Page 30, press hold, and reveal. Digitiser's founder speaks out

Edge Magazine #142 November 2004

I only trust myself

Edge #142, November 2004

As it was for many of us, the original Doom was a seminal moment of lewdness in my gaming experience. Even though I was forced to play it within a tiny window and on a giant sloth of a PC, it nevertheless heralded a seismic shift in what I expected from a game. It was the gaming equivalent of a meteor thumping down in the Bay of Mexico; the ensuing nuclear winter rendered the gaming dinosaurs extinct. Only the strong, the violent, the 3D survived.

You might therefore assume I'd been getting in an unholy lather in the run up to Doom 3's release, and you'd be right. Yet I successfully prevented the potential 'release' of any 'unholy lather' of my own thanks to the benefit of experience. I may view my ten years of reviewing games as a mostly wasted decade, but those years taught me one valuable lesson: hype is never justified.

We've been hearing about Doom 3 for at least three years now, and like ghastly saps we voraciously devoured every morsel of news that trilled forth from id's vacillating udders. Every screenshot and interview quote and wedge of leaked code merely reinforced our otherwise abstract conviction that this was to have an effect on the gaming landscape akin to the effect a baseball bat has on a tramp's spine.

Yet now Doom 3 has been and gone in the blink of a severed eyelid, and the most generous thing you could say was that it's the best-looking game of all time. Once you scrape away the revolting graphics, you're left with a stick-thin waif of a firstperson shooter, boasting all the sex appeal of a four stone, vomit-covered bulimic.

You could sit and debate the ludicrous design decision not to have the torch activated at the same time as your gun. You could go on about the fact that it's almost an insult to the legacy of the classic games, in that the actual design is so basic and backward-thinking (not to mention derivative) as to have all the structural integrity of couscous. You could point out that having the enemies teleport into the levels is a lazy and artificial way of generating scares (I far more enjoyed the early levels' stumbling undead than the later supernatural cyber-demon things). But all of that is to dwell on the obvious.

Frankly, it's id's Be Here Now; layers of bombastic production concealing a fairly flimsy product. Evidently, so much time was spent on the visuals - and, without a shadow of a doubt, from the sheer technical brilliance to the level of set design they really are the best graphics ever seen in a game - that they forgot to actually include a game in there. Yeah, all those audio and video logs and the like add to the sense of immersion, but they're not gameplay. They're DVD extras.

The initial reaction to Doom 3 (curiously, Be Here Now was also Oasis' third album) was unanimously euphoric. Indeed, only Edge was willing to hail the game as anything less than the Second Coming. It's almost as if people so badly wanted the game to be as brilliant as they'd told themselves it would be that they were refusing to confront the reality; the reality that Doom 3 is polished and accomplished, but as far as games go it's merely OK. Oh, of course now you can hear the mutterings that the emperor has no pants, and you can see his dangly-ding-dong, but where were they in the weeks surrounding release?

And yet, as disappointed as I was, it was my own fault for buying it. I didn't read any reviews. I knew they would be thoroughly gushing, regardless of how awful the game may or may not have been. Bitter experience has told me how hype works, especially as far as the gaming media goes, and that tempered the downer. Yet I still wanted to play it, and therefore only had myself to blame when it turned out to be a dud. In this instance, the reviews were inconsequential; they could've said Doom 3 would give my PC herpes and I'd still have bought it. Just like I bought Be Here Now. But the reception given to the album by the media was the final straw as far as music reviews go. I tend to trust the opinions of Amazon buyers far more than Q, and Uncut, and NME.

Putting Doom 3 aside, Chronicles Of Riddick: Escape From Butcher Bay is another story. Garnering almost universally positive reviews, telling me this was the best Xbox game since Halo, and that it had the 'BeST xBOx gRAffiX evaaaR!!!!!', what else could I do but buy it? Alas, it turned out to have very average graphics, grim, angular, uninspired architecture, and some truly rubbish monsters, while the gameplay was repetitive and turgid. All that to-ing and fro-ing, and talking to people - while going against the grain of most firstperson shooters - simply served to sap momentum from proceedings. And don't get me started from the absurdly dull fist fights.

I guess the alarm bells should've been ringing when most of the reviews pointed out how great the voice-acting was (that's akin to a film reviewer saying: 'The film had some realty good props').

So, anyway, Riddick is unqualified rubbish. Just like those other 99.64544-out-of-ten-rated games Star Wars: Knights Of The Old Republic and Red Dead Revolver - both of which I also bought on the strength of the enthusiastic reviews. So, that's at least three times this year I've bought disappointing games on the strength of magazine critique. That's roughly £115 wasted on the strength of other peoples' opinions.

Conversely, I bought that EA James Bond game, Everything Or Nothing, and that was also rubbish. Likewise Shadow Ops: Red Mercury. Both may have been crapulous, but they were impulse purchases, and at no point did I sit there playing them through gritted teeth (in Everything Or Nothing's case I may have lobbed the occasional handful of faeces at the screen, but that's another story).

So, anyway, the upshot of all this is that I'm finally done as far as reviews are concerned. I'm no longer prepared to spend a large amount of money off the back of an opinion. I'll make my own mistakes from now on, thanks. I'll spend the money I would've spent on a games magazine to rent out a couple of games for two nights, and make up my own mind.

Mr Biffo is a semi-retired videogame journalist. His views do not necessarily coincide with Edge's

Do you know of any important moments from the annals of Digi history that have been omitted? If so, then mail me ( right now, man. Credit will be duly given for anything that gets put up.

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