On Steel Battalion and a one out of 10.
Hello all. In the event that you don't know me: my name's Arthur Gies, and I'm Polygon's resident Reviews Editor, which means that I, well, edit ... reviews. I run Polygon's reviews coverage. I make final calls about assignments, edits, scores (after extended conversation with the reviewer, that is), and layout.
This morning we published a review of Steel Battalion: Heavy Armor for Kinect, which signified a couple of firsts for Polygon. Most obviously, Steel Battalion marks the lowest score Polygon has given a game since we started our alpha phase in late February. The previous record holder was Bloodforge for Xbox Live Arcade, a title I personally scored at a two out of ten. When that review went live, a number of commenters and people on Twitter asked, amidst what I hope was a measured but clearly supported stream of vitriol, what could possibly earn a one?
Per my note on the Steel Battalion review: However, as part of Polygon's standard review process, reviewers do not unilaterally select a score for their text. Instead, myself and at least one other editor discuss the text and then approach the reviewer with our thoughts on the score that seems most appropriate to the text, at which time a final score is determined.
Before I scored Bloodforge I spent some time chatting with Chris Grant, Polygon's EIC, about that score. We decided that a one would be reserved for games that, more than anything else, didn't function correctly. We're not talking a matter of taste, or an appraisal of success. We're talking about a game that, by virtue of bugs or broken elements such as controls, etc, would be difficult or impossible to complete in a reasonable amount of time (another subjective description, to be sure). At that point, even discussing design or art seems superfluous in consideration of that kind of title's wholesale mechanical failure.
Steel Battalion was easy to score based on that metric, regardless of the fact that Justin didn't complete the game. Reviews at Polygon are pieces of criticism with regards to a game's successes and failures, sure, and they're entertainment in that regard, but reviews are also a service to our audience as consumers. In discussing Steel Battalion with Chris Grant and Justin yesterday afternoon, I made the call to score Steel Battalion as we did because I felt that it was in the best interests of our audience to do so. The text made that clear to me, as I hoped it would for our readers.
But I'll admit, I'm an ass-covering sort. Justin had gone to the trouble of talking to some other reviewers about their experiences with Steel Battalion yesterday morning to confirm that he wasn't just doing it wrong. I want to stress how unorthodox this is. Reviewers might mention a quick opinion about a game they're reviewing to another reviewer on the same title, but prolonged discussion is less likely, because it might unduly influence either party. But people seemed fairly willing to discuss the abysmal experiences they were having with Steel Battalion, which helped all of us feel like we weren't walking out over deep water. That might sound chicken-shit, but we wanted to be sure if we were going to be so declarative. We also had several Polygon editors download the Steel Battalion demo and try it in their own homes. While there were varying degrees of success, no one could get reliable results out of Steel Battalion.
So in the interest of the aforementioned ass-covering, I made a call to seek approval from the editors from other outlets that we spoke to about Steel Battalion to put them on the record about their experiences with it. I wanted to drive home that we had done our due diligence with regards to making sure that the technical issues we encountered were not limited to Justin's home and setup. And I was surprised to find that many of those editors were willing to go on the record with us, ostensibly a competitor.
Every review has its own sort of story as to how it gets published, and there are other details about Steel Battalion that I won't bore you with. But I hope that I explained, in my own meandering way, that we take our responsibility to our readers seriously. I wanted to explain how we arrived at the score we did, and the inclusion of additional voices. And I'd like to again thank Alex Rubens, Ben Kuchera, Julian Murdoch, and Ryan McCaffrey for allowing us to get them on the record.