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Monday, June 20, 2022

Star Wars: KOTOR2 Gamebreaking Bug Exposes Professional Game Reviewers as Frauds

By LUDWIG VON KOOPA - What happened to ethics in videogame journalism?

Usually when gamers lament the fact that many videogames are being released into the marketplace “incomplete”, they are criticising the Games-as-a-Service model where a minimally viable product is being sold, and then the game will be supported with (hopefully free) updates for a while after. Each of these updates is supposed to provide additional content to play, and this is supposed to result in players coming back to the game repeatedly for a longer (calendar-wise) period of time than they would have if the game had everything to begin with. What often instead happens is that players just stop coming back and are turned off by how little content is in the game at launch. Off the top of my head, games in this generation with this model include Mario Strikers: Battle League (launched last week), Mario Tennis Aces, and Kirby Star Allies. Still, at least all of those games had a fundamental core to them and could be played to an end or you could have a good time with friends, whatever that end is.

By the way, Kirby Star Allies still gets knocked to this day because of being light on content at launch, even though by the end, it's much more heavy in content. I reviewed its full form—after it received its updates and after I played through all of the modes (including all of Guest Star Allies)—here. Actually trying to 100% a game before reviewing it is extremely rare in the videogame world, which is the real subject of today's article.


STAR WARS: Knights of the Old Republic II: The Sith Lords first released at the end of 2004. It was inaccessible on any Nintendo platform until a couple of weeks ago, when it released on the Nintendo Switch. It's infamous for being a glitchy mess, but also for being a narrative-driven roleplaying game that puts emphasis on your choices and is a very Star Wars-y Dungeons & Dragons experience. Old game guides recommend that you save often and in different save files, and have long sections about glitches.

I started my article the way I did because this is a very rare instance where a game that flat-out should fail any competent quality assurance process actually released. STAR WARS: Knights of the Old Republic II: The Sith Lords is incomplete in the sense that when you reach a certain cutscene in the game (specifically after the Basilisk Crash cutscene when landing on Onderon with the Basilisk War Droid), you can't... progress. You can try again and again, but it doesn't seem like anyone has found a consistent workaround and it's affecting everyone. This cutscene is part of the storyline, so you won't be able to beat the game because you'll be stuck in this cutscene. This takes place after halfway through the game and obviously before the ending. Without having played the game myself to know (and certainly not the Switch version), I believe this is the cutscene in question:




I guess I also ought to mention that STAR WARS: Knights of the Old Republic II: The Sith Lords IS also an example of a game that is incomplete at launch content-wise, because developer/porter Aspyr is working on a “The Sith Lord Restored Content DLC” which will include preplanned bug fixes (of the original game) and new content. There is no time table on that DLC or the patch that will fix this game-breaking bug. However, since people could at least finish the game in 2004, then this port, at launch, is incomplete in both respects in that it introduced a new game-breaking glitch that wasn't present in 2004 and should've been caught by quality assurance before launch. (And if it WAS caught, it should've been FIXED.)

I read all of the current Metacritic reviews, and only Game Rant's review (by Joshua Duckworth) mentions that there is a game-breaking bug that prevents players from finishing the game. They still gave the game a 2.5/5. I think that's way too generous for a game that doesn't work, but at least they acknowledged it. I think every single review I read used the crappy screenshot of the three dudes with lightsabers in the grass.

Nintendo Switch Metacritic reviews Star Wars Knights of the Old Republic II The Sith Lords game-breaking crash Basilisk Onderon
If those game reviewers weren't frauds, the Metacritic score should be red-coloured, not above average.
If you're one of these gaming outlets, I'd love for you to contact us in the comments section or via email
and defend your review process given the fact that even the developer knows the game can't be finished.


Other media outlets outright lied to their readers, like Chris Shive at Hardcore Gamer claiming that their playthrough on the Switch “did not suffer from a similar bug infestation” like their Xbox 2004 playthrough did.

Justin Michael of Game Skinny outright wrote that the Nintendo Switch port lacks “game-breaking [issues] and [those issues] aren't nearly as bad as some of the issues the original game shipped with.” (And that Aspyr provided them with the copy.)

Scott White of RPG Site (who also got a review copy) gave it an 8/10, saying that the Switch port is his “preferred way” to play the game. How can it be if you can't finish it?

Philip Watson at CGMagazine (who got a review copy) gave the game an 8.5. (In-between Very good and Classic, which their review policy states is a game with “technical proficiency and skill in design that make them one of the better examples in their genre or product range”. Their review policy implies that a game with a mid-game game-breaking bug should get around a 2.) The reviewer also claimed that while the game has “general issues like framerate chugging, error messages that eliminate progress and repetitive dialogue[, these] issues are far from game breaking and shouldn’t deter those wishing to try out Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic II: The Sith Lords on Nintendo Switch.”

