When game reviews are wrong: Wall Street Journal reviews Borderlands 2

I’ve held my own personal opinion about other people’s opinions for a long time: most of them are garbage. A combination of virtual anonymity, self-empowerment and a general notion that one is always right no matter what has led to the oft-said line: “It’s just an opinion man”. We’ll I’m here to say that sure its just an opinion, man, but what do you have to back that opinion up? Yes I do take personal criticism of my own opinions to heart, I’ve been known to change my tune in light of new information or even just a better stance than what I was once on. “Just an opinion” is just that: an opinion and nothing more, it has no real weight to it. So excuse me when I say that yes, people often do have very shallow, mis-informed and just plain wrong opinions.

Still not convinced? Well then let me introduce you to Adam Najberg. He writes for the Wall Street Journal and apparently does some of their video game reviews. Reviews, by the way, are the ultimate in journalistic empowerment. Its a chance to write about entertainment and voice what you think, without really doing much other research than just watching the movie, eating at the restaurant, or in this case playing the game. Najberg, in his review, displays a complete lack of knowledge of the gaming world or of its major genres, or of the first-person shooter’s pretty clear-cut sub-genres. In this case the distinction between Single Player Campaigns, Co-op Campaigns and Competitive Multiplayer games:

The sequel to the highly acclaimed 2009 Borderlands game goes on shelves Tuesday in Xbox 360, PS3 and PC versions for around $60. At that price point, the first-person shooter, published by 2K Games, inevitably invites comparisons with the Halos and Calls of Duty games already out and due to come in the next few weeks and months.

Wait, hold on. The price point for any first-person shooter invites comparsions to just any other first-person shooter in the same price range? Has this guy ever played something like a Bioshock or perhaps even last year’s incredible Deus Ex: Human Revolution? Why compare it to a yet-to-be released game in the first place? Hey I’ve got a great $60 FPS game you could compare Borderlands to: Skyrim. That would make a lot of sense am I right? They both exist in the same first person perspective, both have RPG elements and the both fucking cost $60, apparently the biggest comparison point anybody should be making.

Can you play more than 5 video games please?

Does reviewing a game require intricate knowledge of other games, genres and common gaming tropes? I’ll let you decide because, again, its just your opinion after all. But personally I think you should be pretty well versed. If somebody walks up to you and asks “Hey how does Borderlands 2 stack up to Call of Duty: Black Ops 2?” You should be quick to say “They don’t even compare, they’re in completely different ball-parks kid.” Then you should slap the kid for asking a silly question to start with and continue writing Top 10 lists about the Most Influential Halo weapons of the Last Decade.

Its such a travesty to continue reading this thing. Satire and using well-established tropes of the video game genre apparently go well over his head:

It’s apparent that Borderlands 2 is going after that testosterone-filled, 18-35-or-so demographic, with its over-the-top marketing verbiage (eg. “a bazillion weapons just got bazilliondier”), gratuitous cussing in the game and prominent placement of a pre-order advertisement on the ESPN.com homepage.

None of the jokes or over-the-top humor ever once struck Najberg as perhaps silly to the point of perhaps trying to be funny? You know, far be it from me to say this since I can’t speak to it personally, but yes girls do like this stuff too. Even when its over-the-top and crazy. The game is clearly trying to take a jab at other games that take themselves too seriously. But when all you play are the Call of Duties and the Halos then I guess maybe that wouldn’t be too clear.

This last bit kills me, if only because of the comparison to “NASCAR Unleashed”:

As a $30 impulse buy, priced about the same as games like “NASCAR Unleashed,” I wouldn’t have a problem recommending Borderlands 2 as a fun diversion. At twice that price, though, I think it’s fair for players to demand the whole magilla – cutting-edge development, engrossing campaign gameplay, scads of downloadable content, a rich social media/community experience, sharing of loot and gear and online multiplayer modes that keep you and your friends coming back until the next version of the game comes out.

And of course this game has nothing in the way of “cutting-edge development”, “engrossing campaign gameplay”, “rich social media/community experience”, or “sharing of loot and gear”. OH WAIT IT HAS ALL OF THOSE THINGS AND MORE. Did the Wall Street Journal come up to Mr. Najberg and just say “Hey can you write us a scathing article about this game that everybody is going to love?” “Yea sure please give me lots of money.” “DONE.”

This review fails on all accounts. Opinion invalidated, man.

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About Ryan Saul

Hailing from Portland, OR I work by day and blog by night. I like to consider myself a video game connoisseur, playing as many new things as I can get my hands on. Its hard to hold me down to one game for very long before I move on to the next big thing. Luckily, that works pretty well in terms of video game blogging.

2 responses to “When game reviews are wrong: Wall Street Journal reviews Borderlands 2”

  1. giantsbane says :

    I still wonder how devious said articles are. Because the reviewer is so ignorant that the review is terrible it garnered many more page views…perhaps that’s intended? I don’t know how devious the Wall Street Journal is, but it seems like a reasonable idea to say hey we don’t have any staff with the necessary experience in this genre to write a useful review, so let’s write something that inflames the gaming population with its stupidity so we’ll get more attention.

    The only other circumstance I can imagine is that the writer was forced to write a review and was indignant about being force to do so; therefore, he did not enjoy the time he had to spend playing the game (as it was “beneath him”) and this resulted in a scathing review. Either way, I expect more from serious journalists…this isn’t IGN, or is it?

  2. J says :

    If the Wall Street Journal’s endgame was for the article to troll the gaming world then I would have to say that was a very poor decision. Any future reviews from them have lost all credibility to me and probably a million other gamers. Pissing off a large number of gamers doesn’t seem like a good way to “break” into the gaming industy.

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