critiques I started thinking what does the current state of reviews do well, and what does it need to focus on? I am a Kotakuite and have seen the various methods they have tried over the years to try and do this while keeping everyone happy. I do not think that this is an option as you cannot please publishers, gamers, and consumers all in one article.

I think that a review and a criticism should be two separate items. A review should contain basic elements of gameplay as well as the genre the game most fits into whether it be a casual game aimed towards mobile gaming, or a game that is geared towards the 'hardcore' crowd. At the end of the review the reader should have a clear idea of the game as a product and know whether it interests them enough to warrant a rental or purchase.

A criticism on the other hand should be a more in depth article. The author should discuss how the game holds up as a piece of entertainment. All the different facets should be discussed at length, and the game should have been given much more time and analysis than a review. At the end of the criticism it should engage the reader into a discussion with others as to why they feel the author is correct or not and really be a focal point of a community.

My question to you Penny Arcadians is how do you feel about how game journalism is holding up as far as reviews are concerned? What are your thoughts on what is being done right and what is not?

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  • YarYar Registered User regular
    After following and trusting them for years, I largely abandoned professional game reviews after a couple of incidents led me to realize just how bought and sold the whole industry was.

    Crowd-sourcing and blogging works well enough.

  • Eat it You Nasty Pig.Eat it You Nasty Pig. tell homeland security 'we are the bomb'Registered User regular
    gaming 'journalism' or 'criticism' or whatever you want to call it hasn't been credible, well, really ever.

    gkcmatch_zps97480250.jpg
    stand up! It was the smallest on the list but
    pluto was a planet and I'll never forget
  • FeralFeral Who needs a medical license when you've got style? Registered User regular
    Yar wrote:
    After following and trusting them for years, I largely abandoned professional game reviews after a couple of incidents led me to realize just how bought and sold the whole industry was.

    Crowd-sourcing and blogging works well enough.

    This.

    every person who doesn't like an acquired taste always seems to think everyone who likes it is faking it. it should be an official fallacy.
    the "no true scotch, man" fallacy.
  • SammyFSammyF Registered User regular
    R0land1188 wrote:
    My question to you Penny Arcadians is how do you feel about how game journalism is holding up as far as reviews are concerned? What are your thoughts on what is being done right and what is not?

    You know what I just realized? I can't remember the last time I read an actual review. I'm not sure when it happened because I used to read Gamespy, IGN and Gamespot on a daily basis (like ten years ago or so), and if there was a game on which I was hedging, I'd try and find a review at all three sites so I knew what I was getting myself into. Nowadays, the reviews don't sway my opinion at all. I'll read previews so I know what's coming down the pipe, but once a game is already out, I'll purchase it if it sounded particularly interesting in a review or if I played and enjoyed a demo. If I'm on the fence about it, I'll ask people I know whose judgments I trust, and if it has good word of mouth, I'll pull the trigger. And if I'm still unclear, I'll swing into a thread here in G&T to find out what the consensus is from other people who like the same sort of games I do.

    I haven't purchased (or not purchased) a game based primarily on the recommendation of someone who was paid to review that game since...uh, probably Operation: Flashpoint? And come to think of it, while I can't remember the last time I read a review, I also can't remember the last time I felt disappointed in a game that I'd purchased.

  • YarYar Registered User regular
    edited January 2012
    I like it when a major site releases its review for the most anticipated game of the year, and it's a "10/10!" and then the review goes on to talk about the game's significant flaws. I used to, literally, sort titles on my favorite review site based on review score and use that as my to-buy list. I haven't done that in years, though. Now it's more user-focused outlets like RPS, P-A forums (well that was always one), etc. Actually I really like Amazon reviews. Their system works well to push the trolls to the bottom and bubble up to the top some user reviews that are better than anything "professional."

    Yar on
  • GaddezGaddez Registered User regular
    For me, the most important part about a review is what is said about the product rather then the score; gametrailers wordy video reviews usually give a broad description of the games various characteristics and explain why something is good or flawed.

