G String Reminds Me Why I Never Want To Review Games Professionally

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ZombiePie

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Edited By ZombiePie  Staff  Online

What Is G String?

This is definitely something
This is definitely something "different."

Right off the bat, I'm going to give everyone about three minutes to get out their giggles over the fact I'm talking about a game titled "G String." It doesn't help that the developer, who is one person, refers to their updates as varying bra sizes with the latest titled "B-Cup Update," but hey, who am I to judge? Okay, are you done laughing? G String is a game I have followed for a while now. The project started as a mod for Half-Life 2 and eventually expanded into a full-fledged video game. A single person is spearheading the endeavor, and they have been tinkering around with it for over a decade. For example, the first version of the game was released in 2011. Since then, the developer, who goes by the handle @eyauraon Twitter, has hosted livestreams and fireside chats that explain their timetables for various updates.

The game itself is a novel mix between Deus Ex and Half-Life. Most of the game takes place in a futuristic cyberpunk city, and it controls much like Half-Life 2. The game's overall look and its graphical fidelity are probably the starkest reminders that G String is indeed a one-person passion project. Its world is rather impressive, but the facial textures and character models you'll see run a vast delta. Finally, the amount of "jank" you can expect to encounter is a given. Eyaura is still working on the scripting for mainline story missions, and the game has yet to go a week without someone chiming in on its Steam or ModDB pages about something fundamentally breaking. All of that aside, it's an astounding accomplishment by its developer, and if you approach it with the correct mindset is worth a check. However, that leads to a significant issue plaguing the game.

What's The Issue?

Whenever G String is put up for sale, a similar problem always crops up. While those that have followed the game for a while understand it is a passion project, those seeking a complete game do not. This exact problem came to a head when the game was prominently featured during Steam's 2021 Summer Sale. During the much-ballyhooed event, G String was placed on the same science-fiction page as major games like Cyberpunk 2077, Dead Space, and Mass Effect. People saw its budget-tier price and impressive screencaps and jumped at it thinking they were getting a polished indie game version of Cyberpunk 2077. When buyers discovered the game was just as, if not more, rough around the edges, there was an immediate backlash. All of this is to say, the review scores for G String tanked, and its developer scrambled to do damage control. They eventually released a statement that they appreciated the influx of feedback yet underscored they were a single person. The entire ordeal sounded like a goddamn nightmare, and I am amazed Eyaura managed to stay afloat.

This being one of the first screencaps of the game on Steam certainly did not help things.
This being one of the first screencaps of the game on Steam certainly did not help things.

I understand this is by no means an unfamiliar scenario. Developers have been releasing games via Early Access and public betas for years, with consumers generally unable to set realistic expectations for such preliminary launches. I also am aware that many people believe that both Steam and the developer have part of the blame to share with this burden. Steam's blasé attitude about what they allow on their marketplace has led to many consumers feeling as if they have been "burned" by false advertising. Also, they put a lot of the responsibility of communicating what to expect out of Early Access games on individual developers. Rather than enforce a codified ruleset for the many states games can be in on their storefront, they have maintained an "anything goes" standard. Eyaura, on the other hand, was naïve to jump on board the Steam Summer Sale train with a partially complete project and think there would not be some blowback. If you check G String's Steam page, you see a smattering of high-res pictures and pie in the sky promises. Much of which does not indicate the moment-to-moment technical difficulties you will likely encounter trying to get through the game. Nonetheless, I have a real hard time blaming them for being excited for a game they have toiled away at for over ten years, which leads me to the final point I want to make.

Why Do I Think This Game Is Impossible To Review?

First, video game news and editorial sites have not found a "solution" on how to review games in perpetual development. Polygon and GameSpot temporarily used fluctuating review scores that were updated to coincide with patches and DLC. However, that system proved messy, and at some point, most major sites need to move on to provide SEO-ed content for their front page. Games like G String, which do not have any signs of ending active development any time soon, are virtually impossible to review outside of preview coverage and the occasional op-ed piece. I'm not saying that the people who work at these sorts of publications are bad at their jobs or that these sites are in the wrong. Instead, they are not in the best position to review games like G String which increasingly are a majority of the titles you are likely to encounter on digital marketplaces.

