Sunday, 4 December 2011

A brief rant on games journalism

Let me take a moment to babble some more; the topic is game journalism (it would seem). GO!
     A few things have always bothered me about game reviews, most of which boil down to the fact that they’re notoriously objective. I’m fairly mathematical in the way I think- I assign accurate percentages to about 78% of my thoughts (oh god, I didn’t even do that on purpose), so I do fully approve of objective rating systems. A review’s purpose is, after all, to deliver information to the reader in order to allow the reader to decide whether to buy Game A or Game B, and if Game B scored 1/10th or 14% or whatever higher than Game A, that decision is made that bit easier. No, what I mean when I refer to objectivity, is all the outright redundant information reviewers feel they need to deliver. “MGS4 has a much wider range of weapons than it’s predecessors”. “Resi 4 has slightly sharper graphics on the Gamecube than the PS2 version”. And my personal favourite, said about many, many great games: “It loses points due to simply not being long enough”. Journalists: logic suggests that if you are marking a game down due it lacking in longevity, this means that you are disappointed because you wanted more of it, right? And if you wanted more of this game, that means you enjoyed it, right? Or am I missing something? Because lack of longevity is the worst reason I can think of to knock off points, and yet it’s one of the most frequent complaints that seems to completely destroy the reputation of some genuinely brilliant games.
     …Anyway, where was I. Ah yes. I was whining about people whining.
     Writers can complain about or sing praise for all these things a game can be lacking in or overcompensating with, but really: does it matter? How much does it affect the gameplay, and how much is it going to change your experience of the game? Graphics are important- they can turn an amazing game into a truly beautiful game. But can dated graphics actually ruin a decent game? And does it REALLY matter whether it’s in HD? (Actually, I suppose it does in some cases, where you’re expected to have either a HD TV or a microscope just to read the migraine-inducing bloody text…)
     Take Oblivion, of the Elder Scrolls series, for example. I played it a little once and yes, it’s a well-made game. It has a huge world with endless possibilities and some mighty fine graphics and animation (not so much on the people, but I could put up with that. I’ve seen worse). But I just…didn’t enjoy it. I’m not saying it’s a bad game, and it’s not not my thing, I should love it. But I couldn’t get into it. Contrast with the very little-known game Shadow of Memories, a game about a man who keeps getting murdered, and has to travel back in time to save his own life. Now there is some dodgy character modelling and awful animation, complete with truly cringeworthy voice acting. It’s just a horribly made game. But you know what? However poorly executed, it has a great story, and every chapter leads you from “what the hell am I supposed to do here…?” to the next part of the main story, and back to “aaaaah, I seeeee!” with elegance. It’s an amazing game that I finished with every ending, even the extra “New Game +” endings and the “Super-Awful-You-Just-Failed-At-This-Game-You-Complete-Berk” ending.
     What I’m trying to say is, yes, magazines can give us the solid information so we, The General Gaming Public, can decide our own opinion on a game, but that really doesn’t tell us anything about the game itself. What’s it like to step into the overworld for the first time? Will The Big Plot Twist make us go “WHOA.” or “I totally saw that coming” (without spoiling The Big Plot Twist, preferably)?

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