    Spoiler:
  • SammyFSammyF Registered User regular
    Yar wrote:
    I like it when a major site releases its review for the most anticipated game of the year, and it's a "10/10!" and then the review goes on to talk about the game's significant flaws.

    True; I may have stopped reading reviews because I already know what they'll say. What do I care how Kotaku quibbles about the answer to the question of, "Battlefield 3: Great Game, or Greatest Game?"

    I may have also stopped reading IGN and Gamespy's reviews the better part of a decade ago when they started operating a digital distributor to sell the games they were reviewing. It was like walking into a Toyota dealership and asking them whether they thought I should get a new car or not.

  • R0land1188R0land1188 Registered User regular
    gaming 'journalism' or 'criticism' or whatever you want to call it hasn't been credible, well, really ever.

    I think that this is getting worse as time goes on. Back in the days of the PSX I remember going to the drugstore and reading magazines that would do these amazing game p(reviews) that were 3 or mroe pages long and gave you a primer on the story, the characters, and the gameplay itself rather than forming a decision and shoving it down your throat, or more recently, giving more time and resources to a game or product based on how much you were paid by the parent company.

    I have also noticed how most 'News' sites just regurgitate the same information repeatedly and offer no real journalism to the readers.
    Yar wrote:
    I like it when a major site releases its review for the most anticipated game of the year, and it's a "10/10!" and then the review goes on to talk about the game's significant flaws. I used to, literally, sort titles on my favorite review site based on review score and use that as my to-buy list. I haven't done that in years, though. Now it's more user-focused outlets like RPS, P-A forums (well that was always one), etc. Actually I really like Amazon reviews. Their system works well to push the trolls to the bottom and bubble up to the top some user reviews that are better than anything "professional."

    Amazon reviews are amazing for anything, I generally read the top 3 best and worst on a product before wasting my money, even if I am standing in a brick and mortar store.



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  • YougottawannaYougottawanna Registered User regular
    As a whole I actually think the review process in the gaming world is pretty good. Obviously there are problems but with a process as messy and complicated as this there are bound to be. I personally can't think of any recent examples where I've been burned by a review. If others have examples I'd want to hear them.

    So I don't necessarily think that the process is irredeemably corrupt or anything - but I do think it's too homogeneous. It's kind of hard to describe what I mean here, but it boils down to this: I can read a review of the same game at 4-5 different places and it's usually the exact same review. I would say that like 75% of the game reviewing content out there is redundant. Every writer out there so thoroughly knows what's expected of him or her, and the context in which the game is released, that they just overlap so much.

    Some of my favorite reviews of anything are the Plinkett ones at Red Letter Media, because he brings a unique perspective and really goes into depth. To use the OP's terms, it's closer to a "criticism" than a a "review" I suppose. A "review" in this case would answer the question "should I buy this?" while a criticism (for lack of a less grandiose way of putting it) tries to advance our collective understanding of what a game can and should be.

    This makes me think of a specific example from this past year whose reviews drove me crazy: Dragon Age 2. It wasn't that I disagreed with the reviews, because they made a ton of valid points (that game had no shortage of genuine problems). My problem wasn't that such and such gave the game a 7 and I thought it deserved an 8 or anything like that - instead I felt like they were reviewing it wrong, that they were talking about all the wrong things, and that the net result was that Bioware was going to think that the problem with Dragon Age 2 was that it deviated too far from their usual product storywise, instead of almost everything else.

    Another example of this - in this case previews, not reviews - was Skyrim. Every games reporter asked Bethesda the same questions: can you ride horses? can you dual-wield? are there spears? They were questions that I was pretty much totally disinterested in. What I wanted to know was "will this game recapture some of the imagination and care Morrowind was made with?" And many other people I know talk to wanted to know the same thing, but basically no one in the media (or at least no one with access) was asking that.

    I just felt like our collective habits when it comes to writing about games are just not equipped to handle certain qualities - like the construction of mood, effective storytelling, a convincing sense of immersion. So many of the games that people have great affection for are flawed in a gazillion ways - say, pretty much all of the old infinity engine games, deus ex, etc... The reasons those games are beloved can't be expressed in the vocabulary that the games media has unfortunately settled on.

