Escapist Editorials

Escapist Editorials
A Bug By Any Other Name

Susan Arendt | 7 Dec 2011 17:00
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When you buy a game, you enter into an unspoken agreement with the people who made it and published it. In return for your cash, you hope they'll give you a life-changing experience that you'll write songs about, but all they're really obligated to give you is something that works and that matches whatever description is on the back of the box. If they sell you a shooter and it turns out to be a card battling game, you're pretty right to be peeved. You're equally justified in being tweaked if your sixty bucks bought you a bunch of bugs. But not all bugs are created equal - and neither are all buggy games. I'll toss some games aside with a sneer, pointing to their technical glitches as the cause of my disdain, but other broken games I'll cuddle like teddy bear. Why? Am I just being blatantly unfair, or is it reasonable to forgive a bit of broken code here and there? (I'm speaking of my reactions as a regular player, by the way, not as a reviewer. Two very different mindsets.)

Skyrim is a buggy game, but it's also enormous. It seems unrealistic to expect something with as many moving parts as the fifth Elder Scrolls, with thousands of NPCs, monsters, locations, and bits of environmental detritus to be absolutely perfect out of the gate. The variables involved with even the simplest bandit cave are staggering, so it makes sense that every now and again, something goes a bit crossways and you wind up with chairs hovering in midair or disappearing cheese wheels. So far, I've come out of my Skyrim play sessions relatively unscatched. I've run into a few bugs, but none of them have been particularly devastating. Sure, I was pretty bummed when Lydia poofed into nonexistence, but I've been spared the kinds of crashes, freezes, and glitches that have broken other players' games. It's easy for me to love Skyrim at this point, because it hasn't given me reason not to, but if I'm really being honest about it, I'd probably give it a big fat pass even if it did lock up on me. Oblivion did that to me constantly, and I still consider it one of my favorite games of all time, so I have to assume that I'd do the same for Skyrim.

I give similar amnesty to Dead Island, which slapped me with bugs on pretty much a daily basis. Some were small, like zombies passing through walls Shadowcat-style, and some were huge, like the guide path taking me literally in circles or the game freezing. Like Skyrim, Dead Island is ambitious enough to make a certain amount of technical instability reasonable, but it crosses that line pretty frequently. And yet Dead Island is one of my favorite games of this year.

Contrast those two games with how I feel about Alpha Protocol. I enjoyed many of its elements, but ultimately its bugginess left me with a negative attitude toward it. Yeah, I liked its approach to conversation and the plot was pretty intriguing, but its glitches put me off it for good. I won't fault you for playing it, but I won't encourage you to take it up, either. Meanwhile, I'll shove Skyrim and Dead Island - games rife with technical issues - into your hands any chance I get.

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