Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Happy Reviews and Unhappy People - a Rant  


Fair warning: I'm in the mood to rant tonight, and I’ve got something to get off my chest.

By the way, this rant isn’t about any one person, game or review in particular. If you think it’s about you, IT’S NOT.

(...and if you still think it’s about you, it’s still not.)

Also, if you're easily angered or not in the mood for a strong, non-Politically Correct opinion, do yourself a favor and click elsewhere... it'll be better for the both of us.


Now that we're at the tail end of 2011, I've got to say that not only has it been a somewhat uninspiring year, it's also ending on a strange note. Recently, I've seen a number of reviews, commentaries, and editorials that seem to suggest that a writer’s “feeling" on a game is an acceptable way to review something.

From my perspective, it's not.

If you ask me what a review should be, it should absolutely include feelings, thoughts, and emotions that are stirred in the player. However, it needs to also include other factors, such as various aspects of design, how bug-free the technical side is, and how it functions overall. On top of that, a good critic will take into account a game’s content in terms of how it relates to others that have come before it. Does the game in question bring something new to the table? Are there innovations or new ideas?

While I have never believed that a reviewer should (or can) ever be objective, I do think that it's possible to temper a personal level of enjoyment with all of the other factors that go into a critical, comprehensive review. If a piece of writing or a final judgment is passed on the game with the overwhelming reasoning for the score being "feeling", then that's not a review, it's being a fan.

To illustrate the point, my game of the year for 2010 (and I repeat for emphasis, my game of THE YEAR) was Deadly Premonition. I absolutely fell in love with it game despite a wealth of problems. However, main character Francis York Morgan was one of the best-written I've ever seen, the story was mature and absolutely intriguing, and the approach by the game's director was frustrating, challenging to my expectations, and genius-level brilliant, all at the same time. What score did I give it in my review? 7.5

If I had gone with my feelings leading the way, I could easily imagine giving it an 11/10 or something equally hyperbolic and absurd. I didn't. Instead, I took note of how much it won me over in terms of emotional connection and intellectual engagement, and then contrasted that with the obvious issues in production, control, combat, and so on. I never stopped saying positive things about the game to anyone who asked, and when given the chance, I was happy to give it the highest honors available to me. In terms of the actual review, I had to be as fair as possible and there was just no getting around the fact that it had warts.

Am I a fan of Deadly Premonition? Absolutely, but taking that particular ball and running with it wouldn't have led to anything resembling what I consider to be a good review. When it comes to a number of games that have been released in the fourth quarter, I can't help but feel as though the concept of "being fair" as I just described has been tossed out the window in service to the giddy excitement that accompanies cracking open the plastic on a blockbuster game and diving in two weeks before retail release.

The biggest and most common example is (obviously) Skyrim, and the staggering number of perfect scores it's racked up - currently thirty 100’s on MetaCritic, on the 360 alone.

Is it a terrible game? No, not at all, but I certainly don't think it's deserving of top marks for a number of reasons. However, a number of paeans to its freedom and beauty beg to differ. I don't dispute the fact that people enjoy the game, but it seems to me as though quite a lot has been overlooked in order to praise it to the degree that most people do. The same can be said of Saints Row: The Third, Arkham City, Skyward Sword, Uncharted 3, and others. Although they don't enjoy the same number of perfect scores (though Zelda comes close) I saw many instances of "fun" being the gist, and short shrift given to potential problems.

I mean, don’t get me wrong – most games are meant to be enjoyed. That's not in dispute. I guess I'm just surprised at how far the tide has shifted towards giving an utterly personal and subjective feeling so much weight while strongly downplaying areas that can legitimately be seen as in need of improvement. Besides that, I can't recall another time in recent memory where people have been so defensive and quick to take offense if a comment gets made about it.

Let’s be perfectly frank here -- how many times have you read a review of a certain game that was dripping with praise, only to hear that reviewer change his or her tune a month, two months, or six months afterwards?

It happens all... the... time.

Questioning a flood of glowing reviews for any title is par for the course as far as I'm concerned, but something about this particular year felt... different. It's almost as though people became insecure about their opinions and positions, and the level of touchiness just shot through the roof. The comments I got were nastier, friends were less friendly, and people who usually seem like calm heads got hot.

It’s been some bad juju lately, man.

Anyway, if you ask me, I'm glad that 2011 is nearly over. Between some surprisingly underwhelming games and the level of sensitivity and raw nerves we’re getting here at the end, and I'm more than ready to get started on 2012. Hopefully tossing out the old calendar and putting up a new one will welcome in some fresh energy, and the gaming sphere can hit the reset button and start over.