    This ended up being a way longer post than I originally intended, but here's the closest thing I have to a practical solution: games sites and magazines should make a practice of doing fewer reviews and doing more in-depth features that attempt to look at games (even games that have been out for a while) in a unique way. There has to be a niche for this sort thing in the market, I know I'd be interested. Better that than reading a review that mentions the same six things as every other review on all ten other major websites/magazines out there.

  • FeralFeral Who needs a medical license when you've got style? Registered User regular
    Some of my favorite reviews of anything are the Plinkett ones at Red Letter Media, because he brings a unique perspective and really goes into depth. To use the OP's terms, it's closer to a "criticism" than a a "review" I suppose. A "review" in this case would answer the question "should I buy this?" while a criticism (for lack of a less grandiose way of putting it) tries to advance our collective understanding of what a game can and should be.

    I very much appreciate it when a talented writer puts a fresh perspective on an aesthetic or cultural aspect of video games.

    If we just stopped giving a shit about game reviews, maybe the (good) out-of-work reviewers can start writing more pieces like that.

    every person who doesn't like an acquired taste always seems to think everyone who likes it is faking it. it should be an official fallacy.
    the "no true scotch, man" fallacy.
  • zepherinzepherin Registered User regular
    Something that has annoyed me for a long time. If you decide to use a scale or number system, use the full scale. IE. If you use a 10 point scale
    There better be some ones, and there better be some tens. If you only use 6s or 7s for your shit games. Then you might as well use the 5 point scale.

  • NocrenNocren Lt Futz, Back in Action North CarolinaRegistered User regular
    I've seen some games on a 10 point scale in the 1-3 range but never in the 4-6. And they always have the exception "it's ok, but if you're a fan of the genre it's good" 7 score.

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  • durandal4532durandal4532 Registered User regular
    I just read the RPS Wot I Thinks. They usually get the point across, and I trust them to be honest for the most part.

  • KingofMadCowsKingofMadCows Registered User regular
    The problem is that there is too much emphasis on the overall score when reviews should contain a more detailed breakdown of various elements of the game. There are plenty of games with good 9/10 stories but poor 4/10 gameplay or good 8/10 gameplay and crappy 3/10 graphics, and it's just not fair to judge them by the overall score.

  • PolloDiabloPolloDiablo Registered User regular
    R0land1188 wrote:
    My question to you Penny Arcadians is how do you feel about how game journalism is holding up as far as reviews are concerned? What are your thoughts on what is being done right and what is not?

    Games journalism is a joke. And I say that in a country where actual journalism is a joke. Maybe they're interesting viewed solely as the advertisements they are, but reviews are otherwise completely worthless. It'll never get better either, because video games as an industry just aren't deep enough to support an actual journalistic base. The only "stories" that exist are new releases, and companies already have PR wings. Anything else, like debating the quality of a game or reminiscing about past ones, don't rely on any expert knowledge, and thus can be done to greater depth and with more attention to detail on a forum like this than any overworked writer could ever even approach at a games news outlet or whatever they want to be called. There is literally no reason for them to exist apart from wanting to get paid to play games.

    Be excellent to each other you stupid cunts.
  • dlinfinitidlinfiniti Registered User regular
    i love the video reviews that game trailers does cause they're so damn descriptive. Whoever they have doing them must spend so much time planning what they're gonna say it's incredible. Like every sentence is packed with so much information that comes by so fast that I usually have to watch them twice and I also feel they're pretty accurate with their assessments of games. I usually pay attention to that more than their numerical scores.

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  • DiannaoChongDiannaoChong Registered User regular
    edited January 2012
    When (I feel this is the status quo right now) the majority of releases are sequels, game reviewers in general throw their hands up in the air and say the same thing: "if you are a fan of the series you are already going to buy this. Most are just reading this for bitching points, looking for arguments to start on the internet or looking for a thread to troll.For the review: the game repeated the things it did last time with an extra bullet point/multi, but didnt grow on anything. because 50% of you want more of the same, and 50% want something better and to complete the third iteration of the sequel of a game(Im looking at you assassins creed 2)."

