Jurassic Park: The Game launched yesterday, but you won't find a review on GameSpot just yet. Part of that is because our review staff is swamped at the height of the holiday release season, and part of it is because we didn't get any early review copies from developer Telltale Games.
In theory, this would be an ideal reason for interested gamers to check out GameSpot's fellow CBS Interactive property Metacritic. Ordinarily, the online opinion aggregator can be counted on to compile review scores and links from a wealth of professional review sites, as well as assessments from other gamers who wrote up reviews on their own.
However, a quick examination of the Jurassic Park: The Game Metacritic page on Wednesday morning brought up a number of "Telltale" indicators that something was fishy. By mid-afternoon, Jurassic Park had no critic reviews, but it had four user reviews, each with a gushing write-up of the game's numerous virtues and a 10 out of 10 grade.
Between the reviewers' constant lionizing of Telltale Games, complete sentences, proper punctuation, and paucity of spelling errors, we began to suspect that the user reviews were not the product of actual players, but of Telltale representatives. Sure enough, a cursory Google search on the reviewers' user names backed up our suspicions. One of the reviewers was a user interface artist at Telltale; another was a cinematic artist. According to their LinkedIn profiles, both were relatively new to the studio, but they should have more than enough experience in the industry to understand this was a bad idea.
For instance, they might have seen the online outrage earlier this year when a BioWare employee gave Dragon Age II a perfect Metacritic user review score. And even if they hadn't seen that, it probably should have occurred to them at some point that Metacritic users might want to know that the guy describing the Jurassic Park game as "if Steven Spielberg decided to direct Heavy Rain" might be a little too close to the project to offer an objective assessment. The same goes for the guy who called it a "lovingly crafted game" with "top notch" writing that "truly delivers that iconic Jurassic Park vibe."
When asked about a company policy on posting user reviews without disclosure of their work on the game, a Telltale representative passed along the following statement: "Telltale Games do not censor or muzzle its employees in what they post on the internet. However, it is being communicated internally that anyone who posts in an industry forum will acknowledge that they are a Telltale employee. In this instance, two people who were proud of the game they worked on, posted positively on Metacritic under recognizable online forum and XBLA account names."
Reasonable as it is for these developers to be able to voice their own opinions, the suggestion that posting the reviews under Telltale online forum names and Xbox Live handles is somehow transparent enough is insulting. Is the average Metacritic visitor mildly curious about this new game supposed to instinctively know the forum names and online handles of every game developer for every title? Is it somehow their fault if they take a review at face value instead of Google researching every username on the site? The suggestion that their actions are acceptable because they didn't bother covering their tracks speaks more to ineptitude than virtue.
But if the goal was to drag those individuals over the coals, you'd see their names and LinkedIn profiles here. Instead, the goal is just to say in clear terms that this kind of behavior is unacceptable. Developers should have enough faith in their work to let it stand on its own merits. Proud of their work or not, the act of posting these reviews without proper disclaimer that the authors themselves worked on the title is inherently deceptive and shows a gross lack of respect for their game's potential players.
As of Thursday morning, the Xbox 360 version of Jurassic Park: The Game has just one professional review, a 55 out of 100 from Game Informer. It has a user review average of 8.2 based on six reviews, four of them perfect 10s.