In addition to being about spoilers. This post contains significant Fallout 3 spoilers (at the end). Ye be warned.
Yesterday I read one of Stephen Totilo's blog posts at the MTV Multiplayer blog. It was about the fact that a few people had freaked out that he had a, "spoiler," in his review, which prompted Totilo to respond as to why he thought it wasn't. More importantly, he got into the whole notion of spoilers in reviews (be it games, books, TV, whatever). It's a good and reasoned read.
The offending passage in his Killzone 2 review?
It’s got multiplayer I have not played, an exciting score, obligatory motion control gimmicks, obligatory vehicle missions, and obligatory supporting character death as a plot device.
He revealed that an action game has a supporting character death? Zounds! Let's take him out back and beat the shit out of him! That spoilery punk bastard!
Note: That's sarcasm. You can tell because I used the word "zounds," which can never be uttered or written with a straight face.
Having recently written a review that a couple of readers accused of having too much spoilery evil, this is a topic that is near and dear to my heart; something I've been thinking of writing about on ye olde blog for awhile now.
Now, obviously, when you're reading a review you don't want critical plot points given away. A Star Trek II review should not tell you that Spock dies. (If you're now saying to yourself, "OMG, another spoiler!!!" then there is no hope for you. There is a statute of limitations on these things.) But at the same time if you want to read a review of something then you have to allow for the fact that the reviewer is going to -you know- talk about the thing. A review of the same movie should talk about the notions of sacrifice and the greater good. (Also, that Kirk screams, "Khaaaaaaaaannnnnnnnn!!!!!!!!!" God bless you, Mr. Shatner.)
So, to those who would have writing about games (or anything else) contain absolutely no detailed information whatsoever about the product being discussed I feel I can only say this:
Don't. Read. Reviews.
Seriously. It's gone too far. If you absolutely can have no scrap of information revealed to you, then you should either not be reading the review at all or you should just read the first and last paragraphs and check the overall score. The meat of the review is just not for you, old son. And if that is you, that's fine. There's nothing wrong with wanting to go in totally fresh. There are occasionally games for which I want absolutely no information either. Just don't hate on the reviewer for doing his or her job.
I think people have fundamental differences about what a review is and isn't. In my opinion (and I'm right, btw), a review's job isn't just to say, "wow, great graphics," or, "this thing is the suxorz." A good review has to look at a game critically and if you're going to praise or impugn the subject for something then you absolutely have to justify your assertions. And yeah, sometimes that can get tricky.
In my Fallout 3 review, one of my chief criticisms is the absolutely asinine plotting. It all but kills what should have been a great game. Figuring out where to draw the line in justifying that assertion with concrete evidence, while at the same time not spoiling the game, was tricky. Ultimately, I decided to use an example from the very beginning of the game:
Take your aforementioned exit from the vault. Everyone in the vault was born in that vault. Everyone there has spent their lives together. Yet, we’re to believe the day dad leaves, the vault’s Overseer is so enraged that he orders everyone to be confined to quarters, has a man beaten to death, intends to have you killed and threatens to kill anyone else found in the vault’s corridors? Even if the Overseer were established as dangerously unstable, which he isn’t, we’re to believe nearly every vault security officer is willing to listen to these orders and ready to gun down the same vault civvies they’ve known their entire lives, with no questions asked? That doesn’t strain credibility—it holds it over its head and then snaps it over its knee.
Are these spoilers? Absolutely. That said, it's information that anyone playing the game will encounter and pass up within the first hour of gameplay. It's a 20+ hour game so it's my contention that giving away the inane Vault 101 sequence was not ultimately going to get in the way of your enjoyment of the game. Not to mention, most of that content was already spoiled in the four metric tons of previews already published about the game. (Judging from the emails I received at the time, the majority of people agreed with that premise.)
From there I went on to say:
Whether it’s important characters in towns not recognizing when a significant event has occurred even though it directly affects them, a schism in a group known as the Enclave that is never fully developed and is poorly implemented, or worst of all, a moment in the game’s final minutes that simply defies all laws of logic (if you have the character of Fawkes in your party). The game also borrows ideas from other stories, including Fallout 1, without doing nearly as credible a job (the fate of President Eden comes to mind).
This was actually a much more difficult paragraph to write. Deciding to give away the Vault 101 sequence as symbolic of widespread narrative problems in the game was easy. Not so easy was figuring out how to sum up these other occurrences. I didn't want to give away any more of the plot, but at the same time I wanted people who read the review and went on to play the game to be on the lookout for some of the more egregious moments.
If you really read that paragraph it sounds spoilery, but there's almost nothing there that reveals anything specific. I didn't tell you that President Eden was a computer. I didn't tell you that in a moment ripped (poorly) straight out of Fallout 1 you talk him into offing himself. I just told you that there's a character named President Eden (an already widely published fact) and that he has a fate. Yippee. So does my grandmother. That is, by no reasonable definition off the word, a spoiler.
On the other hand, mentioning the Enclave schism was probably a bit much. In hindsight I probably should've avoided the word schism and found a better way to phrase it. Truly though, the sequence in which you must escape from the Enclave -a sequence that could have been all kinds of cool- is just horrifically bad.
And the ending? If a Fallout 3 reviewer doesn't mention how bad the game's ending is then the reviewer either didn't get that far (it happens; you can't always finish these things in time to meet deadlines) or he wasn't doing his job. That ending is among the worst I've ever seen. Oh, look. A room full of lethal radiation. Someone has to go in and punch in a code. Like right now! And I just happen to have this big green ally standing here who is immune to radiation and who's already done this exact same chore for me a couple hours earlier. Why can't I just send him in again? Oh right. It's not his destiny. I have to do it. Or, you know, tell that Brother of Steel chick to go in there so she can die instead of me.
Bethesda. Seriously. What the fuck is that? I mean what the FUCK is that?
Sorry. I know I'm straying off topic. But sweet Jesus. Todd Howard. Sir. I admire you. I really do. But how did you greenlight that shit?
To this day he still thinks the biggest problem with Fallout 3's ending is that they didn't let the player keep playing? Seriously? Just admit the ending was bad already. It was. It was inexcusably bad and anybody who's finished the game with Fawkes in their party knows it. Just admit it and move on. Christ, it's like getting my son to admit he colored on the wall.
So you'd think that by now I'd have a point to all of this. I don't. Wait. No. I do. I want the Internet masses to lighten up about spoilers. Talking about games (or movies, or TV) means talking about them. If you absolutely, positively don't want to know anything about something, don't join the conversation. Some of us want to be able to discuss this stuff.