    Edit: Also metacritic is the bane of the industry right now(has been for a while). The fact they started putting people on there and rating them was horrific. Can you imagine walking into your next job interview, and the employer going "well shit son, sorry we wont be going any further your metacritic score is too low." For an industry that wants to make art.

    DiannaoChong on
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  • HenroidHenroid Nobody Nowhere fastRegistered User regular
    I'm on both sides of this issue.

    Is there an actual lack of journalistic tone and ability? Well, sure. And yes, there are places that are businesses and eventually succumb to taking cash or favorable reviews, if not providing favorable reviews to be able to keep sponsors / ads / review material. And yes, scores / ratings are dumb as fuck and highly misunderstood, and really drag creativity / design down in favor of business practices. I'm not going to be saying anything new here that other people haven't.

    BUT.

    Some people take this too seriously, I think, to the degree that they sometimes say it shouldn't exist at all. And that is wrong. Yes, wrong, not a clash of opinion and we'll agree to disagree, I mean wrong. The bottom line is, even if the channels for video game information are corruptible, they're necessary if you want the information. I'm not saying to accept the corruption because of that, I'm saying fix the problem or provide alternatives. We all have our favorite sources. We all have our favorite tones. I think that, for the most part, those are all catered to. So, that leaves me wondering what people have a problem with when they say it's a 'joke.' We live in a society where people write about the varying entertainment mediums. Or host shows based on those mediums. The analysis and interviews and news delivered that way can be fun and engaging. There's nothing wrong with it. Video games aren't social values, or politics, so there isn't much fact-checking / investigation to do. Is THAT why it's a joke? Is the joke that "journalist / journalism" are being used superfluously? I can agree to that last question, but the bottom line is, how much does that actually matter? People understand it's a casual task.

    Game journalism is perfectly fucking fine, as long as there's honesty and enthusiasm driving the material, nothing more. I prefer mine to be flavored with "say what you mean, mean what you say," which is to say that I prefer someone say, "Well, I wasn't a fan of x mechanic," rather than say, "IT FUCKING BLOWS GOATS WHOA." I also prefer hearing people speak, as opposed to reading articles, which really fits the profile of what I observe game journalism to be (enthusiasts just being enthusiastic, or not, about products or related events).

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  • HenroidHenroid Nobody Nowhere fastRegistered User regular
    gaming 'journalism' or 'criticism' or whatever you want to call it hasn't been credible, well, really ever.

    It's never meant to be, if it's coming from enthusiasts and not the business-driven end. It's no more or less different than meeting people in a community and working up an influence or trust in them, becoming a go-to source for opinions. People will gravitate to like-minded individuals. I gravitate to podcasts / blogs that tend to share my thoughts, or at least values even if we have differing opinions.

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  • Eat it You Nasty Pig.Eat it You Nasty Pig. tell homeland security 'we are the bomb'Registered User regular
    Henroid wrote:
    gaming 'journalism' or 'criticism' or whatever you want to call it hasn't been credible, well, really ever.

    It's never meant to be, if it's coming from enthusiasts and not the business-driven end. It's no more or less different than meeting people in a community and working up an influence or trust in them, becoming a go-to source for opinions. People will gravitate to like-minded individuals. I gravitate to podcasts / blogs that tend to share my thoughts, or at least values even if we have differing opinions.

    I don't buy this. If you are publishing an actual magazine with an actual byline and walk around treating yourself as a journalist, what you are selling is credibility. Games journalism has more issues with low budgets and provided materials than most other journalistic enterprise, and a mildly ridiculous history of payola besides.

    gkcmatch_zps97480250.jpg
    stand up! It was the smallest on the list but
    pluto was a planet and I'll never forget
  • HappylilElfHappylilElf Registered User regular
    I stopped reading reviews when I realized critics apparently actually desire to be atrocious standup comedians.

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  • shrykeshryke Member of the Beast Registered User regular
    Henroid wrote:
    gaming 'journalism' or 'criticism' or whatever you want to call it hasn't been credible, well, really ever.

