This past week, I reviewed FIFA 10 over at 1UP. I greatly enjoyed the game — no matter how erroneously Metacritic might’ve interpreted my score — but my rating was noticeably lower than most other critics. The latest entry in EA’s annual soccer sim simply had too many bugs to earn above a B.
Anyone who’s played EA Sports releases for any length of time knows that, due to yearly “back of the box” features and strict release dates, bugs are part of the game. But as critics, we usually have to gloss over some of these issues. That’s happened in the past — I’ve encountered plenty of bugs in prerelease versions (not just in sports games, by the way), but I usually have no hard evidence these issues occur in the retail version, so I have to assume that they don’t occur — or, at least, I can’t really let it affect my score in any major way.
But with the European release of FIFA hitting two weeks earlier, I had documented proof that the game did ship with a laundry list of bugs — over 60 in Manager Mode alone, in fact! And since I had this proof, I was able to do what I normally wouldn’t be able to — factor that into my score.
EA’s flagship sports title, Madden NFL, hits North America first, though, so there’s no way for critics to really factor in bugs to their scores — not without proof. Madden review scores fluctuate slightly every year, but you won’t really find critics pointing out specific bugs — it’s not until the game actually releases that fans on message boards start to document the yearly issues. But I know that critics wouldn’t accept the same bug rate in an role-playing game or first-person shooter. Why is it OK to accept them in sports releases? And does that acceptance lead to grade inflation, particularly in the case of Madden?