GG: Control, technical problems, and NAG’s game review process

Remedy’s new game is apparently kind of a mess on standard edition consoles, prompting a lot of controversy (and inevitable conspiracies) about its impressive review scores – if it’s choking on frames, people want to know, why is nobody talking about it? So, let’s talk about it.

According to Eurogamer’s Digital Foundry hardware division, Control has a lot of technical problems, mostly involving frame rates, on the original Xbox One and PS4. The report concludes that the Xbox One X version is “by far” the most consistent, with the PS4 Pro version coming in a “decent enough” second… and PS4 at the bottom.

“It ran so poorly that we ran through a range of checks, from rebooting the console completely to running Control on other PS4 units (the fan kicking in hard on a launch model). Nothing helped – this is how the game actually plays and it’s not pretty. Xbox One S is better, there’s no doubt about it, but it’s still a highly unsatisfactory experience overall – a notch above PS4 in troublesome combat but still a game it’s hard to recommend. “

Uh-oh. The thing is, I totally recommended it. So… this is awkward. What about ethics, etc.

But the other thing is, I didn’t even know.

For context, though, I’ll first explain how pre-launch reviews work because I think there’s some misconception about it. Editors must submit a code request via the game publisher – or, in South Africa, through a local distributor like Megarom or Apex Interactive. This includes a preferred platform selection, and most of the time, only one code per publication is available. The code request is usually subject to the signing of a non-disclosure agreement (NDA), which stipulates an embargo date, and typically also includes other restrictions pertaining to screenshots, streaming, social media content, and whatever. Basically, a review writer discussing their impressions of the game in public before the embargo is up is a no-no, and violation can result in a publication ban from future pre-launch code requests.

So, if one version of a game has serious technical problems, but a different version of the game doesn’t, that’s almost impossible to know before the reviews are out.

“But Tarryn,” you’re going to tell me, “that’s OBVIOUSLY because BIG GAME is colluding with BIG MEDIA to conceal TRUTH AND FACTS.”

Maybe? But probably not. Or, it’s much more complicated than that – even developers employed at game studios must sign NDAs, five years before a project is launched (or cancelled, or not launched or cancelled but selling DLC anyway and yes, I mean Star Star Citizen). And we can debate whether or not NDAs are inherently bad some other time, perhaps, but CORPORATE CONSPIRACY isn’t one of those reasons (besides Star Citizen).

Back to Control. I have a PS4 console, but I submitted a code request for an Xbox One version of the game because that’s my preferred platform, #teambone. So I got a code for Xbox One, and played it on Xbox One X, and as such, I didn’t experience significant issues – adding at the end of my review, because it didn’t even seem super consequential, that:

“Although it maintains a mostly consistent 30 FPS at 4K on my Xbox One X, there’s some occasional frame drop, and the load times for saves and location transitions can go up to about 30 seconds.”

As it turns out, however, that’s a very significant issue on base console models, with frames frequently dropping to about 10 in combat, and other issues like texture pop and video playback freeze. And those are real technical problems. But they weren’t my technical problems.

That’s the other-other thing. Reviews are opinions, and I have no opinion about a version of a game I haven’t played, because I haven’t played it (except Star Citizen). My Control review is my opinion of the version of the game that I played – that’s why “REVIEWED ON: XBOX ONE X” is included in the info box.

It sucks that the game has technical problems on other consoles, and some frustration is entirely reasonable if you’ve purchased Control on PS4 and now you’re stuck. But blaming reviews for deliberately omitting this is much less reasonable.

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