Friday, March 10, 2006

360 Reviews: Mass Confusion

Reviews of games for the Xbox 360 are following an interesting pattern: no one seems to know how to do them.

It's a mess.

To start with, these games need two scores, not one. The experience can be significantly different if you're playing on an HD screen versus a regular television, and that needs to be reflected with a separate score. At a minimum, the reviewer needs to identify at what resolution he was playing the game: standard, 480p, 720p, or 1080i.

I noticed this at launch, but I've particularly noticed it with reviews of College Hoops 2K6. Reviewers are befuddled. Look at this comment from a Gamespot review:
If you play in standard definition, some of the button prompts and fonts are difficult to read, and the game simply doesn't look nearly as sharp as it does in high definition. There's very little that separates the look of this game from a regular Xbox game when you play on a non-HDTV.

Well, no, there's not. And I think the highly technical explanation for that is because when it's displayed in high definition, it's being displayed in, um, high definition. 1080i displays ten times the number of pixels as a standard definition set.

Now if the standard definition display of the 360 version looked worse than the Xbox version, that's relevant. But complaining that high definition makes things look sharper is like complaining that pretty girls are prettier. Yes, they are.

College Hoops for the 360 is getting absolutely torched in reviews--mostly, they're in the 70's for what is probably the best college basketball simulation ever made. The Xbox version got BETTER reviews.

That's why you need two scores. On a standard definition set, there's no reason to pay $49.99 for College Hoops when you can pay less for another version. But if you have a high-definition set, this game isn't a 75--it's more like a 90. It plays great, it looks great, and it's a significant upgrade. It's more than worth the money.

There's also a mindset at work that severly punishes games that were previously released on last-gen platforms. The 2K sports games have gotten hammered for this. NBA2K6 on the 360 was a spectacular graphic upgrade from the Xbox version, and there were also bug fixes and some additional playbalancing. Fantastic game. But the Xbox version was generally rated higher--again, because reviewers weren't playing it on high-definition sets.

Here's the thing, though--I'm willing to bet that the review scores for Ghost Recon: Advanced Warfighter on the 360 will be 5-10 points higher overall than the scores for the Xbox version, because they were released at the same time. That seems to be the pattern. And believe me, playing in high-definition adds more than that to my enjoyment factor.

It's also interesting that the price delta seems to bother reviewers far less if the games are released at the same time. I can't really explain that, either.

I'd list review sites that are clearly labeling whether they're playing the games in high-definition, and whether the reviewer has played the same game on another platform previously, but I haven't found any yet. I'll keep looking. In the meantime, though, in reviews where it's made clear that both standard definition and high-definition sets were used, we need two scores.

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