So when the editor of a single-format magazine in the cubicle next to mine asked if I wanted some freelance work, I wasn't going to say no. He had Rainbow Six: Vegas on the Xbox 360 available, but it had to be four pages and the deadline was in less than 48 hours. I estimated that if I could survive on five hours sleep a night and take meals while playing Rainbow Six, I'd have 12 hours across two days to play the game in my free time, take screenshots and write the review. But I had one ace in the hole: Along with the game and the debug console, the editor also handed me a torn scrap of paper with a code to unlock debug menus allowing full customization of weapons, level select options and more.


This isn't an unusual occurrence. Pre-release copies sent in by publishers will occasionally contain debug options to make navigating the game easier. Need invincibility and infinite ammo? No problem! Just make sure the coverage is positive and the screenshots look good, the publishers always asked. Publishers encourage this type of cheating, because they don't want reviews of their multi-million-dollar blockbuster to describe only the laborious areas and feature bland, uninteresting screenshots. For Rainbow Six: Vegas, Ubisoft flew journalists to Vegas for an all-expenses-paid holiday just to guarantee massive, positive previews. With so much already invested, Ubisoft certainly didn't want the follow-up reviews to look poor.

Initially, due to a desire to experience the game authentically, I decided against using the debug code the editor provided. But nearly three hours into the game, I was still stuck in a Mexican slum. For a game supposedly showcasing the glitz and glamour of Vegas, its opening location was distinctly brown and a chore to play. So I did what was natural: I loaded up the debug menu and skipped ahead. All my colleagues cheated, and I was no different.

Another option for reaching later sections is using downloaded save files, as I did with the RPG Blade Dancer. To get our review out before the U.K. release, we used an imported retail copy from America. After several hours, I saw no end to the repetitive battles, so with my deadline looming close I emailed an American friend, who sent me his personal save file. Several hours later, it was clear the game didn't improve, so I scored it appropriately. Anyone who thinks professional games journalists in the U.K. are allowed to play lengthy RPGs through to completion is sorely mistaken.

These are just two examples of how games journalists cut corners to make deadlines. Sometimes, the cheating takes place outside of the games themselves. Take screenshots, for example: To save time, a lot of reviewers use the press shots conveniently collected at Games Press, a site that aggregates PR materials for game journalists. It's possible to minimize even that effort, though. Once, when Games Press didn't have screenshots from toward the end of a game, a reviewer I knew let the attract sequence run and screen-grabbed from that. He only played for two hours, but the screenshots in his review implied he had reached later stages.

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