Elliot Hilderbrand of Gaming Nexus (who got the product sent by the developer) alluded to “a crazy plot twist” “about three quarters of the way into the game”, but didn't mention that the game can't be played past this plot twist. He did strongly imply to have finished the game, however, playing it for 30 hours. Not sure how he got to the end, but he gave it an 8.5/10! Update: He said “something can happen” and he got past it. Alright. Maybe he glitched past the glitch. Then he deleted his original tweet.

Lyle Carr at godisageek.com asserted that Aspyr “knocked [the Switch port] out of the park.” They deemed the port “phenomenal” and boosted its Metacritic score by giving it a 9/10.

I don't know about you, but I'd consider telling your readers that the game has a widespread game-breaking bug in the story that prevents you from progressing to be something to mention in the review. However, only one out of fifteen game reviewers did so. The obvious conclusion is that the reviewers didn't actually play through the game and encounter the bug for themselves, and any implication that they did finish it was a lie. Or maybe they didn't play the game at all. I mean, their screenshots sure weren't taken by themselves with their own Nintendo Switch Capture button.

I made the point about six years ago, with data, that professional game reviews are becoming irrelevant. I think now in 2022 they should be firmly considered irrelevant, and you're probably an idiot if you take them into consideration (unless you read the review of someone who actually played the game). The 2022 Essential Facts About the Video Game Industry, a report conducted and published by the Entertainment Software Association (the USA's gaming industry lobbyist group, so consider it official), has a new section this year about the purchasing habits of gamers and their top five influences for making purchase decisions. I promise that I will write a dedicated article on my analysis of these Essential Facts THIS WEEK on KoopaTV (like I've done in years past), but I just want to shout out that ONLY 32% of players say that professional reviews are “useful when making a purchasing decision”, which is the lowest of the five options presented. (None of the options were above 50%.)

I think that number should be a lot closer to 0%.



Ludwig didn't expect to go in-depth with all of those reviews when he first decided he'd write about this, but he wanted to demonstrate his point and it was kind of fun to do. Let Ludwig know in the comments section if there are any professional reviewers you still have confidence in. (If you're a professional reviewer, let the world know in the comments section why anyone should have confidence in YOU.) Ludwig realised that he had more outrage for game critics than for Aspyr in this article. Both groups are bad; but only KoopaTV is going to think about the former's role in this.


As of June 2022, there was only one time in KoopaTV history where a game publisher gave free codes to a staff member to write a review. Ludwig still finished all of Calculation Castle: Greco's Ghostly Challenge "Division" before writing about it, and he was honest.
Do you think that number scores in reviews should be abolished?
Here is KoopaTV's analysis about the 2022 Essential Facts report.

7 comments :

  1. Yeah, basically only guys like you or any reviewers who aren't being courted by the companies with these "review copies" have anything reliable to say about games anymore. At least Zero Punctuation is still good for a laugh.

    ReplyDelete
  2. The only other explanation to defend these reviewers would be that the special copies given to them were somehow different or better than the standard cartridge being shipped to the masses. And if that’s the case then this whole thing is even worse.

    I feel like all hired game reviewers should be required to write how many hours they spent in a game and/or how far into the game they actually are. There’s nothing wrong with a first impressions review, so long as the audience know this is just a review of the first part of the game. But I digress.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. If game reviewers are reviewing a special copy of the game that's different than what normal people buy, then their reviews are truly worthless. Not only are they not even finishing those special copies, but they'd be reviewing a different product altogether and misrepresenting the product they actually reviewed.
      (Of course... why can't game publishers sell the better version of the game to people to begin with?)

      Who's gonna require that? The Committee of Ethical Games Journalists?

      Delete
  3. Reasons like this is why I like to read print reviews, such as from the bimonthly NF Magazine. While you have to wait longer to read the review, the game reviewer will have had more time to have played the game and can go in more depth than a review that was rushed to get out on or before a game's launch. User reviews still play a critical role as well and are quite often superior to the professionals' reviews as you highlighted in this piece. If it wasn't for user reviews, I would have surely bought a buggy mess like KOTOR2 at one point without realizing it.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Just because the magazine gets into your hands after the game is launched, doesn't mean the article was written right before it went to print! Could be in advance!

      Delete
  4. As of yesterday, it appears they've fixed the cutscene crashing issue with a hotfix patch: https://support.aspyr.com/hc/en-us/articles/7320880085389

    ReplyDelete

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