We don’t normally operate our reviews according to the whims of manufacturers and developers, but this was an option that was far too tempting to ignore.
For those who missed the original news story, the story behind this ever-so-slightly-special review is that the lead designer of Fable 2 and mildly legendary natterbox Peter Molyneux asked game reviewers get casual or non-gamers to help in the review of Fable 2.
The game is designed in a way that takes casual and non-gamers into full account, he argued. It is made to heavily appeal to that audience as well as hardcore gamers, so he asked the critics to watch non-gamers play a bit of the game and see what they think.
Well, we decided to go one step further and for the last week my little sister has been in the office on a work experience placement, much of which she has spent reviewing the game. We reckon she’s pretty much the ideal audience for Fable 2 by Molyneux’s definition. She’s played a few games in her time – namely The Sims and some Lucasarts adventure games I bullied her into – but she is far from what you’d call a true gamer or a geek. She’s never been that into consoles or PC games.
We decided that if we were going to do this as Molyneux and Co. thought it should be done then we should try and get a pure review out of her too. Thus, though we knew the game had things like online co-op and so on, we didn’t give her any instruction in them. We asked her to write a review of the game as she saw it, gave her the game and the manual and left her to her own devices.
Thus, the review is written totally from the viewpoint of a casual gamer. If it doesn’t mention online functionality and advanced special moves then it’s probably because Faith didn’t see them or care about them in the game. These things aren’t as important to a casual gamer as they are to a hardcore one. That’s a more important issue than you might think.
As a hardcore gamer myself, I watched Faith play a lot of the game and was surprised how much I learnt from it as there were several distinct differences between how we might approach the game. While I might have spent a long time exploring and harvesting experience, for example, Faith was happy to be lead through the game by the glowing trail that always showed her where to go. Where I might have saved up my gold for better armour and weapons, Faith was more keen on swapping different clothes and dyes and buying new titles for her character.
From a technical and purely pretentious point of view, there are bound to be a few faults with the review Faith has written. Not being a hardcore gamer, she isn’t always able to compare Fable 2 to similar games for example. She also died quite a lot on a few missions, where a guiding hand from one of us might have taught her a weakness to exploit in her enemies, saving her some frustration.
That of course begs the question of what exactly it is that qualifies someone to be a games journalist – is my opinion worth more than hers just because I played the original Fable, or is Faith’s stronger because she can review the game on its own merits and as the designer intended it be viewed?
Looking beyond the game itself, there are questions raised by the style of this review that I don’t have any answers to. What is it that separates a casual gamer from a hardcore gamer and why is it that hardcore gamers tend to look down on their casual ancestors? Do female gamers look for different things to male gamers and how does that colour the final review?