['Game Mag Weaseling' is a weekly column by Kevin Gifford which documents the history of video game magazines, from their birth in the early '80s to the current day.]

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What's the most scathing video-game review you ever read? I don't mean Angry Video Game Nerd-type stuff; that's meant to be comedy. I'm talking about the sort of review that rips the game completely apart from end to stinking end, one where you can feel the seething resentment from every letter of every word on the page. Roger Ebert's good at writing movie reviews like that, but surely we've got someone like that for us in our industry, don't we?

I'd argue that the closest we ever got was Scorpia. I'm not going to call her the best game critic ever, but when she didn't like a game, she really didn't like it.


I bring this up because I was thumbing through some old Computer Gaming World magazines and came across her review of Ultima VIII, released by Origin in early 1994. She wrote about...ahh, how about I just let you read it for yourself? It starts on full blast and didn't stop until three pages later. (Despite her opinions, she still wrote three more pages of strategy coverage for Ultima VIII in the same issue. It must've been a hard month for her.)

CGW, as I've written about before, was an extremely well-written magazine...or, at least, a very densely-written one. Reviews of big games would often go into the thousands of words, analyzing every little detail of the RPGs, adventures and simulations of the day. In the very early issues -- back when Scorpia was still writing under her real name -- you would have these incredibly complex rundowns of strategy and computer intelligence in games that were literally written in Applesoft BASIC. No American magazine gives a more intimate view of what the industry was like in the '80s, and no writer does a better job than Scorpia in representing how the hardcores saw computer RPGs back then.

That's probably why her review of Ultima VIII wound up the way it did. In a way, U8 is symbolic of what happened to the computer game biz in the early '90s. After technology began to get cheaper Wolf3D and Doom made the industry semi-mainstream, games beefed up their visual displays to dizzying heights in the course of only a few years, going from staid EGA Sierra adventures to the dazzling 3D showcase of The 7th Guest. Ultima was an RPG series that built its name over many, many years with a small but dedicated fanbase; when Origin took on a movie-like approach to game design with titles like Wing Commander and Strike Commander, Ultima tried and failed to play along.

U8 is really not that terrible a game, in my opinion. Buggy and unfinished upon release, yes, but lots of PC games are. I'm not alone with that take, either -- among others, PC Format gave U8 a pretty stellar review. It just shouldn't have been called Ultima. To Ultima fans, the idea of an RPG where the Avatar had to jump from tiny platform to tiny platform was sacrilege -- and I think you can see that shine through in Scorpia's review all too well.

Do you have a past review you remember for its nastiness? Why not share it with me in the comments? I'd like to read some more like this one.

[Kevin Gifford breeds ferrets and runs Magweasel, a really cool weblog about games and Japan and "the industry" and things. In his spare time he does writing and translation for lots and lots of publishers and game companies.]