In case you haven't heard, my first freelance review went up last week on GameSpot. I reviewed the indie MMO Wander for PS4 and didn't have much fun. I've decided to use this blog to showcase ramblings too long for Twitter. In this case, I'm starting the first installment of what I'm calling Review Extras. It's still very much a work in progress but I figure these'll have screenshots left on the cutting room floor and other thoughts on the game that don't fit in a review.
These days of all-digital games and day-one DLC present an interesting challenge to reviewers and critics. The game I play won't necessarily be the same game my audience plays. When part of my job is to inform them what they will be experiencing upon purchase, that's a problem. I waited to start my playthrough of Wander until the first patch was out, but it obviously didn't fix enough.
I know they're a small studio with only three full-time employees and this is their first title, but I can't use that context to alter my criticism. I can't review promises or a bulleted list of to-be-released features. I can't sit on my hands knowing that people are playing a terrible game when I can sway their minds before purchase. I can only analyze what's in front of me, and that's a barely functional game being sold at full price.
This is the first unfinished game I've played that's officially launched (I'm not counting Minecraft alphas or anything like that) and it's a strange feeling. I don't know why the game wasn't delayed, probably because of a publisher or funding deal. It should have been in Steam Early Access but no similar program exists for consoles yet.
This is, currently, the only medium that isn't static. Unfinished films or books aren't for sale. If a director's cut or second edition comes out it's at least a year after the original release. Even then the fundamental product doesn't change (unless we're talking about Star Wars or Bladerunner). The new version probably just has a few more seconds of footage or updated cover art and some fixed typos. Patching and DLC is a very unique situation. And once physical games are gone for good we're going to have this conundrum for the foreseeable future.
I wish GameSpot (and other outlets) did what Polygon does when it comes to updatable review scores. But even that is a flawed system because Metacritic only uses the first submitted one (which is why Polygon then implemented Provisional Reviews). But when does one know when to flip the switch between provisional and final? Being an MMO, Wander will always be in a state of flux even if every last bug is patched. I stand by my review and always will. I just hope my words weren't a nail in the studio's coffin before their dreams come to fruition.