Games publisher Eidos has deleted hundreds of user complaints from its forums following claims that a journalist was fired for his negative review of its new game, Kane and Lynch. “There will be no further discussion”, an Eidos forum administrator bluntly warned visitors, describing the complaints, some of which were abusive, as “ugly spam”.
Jeff Gerstmann, senior editorial director of popular games review site, Gamespot, was fired from the company after writing a scathing review of Eidos' Kane and Lynch: Dead Men. Eidos is a major advertiser at Gamespot, and Gerstmann's firing has been followed by rumours that Eidos threatened to withdraw future advertising over the critical review. Gamespot owner, CNet, has denied this.
Gamespot's own users were actually far more critical than Gerstmann, with more than 75 per cent describing the game as 'Abysmal', and giving it the lowest possible 1.0 out of 10 rating. “Theres nothing new, clever or well executed about the game. If you must, I'd wait for it to inevitably hit the bargain bin in two months time,” one said.
“People, don't direct your anger at Gamespot. This is CNet's meddling,” a forum moderator at Gamespot told angry Gamespot users. “Gamespot consists just of the editorial, news, community, and development teams. It's CNet's marketing that puts the ads up. CNet's marketing that complained. CNet is who can fire their EIC [Editor-in-chief].”
The game “has an ugly storyline with characters that are impossible to like”, Gerstmann said in a video review that was later removed from the Gamespot site without explanation. The game also has several serious game play flaws, he said.
“If you're a fan of shooters, you're probably just going to be frustrated by a lot of the things that this game does wrong.”
Gerstmann suggested that gamers take a look at the multiplayer part of the game if they had an opportunity, but concluded that the game was probably not worth purchasing.
While he praised a handful of individual game elements, such as voice acting. Gerstmann was clearly very dissatisfied with the gameplay mechanics and the overall game experience. “Some really neat ideas are buried deep, deep in there, but you're going to have to do a whole lot of digging – more than you'll probably want to do – in order to find them”, he added.
Kane & Lynch: Dead Men was developed by IO Interactive, the studio behind the popular and critically-lauded Hitman series. The game is available for the Xbox 360 and Playstation 3 consoles, with a PC version in development.
Gerstmann had previously been seen as a possible successor to Gamespot's respected editor-in-chief, Greg Kasavin, who resigned earlier this year. Gerstmann was among Gamespot's most experienced employees, having started at the company in 1996. CNET once praised Gerstmann for 'his wry sense of humor and quick wit', as well as his 'industry contacts and broad knowledge' in press briefings.
CNET denies claims
“We do not terminate employees based on external pressure from advertisers,” Sarah Cain, a spokesperson for CNet, which owns Gamespot, told games news site, Joystiq. However, Cain refused to explicitly confirm that this policy was followed in the Gerstmann case. The company has previously stated that it will not comment on its relationship with individual employees.
In a series of statements quoted by Joystiq, Cain appeared to link the removal of the negative video review of Kane & Lynch to Gamespot's 'editorial standards'.
Although the company has not published its editorial standards, its online 'philosophy' includes the following statements.
“We take pride in the diversity and collective expertise of our editorial staff. Each individual who writes for GameSpot offers a different perspective and writing style, and we encourage each editor to bring his or her own experiences to bear with each new assignment.”
“We love games so much that we hold them to a higher standard. All of our editors were once avid consumers who relied on gaming publications to inform them about what to buy next. However, each of us has been burned at one time or another – we've each bought a highly rated game only to find that what we paid for wasn't nearly as good as what we read about. As a result, our commitment to our readers is to provide them with unflinchingly honest and thorough appraisals of games.
“Sometimes the truth hurts,” Gamespot warns those hoping for a good review of a new game.
6 out of 10
Gerstmann gave Kane & Lynch a rating of 6 out of 10. According to Gamespot's ratings scale, this indicates that the game has “certain good qualities but significant problems as well. These games may well be worth playing, but you should approach them with caution”. This assessment of the game's quality appears similar to that given by Gerstmann in the video review which was removed by Gamespot.
“Never in GameSpot's history has money changed hands with regard to a review, nor have we ever altered our verdict about any game due to advertiser pressure,” Gamespot claims in its review guidelines.
“GameSpot's business model is founded on the concept that if we provide our users with consistently trustworthy content, then they will visit us often and in great numbers,” the company states. “It is this large, dedicated audience that advertisers wish to speak to. We have operated on these principles for years and will continue to do so.”
Key quotes from Gerstmann's deleted video review
Story and characterization
“It's impossible to care about anything that's going on in the story, because every single character in the game is almost completely unlikeable. There's no one to root for here, not even in a cool anti-hero sort of way. You're just left with a bunch of really ugly characters that just become impossible to care about over time”
“The dialog's not particularly great, though the voice acting's not bad, but really the problem is that every third word out of every character's mouth is the F-word... it's great when properly used, but here it's just so done to death... it just becomes a real crutch and stands out as just kind of lazy.”
“But it's not the story and the premise that are going to drive you away from Kane & Lynch Dead Men, the gameplay itself also has more than its share of flaws”
A system for taking cover from enemy fire behind objects is “a real pain that you just never use because it's kind of a hassle”
“The squad tactics... don't work very well because the AI on both sides of the game is really pretty flawed”
“The enemies get stuck on cars and run in circles and do all kinds of dumb stuff. So that's not much fun either”
The game's multiplayer mode is “a really neat idea, but unfortunately that idea plays out in the context of Kane & Lynch, so it has most of the same problems that the story mode has”
“Probably not worth purchasing”
Update: Jeff Gerstmann eventually went on to set up his own games review site, Giant Bomb, together with other former Gamespot employees.After less than a year, the site has seen its monthly audience grow to more than 200,000 in the US alone, according to data from Compete Inc.
Links and further reading
Gamespot users rate Kane & Lynch as 'Abysmal' (Update: Gamespot has since deleted almost all of the earlier negative user reviews)