No Caption Provided

From a more fundamental perspective, G String is a game that reminds me of why I would struggle to cover games in a formal capacity. As a primarily narrative writer that enjoys telling tall tales and weaving a mix of truth and myth into my writing, G String makes me realize I cannot toe the line expected with general game reviews. If you were to give me a game from a single person who had worked on it for more than a decade, your damn straight I am assessing them differently than a major publication or developer with a team in the hundreds. I am also totally disinterested in not surfacing the travails that developer has had over their many years of making their dream a reality, including their possible struggles with their own community. If someone has had a tough time getting one foot through the door of the games industry, I am doubtful to shut that door or not at least attempt to commend them for their effort. None of this suggests I would not critically analyze cheap knock-offs or games that demean minorities or other vulnerable communities. But the developer of G String tried their best and is working on their game in-between their normal goings-on, and I have a real tough time telling them what they should have accomplished or done with their project given those circumstances.

Final Thoughts

I have gone most of this blog talking about the recent controversies surrounding G String without actually talking about the game itself. For the most part, I think the game lays out an ambitious floor plan to an experience that may be worth having in the future. As someone who recalls the project when it was just a Half-Life 2 mod, where the project stands now is good enough for me. As a wizened sage would put it, I am in too deep to stop now. I have reached a point where I am actively rooting for the developer to turn things around and make the game of their dreams. I fully understand improvements will be incremental rather than sudden and groundbreaking. I also want to clarify this is not a Star Citizen situation as the developer isn't operating something I suspect is a pyramid scheme. The roadmaps lead to tangible and attainable goals for an indie developer, and the developer's attempts at communication feel genuine and realistic. Also, did I mention the game is being sold for $18? With your purchase, you get the game in its current form, an invitation to become a stakeholder in the development process, and access to all future updates. As things stand, I don't feel ripped off even in the slightest.

I warned you about those character models.
I warned you about those character models.

Nonetheless, if you ask me to recommend you check out G String, I would have to think about it. Even in its current improved state, the game is plagued with issues and works only in spurts. It is not for the faint of heart, especially those seeking smooth and polished gaming experiences. And as I have hinted at earlier, you have to come to terms that the game may never fully realize its potential. The odds of Eyaura leaving the project entirely and in a partially complete state are significantly higher than the game ever being completed, whatever that word might mean in this case. But it's those sorts of "swings" that I feel like the industry could benefit from having more of from time to time. Even in its endless jank, G String is something that you are never bound to experience elsewhere, and that's something worth admiring. Anyways, if you end up giving the game a shot, remember to have your bug-reporting Google Doc on the ready.

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I had to pick it up after the GmanLives review, i really like how Half Life 2 plays so that's a great place to start for me. I know it's definitely going to overstay its welcome being 12 hours long, but i'm more than willing to check out passion projects, especially ones as ambitious as this.
The sale situation you bring up is really interesting, but luckily judging by reviews it seems most people "get it", whether that's because of good reviews letting them know what the deal is or by some other means, but i'm glad somehow the message is getting across to the majority of people.
I'm not sure when i'll get around to playing it myself, but i am looking forward to checking it out.

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I don't think that reviewing games professionally prevents you from providing the kind of context you do above. Depending on the outlet it might be condensed and you might review the game unscored, but I think a lot of outlets are now allowing reviewers to explain their personal perspective more and provide contextual information. This ain't 2001 when there was a strict review template and you had to have your score determined by a bunch of weird required categories like "sound" and "value."

Plus how many games are actually like this where there is so much context to bring in? And how many are actually covered by major outlets?

I agree that G-String is harder to review than, say, Dicey Dungeons (a small team game that is pretty polished and clear) but situations like this are few and far between and most outlets handle them decently these days IMO.

Even something like Hades they had preview coverage during early access and then a score when it was released. That works.

For live service games reviews are tougher, but I think that scoring the game on release and then providing updates if the game changes significantly works well. I don't play Warframe but from reading coverage I think I understand how it has changed since release even if the review scores don't.

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Honestly I didn't know it was still "early access", I bought it during that aforementioned steam sale but ended up putting off playing it when I saw the next big update was coming in December, the store page doesn't have the early access label and it kinda seemed like it was "done" with just some bug fixing/tweaking left over.

