By all accounts, Square Enix's new sandbox game Deus Ex: Human Revolution is great fun. For one thing, it's completely non-linear - players do what they want when they want to do it. It's also fairly inventive in the sense that most of the time you can do things your way; you can accomplish the same objective by talking, by shooting your way in or by sneaking in the back door. Your character evolves along with your preferences for stealth or combat.
The average review is probably an 8.5 to 9.0 out of 10, which is incredibly good. Only a handful of games in any given year will score higher than that. If you're into expansive sandbox games like Grand Theft Auto, Far Cry and Just Cause then you will probably love it.
But the quality of the game was not the talk of the tech world last week, it was the revelation that GameStop - one of the leading game sale and trade companies with 4,000 stores across North America - was covertly opening packages of the game and removing a coupon that entitled purchasers to a free copy of the game through the OnLive streaming service.
OnLive is a newish service (it came to Canada in fall of 2010) that lets subscribers play high definition console and PC video games over the Internet through their computers or televisions. You don't need a console with OnLive's servers handling all the game mechanics and rendering, and you can access your games from anywhere you have a high-speed Internet connection. The cost of a subscription is $10 a month, which includes access to 115 top tier titles including Deus Ex.
GameStop's objection is that by selling the games with the coupons inside - which were included without their knowledge - they would be supporting a competing service that could one day (when OnLive subscription numbers go up), threaten their brick and mortar business and that competes directly with their own digital service - also selling Deus Ex.
You can't blame OnLive for trying. To get subscribers they need to be able to show people what their service can do and so far the service has been slow to take off. You also can't blame GameStop - expecting them to sell a game with a coupon to OnLive would be like expecting Tim Horton's to offer Starbucks gift cards in their Roll Up the Rim promotion.
The fault clearly belongs with Square Enix, which responded to the controversy by making apologies to pretty much everybody. They recommended that PC purchasers get the game online at GameStop.com. The also supported GameSpot's decision to withdraw the game completely (a move that could cost both companies millions) once people started to complain that their games were being tampered with. Square Enix also promised to provide the store with coupon-free copies in the future.