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5 comments: to “ Happy Reviews and Unhappy People - a Rant


    It's a tough issue isn't it, how to score a game?

    I feel like there are two schools of thought on the matter. If you play a game that you love, but has a lot of technical flaws, you can do one of two things.

    First off, you could mention the flaws then explain why the good overpowered them so drastically. Kristan Reed's review of Fahrenheit (Indigo Prophecy here) comes to mind where he explains that in many ways the game should be a 7, but he found it so captivating and memorable that he bumped the score to a 9 to reflect how much he enjoyed the overall experience. Kieron Gillen did a similar thing in his Earth Defense Force 2017 review where the entire article was structured around reasons people may not like the game. He ended by saying that if none of these things bother you then it's an amazing game, and he gave it a 9. In both cases there was fair warning about the flaws and that these games aren't for everyone.

    Conversely, I recall the Nier review at GamePro starting off by saying that it was a completely average game in most ways, making it all the stranger that they fell completely in love with it. Clearly the author liked the game more than the 3.5/5 score suggested, but they were trying to be more comprehensive about the score.

    I think both ways are totally valid as much of the difference really comes down to the number at the end. Personally, I gravitate towards the former concept of having the score be a reflection of the overall experience - what sticks with you, not an algorithm of pros and cons. As long as the score is explained in divisive titles like these, then it's not a problem.

    I think what's upsetting you is reviewers not even mentioning these flaws before slapping on a high score. To that I say that such flaws must not have stood out to these reviewers. Not everyone experienced major glitches in Skyrim or found the repetitive tasks more than a minor blemish. It's hard to cover everything (word counts see to that), but sometimes these flaws leave a such a small impression that it's not worth noting. I mean, there are people who hate Mass Effect entirely for its UI. I noticed it was a little messy, but had I reviewed it, it would have been too minor to even call out.

    On a final note, doesn't it seem odd to you to give the same score to Deadly Premonition as you did the highly disappointing Mass Effect 2? Not that I don't get it. I might've done the same as they both arrived at that score for different reasons. But in retrospect one leaves a much stronger impression, so shouldn't a score reflect that?


    Once again you hit the nail on the head Brad; too many reviewers are, essentially, "fans" and not actual critics. You're spot-on about Skyrim and such, and you again highlight why you yourself can be considered reliable; scoring a game you personally love an appropriate score based on design and not emotions is the difference between a good reviewer, and a bad one. Most, in this medium, are bad.


    I have to agree with the first commenter (Mr Durand Pierre), Brad. I think what you discuss in this post can be done well, as MDP suggests, and it can be done poorly. Given the state of so-called "gaming journalism" these days, I'm guessing you're coming across a lot of examples of the latter and not many of the former?

    Personally, as long as this kind of thing is done well, and done thoughtfully, I don't mind it at all. Giving a game a good rating because "it was fun" shouldn't be a reviewer's go-to strategy, of course, but once in a great while that is most certainly the case (that the game was simply fun, and that enjoyment negated any and all issues the reviewer had with the game) -- or at least it is in my opinion.

    I haven't reviewed it yet, but "having fun" was the main thing I took away from my recent playthrough of Kirby's Return to Dream Land (Wii), for instance. Yes, the game has flaws -- the main ones: it's very easy and very straightforward -- but moving the character through each stage and making use of all of his abilities was, simply put, fun for me, and in the end I thought it was well worth its asking price for that reason alone.

    I honestly can't imagine feeling that way about many games, though, which is kind of your point, isn't it -- that this isn't the path reviewers should take very often (and when they do, they need to explain themselves fairly well).

    All that said, I'm with you in very much looking forward to 2012. I didn't think 2011 was a terrible year to be a gamer, but 2012 seems much more interesting at the moment. Let's hope that winds up being the case when we comment on it this time next year :)

  • Jmaster


    Yo Brad.

    1. Also, I totally agree with mr. Durand Pierre. Well spoken!

    2. For me personally, MGS3, is my favourite game. Great gameplay, great bossfights, etc. One of those games that totally sucked me in so to speak. Though it also had issues like boring too long cutscenes and a story which is a bit pretentious at times... However, as a gamer, the feeling and excitement you get from a great game is basicly all that matters. Enjoyment. As long as a game DOES something positive with you. Then a game is good.

    As a reviewer however you have a different task. You can't just say: "I loved this game so much". You need to explain yourself. Thoroughly.

    3. And this is why I love your reviews and gamecritics.com reviews in general: they are written by general, intelligent and honest gamers. Not by hyperreviewers who score Uncharted3 a perfect 10. I mean what's the point of a score like that anyway if it ain't well elaborated?

  • Aleksandr