    It's never meant to be, if it's coming from enthusiasts and not the business-driven end. It's no more or less different than meeting people in a community and working up an influence or trust in them, becoming a go-to source for opinions. People will gravitate to like-minded individuals. I gravitate to podcasts / blogs that tend to share my thoughts, or at least values even if we have differing opinions.

    I don't buy this. If you are publishing an actual magazine with an actual byline and walk around treating yourself as a journalist, what you are selling is credibility. Games journalism has more issues with low budgets and provided materials than most other journalistic enterprise, and a mildly ridiculous history of payola besides.

    The main issue I think is game journalism suffers from:
    - it's members mostly being people who'd like to be in the industry itself, so access and goodwill are even more important then usual
    - it came into being after the media and the people they report on had already figured out that the power rests not with the reporter, but the reportee, so games journalism never developed even the start of a culture towards objective journalism


    Game Journalism is basically press releases by fans rather then the developers.

  • surrealitychecksurrealitycheck NONSTOP INFINITE CLIMAX POSTING you must go on i cant go on ill go onRegistered User regular
    i find giant bomb quick looks give a pretty good impression simply because theres so much gameplay in them

    obF2Wuw.png
  • spacekungfumanspacekungfuman Poor and minority-filled Registered User, __BANNED USERS regular
    One very concrete thing that needs to end is having people who don't like a genre reviewing games in that genre. If I have to read another review of an RPG where the reviewer complains that the game has stats and dice rolls, or praises that the game got rid of or hid them, I'm going to scream. No one would want to read my review of Madden, because I don't like sports games. . .

  • PolloDiabloPolloDiablo Registered User regular
    i find giant bomb quick looks give a pretty good impression simply because theres so much gameplay in them

    Those actually drive me nuts. I can't stand watching them try to play games.

    Be excellent to each other you stupid cunts.
  • Mike DangerMike Danger "Diane..." a place both wonderful and strangeRegistered User regular
    I know a lot of people on here are fans of Giant Bomb quick looks, but I have to agree with PolloDiablo on this one - except for some very particular exceptions, I hate watching people play video games.

    I usually just check out Metacritic and the PA forums to get a sense of how people are coming down about a particular title.

  • YarYar Registered User regular
    As a whole I actually think the review process in the gaming world is pretty good. Obviously there are problems but with a process as messy and complicated as this there are bound to be. I personally can't think of any recent examples where I've been burned by a review. If others have examples I'd want to hear them.

    GTA IV. It was ok. Certain aspects of it were definitely never-before-seen. But the control scheme was outdated and annoying and the mini-quest dating sim stuff was ridiculously tedious and pointless. I can even give it a lot of objective benefit-of-doubt and call it "pretty good." But review sites gave it a near unanimous perfect score, scores reserved for only for the greatest games in video game history. It was pretty blatant, in hindsight, that business momentum was driving the ratings.

  • spool32spool32 Contrary Library Registered User regular
    I wonder if the new hire at Penny Arcade is reading this thread, and what his thoughts are as PA moves into the game review space now?

  • ThisThis Registered User regular
    edited January 2012
    There is a clear dividing moment for me, where before that moment I took reviews seriously, and after it I gave up on them. That moment was when IGN gave Master of Orion 3 a 9.2.

    This on
  • XaevXaev Registered User
    I think the moment I stopped trusting game reviews was when 1UP gave Neverwinter Nights 2 an abysmally low score because the reviewer hated RPGs.

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  • zepherinzepherin Registered User regular
    The moment I stopped trusting game reviews was when I saw a review where the reviewer said it was the worst game he'd ever played and gave it a 6.

  • spacekungfumanspacekungfuman Poor and minority-filled Registered User, __BANNED USERS regular
    Xaev wrote:
    I think the moment I stopped trusting game reviews was when 1UP gave Neverwinter Nights 2 an abysmally low score because the reviewer hated RPGs.

    This was my watershed moment too. Then it continued to spiral out of control.

  • CaptainNemoCaptainNemo Ascension. Ascension. Hallelujah. Registered User regular
    Giant Bomb is pretty reliable, to me at least. Other then that, I check out what the score on Metacritic is.

