Richard Cobbett on Old RPG Reviews

Richard Cobbett seems to be done with RPG Scrollbars for the foreseeable future. No more weekly arachnophobic and crafting-hating RPG editorials for us, I guess. So, what's the topic of the final edition of the long-running Rock, Paper, Shotgun column? Why, it's making fun of quotes from old RPG reviews that range from odd to ridiculous, now that we have a couple of decades of accumulated RPG knowledge on them. It's quite entertaining, really; a high note to go out on. Have a look:

It is said that the greatest test is that of time. Actually, I’m not sure if anyone’s said that, except me just then. But that’s fine. I’m sure everyone will remember. Anyway, in the final edition of The RPG Scrollbars, let’s take a look back to see what the people of the past said about what was the present but is now, by the laws of causality, in fact that past. With some help from the magazine archives at, natch.

Let’s start by seeing what was going on back at the launch of cheery RPS fanzine PC Gamer, and long-time distinguished competitors PC Zone. PC Zone started at by far the better time, in April 1993, just in time for Ultima Underworld 2. PC Gamer meanwhile had to make do with the largely forgotten Shadowcaster, one of a long series of Raven’s patented ‘take an engine and make a fantasy game out of it’ games. In this case the engine was Wolfenstein 3D, and it was really more of an action game than an RPG. It did however have a truly fantastic gimmick – unlocking the ability to take the form of assorted monsters. Weirdly, shape-shifting remains a fairly underutilised mechanic.
“The first thing you think when you see Shadowcaster is ‘Uh-oh, looks like Origin had better watch out. You see, this is a game that gives its own Ultima Underworld games a serious run for their money. In fact, this is a game that knocks back 12 pints of lager and a curry, then pounds its own chest and sings “Come and have a go if you think you’re hard enough,” at the entire RPG fraternity.”
I’m reminded of the time PC Format reviewed Descent using the three words ‘Better. Than. Doom.’ But the point of this isn’t to go back and mock old reviews for being wrong or overly-enthusiastic. Maybe that PC Format one. But in general, the curse of reviewing is that you have to hit a game hard and fast and write while the iron is hot, making it easy to both be more critical than some games deserve, or get over-excited. And Shadowcaster was exciting, especially compared to the likes of fellow reviewer Dark Sun: Shattered Alliance, which prompts a bit of a snooze just for the streamline ‘SSI and TSR team up once more to bring us another of their computerised AD&D games’.


Ah, the joys of old magazines. As ever, the difficult part about hitting the archives is somehow avoiding just sitting back and going through them all in depth. But we don’t have the time for that. You may have the time for that! But for now, let’s just keep things cut short to see what was said in a random sampling of of these classic titles.
“The thing about the FF games is that everyone goes on about the storylines. Bollocks to that. Either they really miss something when they translate them from the Japanese text or else they’re just completely shit.”
– PC Zone, Final Fantasy VIII
Hard to remember, but Final Fantasy had about the worst possible launch on the PC, courtesy of one of the worst ports in memory. The sequel was at least slightly better in that it only crashed every few minutes and the programmers had apparently been allowed to at least look at a copy of Windows before trying to implement it. Also, Triple Triad.
“Whereas the size of Ultima 7 was almost out of control, Pagan is refreshingly compact. It’s still an enormous game, but it has a solidity that makes the pre-Big Bang universe look about as dense as a Stay Puft marshmallow.”
– PC Format, Ultima VII
And with about as many colours once you’re out of the main town!
“I went to see them and said ‘Is this London?’ and they were like, “Yeah, what’s wrong with it?” Victorian lights and cobbled streets for Tottenham Court Road! And they asked if I could send them a photo.”
– PC Zone, Vampire: The Masquerade: Redemption
Don’t see the problem, guv’nor!
“Its level of complexity and intelligent plot knocks Baldur’s Gate into oblivion and gives RPG fans a real taste of what PC games could really deliver in the next year or two.”
– PC Zone, Planescape Torment
Oh, god, if only. Planescape’s old enough to vote and we’re still waiting.
Deus Ex isn’t all bad though; I’d say it’s only 90% bad. There are times when it’s fun. You’ll be stalking snipers on the rooftops in New York, pushing deeper and deeper into an underwater base, or sneaking past robot sentries around a missile silo. But just as you’re starting to get into the spirit of things, something lame happens (snip) and Deus Ex reminds you that you’re playing a cliché-riddled game with horrid AI that uses the one of the worst possible engines to tell an uninteresting story in unimaginative settings. Other than that, I suppose Deus Ex is okay.
– GamesDomain, Deus Ex
Sounds terrible. Bet that one’s going to be forgotten quickly.
“Upon opening it you are confronted by an awesome sight that will chill the bones of even the most hardened role-player. FOUR DISKS.”
– C&VG, Pool of Radiance
Pffft. I played Wing Commander 2.