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I solved this issue with eFootball by simply not reviewing it at launch. I had considered putting a feature up but didn't see much point when the first release was a glorified demo. When 1.0 releases in the Spring, I might finally get some words up.

Honestly, it's a problem I always have in the back of my mind. Even with games that launch more conventionally. I lost count of the times 2K wanted me to revisit my NBA 2K21 review because they kept patching it.

No publisher's going to tell you to hold back on reviewing something, even if they know patches are forthcoming that can influence score. And Metacritic won't allow amendments to the crucial score and blurb. Once it's up, it's there forever. First impressions really count.

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#5 ZombiePie  Staff  Online

@shindig said:

I solved this issue with eFootball by simply not reviewing it at launch. I had considered putting a feature up but didn't see much point when the first release was a glorified demo. When 1.0 releases in the Spring, I might finally get some words up.

Honestly, it's a problem I always have in the back of my mind. Even with games that launch more conventionally. I lost count of the times 2K wanted me to revisit my NBA 2K21 review because they kept patching it.

No publisher's going to tell you to hold back on reviewing something, even if they know patches are forthcoming that can influence score. And Metacritic won't allow amendments to the crucial score and blurb. Once it's up, it's there forever. First impressions really count.

And that's my main takeaway. I think even Jeff has said as much that the need to have a review published the day a game launches seriously curtails any attempts to keep games criticism relevant or topical by nature.

@panfoot said:

Honestly I didn't know it was still "early access", I bought it during that aforementioned steam sale but ended up putting off playing it when I saw the next big update was coming in December, the store page doesn't have the early access label and it kinda seemed like it was "done" with just some bug fixing/tweaking left over.

The game is technically not in Early Access but given the circumstances and the fact it is a passion project of a single person, it almost needs to be treated as such. The scope of the game is still too much for what it is in its current form.

I don't think that reviewing games professionally prevents you from providing the kind of context you do above. Depending on the outlet it might be condensed and you might review the game unscored, but I think a lot of outlets are now allowing reviewers to explain their personal perspective more and provide contextual information. This ain't 2001 when there was a strict review template and you had to have your score determined by a bunch of weird required categories like "sound" and "value."

Plus how many games are actually like this where there is so much context to bring in? And how many are actually covered by major outlets?

I agree that G-String is harder to review than, say, Dicey Dungeons (a small team game that is pretty polished and clear) but situations like this are few and far between and most outlets handle them decently these days IMO.

Even something like Hades they had preview coverage during early access and then a score when it was released. That works.

For live service games reviews are tougher, but I think that scoring the game on release and then providing updates if the game changes significantly works well. I don't play Warframe but from reading coverage I think I understand how it has changed since release even if the review scores don't.

I cannot be convinced that reviews of Warframe written in 2018 are of any use to any person. And with most sites bringing back dedicated MMORPG coverage, I think most mainstream sites are coming to terms that their traditional coverage of those games is inadequate.

@cikame said:

I had to pick it up after the GmanLives review, i really like how Half Life 2 plays so that's a great place to start for me. I know it's definitely going to overstay its welcome being 12 hours long, but i'm more than willing to check out passion projects, especially ones as ambitious as this.

The sale situation you bring up is really interesting, but luckily judging by reviews it seems most people "get it", whether that's because of good reviews letting them know what the deal is or by some other means, but i'm glad somehow the message is getting across to the majority of people.

I'm not sure when i'll get around to playing it myself, but i am looking forward to checking it out.

If you enjoy how Half Life 2 plays, you will likely have an easier time coming to terms with how the game controls and plays. I also noticed the turn-around of user reviews, but there was a period where things looked exhausting both mentally and physically for the dev. Their latest update, which was in response to the negative reception during the Summer Sale, just sounds like a weird mix between a ransom note and something written after multiple long nights.

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@zombiepie: A 2018 review of Warframe will at least tell you some basics about the game but yes it's not going to provide any real description about what it's like to play in 2021. But I think that doing updates via news stories that describe changes and make review like comments about them work. So does reviewing each major expansion and sort of providing a review of the state of the game in that. So basically re reviewing the game periodically to give an diea of where it has gone.

There are multiple functional strategies for continuing to provide coverage. They just don't really slot into the Metacritic template, but that template is outdated.