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  • sportzboytjwsportzboytjw squeeeeeezzeeee some more tax breaks outRegistered User regular
    PC Gamer back in the day generally had solid reviews (although the of the %s were kind of funny.). I was always happy with 85%+ games from their reviews, and their 90%+ games were almost always instant classics that stood the test of time.

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  • YougottawannaYougottawanna Registered User regular
    Yar wrote:
    As a whole I actually think the review process in the gaming world is pretty good. Obviously there are problems but with a process as messy and complicated as this there are bound to be. I personally can't think of any recent examples where I've been burned by a review. If others have examples I'd want to hear them.

    GTA IV. It was ok. Certain aspects of it were definitely never-before-seen. But the control scheme was outdated and annoying and the mini-quest dating sim stuff was ridiculously tedious and pointless. I can even give it a lot of objective benefit-of-doubt and call it "pretty good." But review sites gave it a near unanimous perfect score, scores reserved for only for the greatest games in video game history. It was pretty blatant, in hindsight, that business momentum was driving the ratings.

    I'd forgotten about GTA IV I admit, but it's worth noting that I don't think that was an example of review payola or anything - it was an example of hype momentum skewing the perception of the game. Not that that's necessarily any better, but almost by definition it's going to be relatively rare. If GTA IV-like situations were happening constantly that would be a problem, but I don't see that happening.

    For comparison if you look at say, the movie industry - for the last several years there have been not one but many shitty films nominated for best picture. Going back even farther I remember being fucking baffled when Titanic or Forrest Gump won. So game reviews are probably better as a whole than movie reviews. On the one hand you might say that's an absurdly low bar to clear, but on the other hand it's a demonstration of the problems that are bound to emerge when a bunch of people try to form a consensus opinion on something whose merits are both subjective and resist being shoehorned into a 1-10 scale.

    That's why I disagree with people who say game reviewing is a "joke" for example (I'm not accusing you of this). I would say like 95% of games are reviewed as accurately as we could reasonably hope for.

    Basically, I think there are lots of problems with game reviews, but lack of integrity or corruption is IMO pretty low on the list. Using Giantbomb as an example, the strength of that site comes not from their independence from industry influence, but from their willingness to try new things in games media - like quicklooks for example.

  • ElJeffeElJeffe Super Moderator, Moderator, ClubPA mod
    The biggest problem is not that game reviews are unreliable or rigged. It's that they're unnecessary. There are about twenty better ways to gauge whether or not you will like a game than reading the opienions of some random guy. Demos, word of mouth, blogs, forums. And given the prevalence of sequels and franchises, I'd wager that most people know exactly what a gae will be like well before they buy it, and base tehir purchasing decisions accordingly.

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  • durandal4532durandal4532 Registered User regular
    I think also the thing is: I have so many games. I have an embarrassment of games. All of them last reasonably long, some of them are actually infinite.

    Games journalism isn't quite like movie journalism, or book journalism. As my library grows, as I watch more movies, my time for books/movies doesn't decrease. If I like League of Legends, Starcraft, Battlefield, Team Fortress, and Diablo 3, I actually have less time for other games.

    That's why I tend to like RPS, and in general things that are less reviews and more "oh oh, this thing was really interesting, or really fun, or free and at least worth a look or something". I really only want to hear if you have something to rave about that I haven't had the opportunity to find, I rarely am just sauntering into a purchase because it's Monday or something. I don't think I've ever been saved from making a purchase by a poor review, maybe by this forum but it's still a small percentage of my experience overall.

  • YarYar Registered User regular
    What about the Kane and Lynch scandal? It's not like that was a decade ago.

  • darkmayodarkmayo Registered User regular
    I don't know about the rest of you guys, but G&T is my trusted source. So all you unwashed forum jockeys, thank you for not liking shit games.

  • YarYar Registered User regular
    I didn't know that P-A was getting into reviews. The funny thing is that a lot of Tycho's posts, partcularly in ye oldenne dayes, were reviews that weren't called reviews. I like to read what Gabe or Tycho have to say on games, but not necessarily as a final determination.

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