GamesRadar U.K. has given itself a 24-hour makeover as TombRadar to mark the European launch of Tomb Raider: Underworld and celebrate the near-universal acclaim the game has received from critics.
"Tomb Raider: Underworld is a great game, well worth the 9/10 scores it is picking up across gaming websites and magazines," said James Binns, publishing director at GamesRadar owner Future. "Getting the message out there on launch day is essential in the games market and this takeover gives Eidos unprecedented cut through."
Which is all very well and good except for one minor issue: As VG247 notes, Tomb Raider: Underworld has only received two 9/10 scores, one from ConsoleMonster and the other from Future-owned PC Gamer. Numerous other high-profile sites are scoring the game considerably lower, while its aggregate score on Metacritic is a generally positive, but far from outstanding, 78.
Making things even uglier, Guy Cocker of Gamespot U.K. revealed that Eidos told him to hold back his review of the game if he planned on scoring it less than 8. In a Twitter post on Wednesday, Cocker wrote, "call from Eidos - if you're planning on reviewing Tomb Raider Underworld at less than an 8.0, we need you to hold your review till Monday." A representative from Barrington Harvey, a public relations firm contracted by Eidos U.K. to handle the rollout, was surprisingly frank about the issue, admitting that the company was trying to control the release of reviews in order to generate a positive launch atmosphere for the game.
"That's right. We're trying to manage the review scores at the request of Eidos," he told VG247. "We're trying to get the Metacritic rating to be high, and the brand manager in the US that's handling all of Tomb Raider has asked that we just manage the scores before the game is out, really, just to ensure that we don't put people off buying the game, basically." He added that Eurogamer's decision to go live with its review two days before release despite scoring the game only 7/10 had caused "problems." Official Xbox Magazine's U.K. site also chose to run a review with a sub-8 score on the same day.
So, business as usual or yet another example of a publisher that sees game reviews as nothing more than marketing tools to be massaged and manipulated? Gamers will no doubt recall the Kane & Lynch incident, in which Gamespot editor Jeff Gerstmann was allegedly canned for giving the game a low score after the publisher had bought a significant amount of advertising on the site. Nobody's been fired over Tomb Raider yet, and the whole thing may very well be less sinister than it appears. One interesting commonality, though: The publisher of Kane & Lynch? None other than Eidos.
UPDATE: VG247 has received a statement from Simon Byron, a director at Barrington Harvey, denying that Eidos or the ad agency has anything to do with any of this. According to Byron, the extent of their restrictions on Tomb Raider: Underworld reviews was an embargo that ended on November 19.
"Barrington Harvey is not in the position of telling reviewers what they can and cannot say. We love Tomb Raider and believe it merits a score of at least 8/10, but if someone disagrees that's entirely their prerogative. No problem at all. Seriously: no problem," he said.
"As an ex-journalist myself, I firmly believe in editorial integrity and the right to express an individual opinion. As an agency, we never - ever - make demands of the press in terms of awarding scores; at the end of the day, they are free to score as they wish," he continued. "Barrington Harvey has been working hard to ensure the launch scores of Tomb Raider Underworld are in line with our internal review predictions over the launch weekend - but to suggest that we can in some way 'silence' reviews of the game is slightly overstating our influence."
The full statement can be read here.
Pro Tip: Gamers outside the U.K. who want to see the TombRadar makeover in action can do so by going to GamesRadar.com and clicking on the U.K. flag at the bottom of the page.