Finals are over! Hurray! Well, mostly over. I’ve still got one niggling little English final to write, but it’s not nearly as complex as the ones I just wrote. Where was I? Right, I was going to write briefly about critics.

If you spend as much time on metacritic as I do, then you’ve probably noticed a few discrepancies. Let’s ignore the bribery scandals and the base-line 8 problem for a minute. They’ve gotten enough press. My real problem here is with reviewers that don’t often get to take into account what a game is, means, or will be when it’s released. The context of the game is almost as important as the game itself. I mean, there’s the obvious “Atari games wouldn’t do nearly as well in contemporary times” thing, but more pressing is the way some games are approached.

Occasionally, a game will come out that’s supposed to be parody of a genre, or make a statement about it. Often, these games are lower quality, or have obvious flaws. Some of these are intentional. Look at SpecOps – The Line. That game got panned, when it came out originally, for its bland, last-generation style. However, upon approaching the game from a player-perspective, engaging it on its own terms, it’s revealed to be an amazing trip. I’m not going to spoil it. You can watch a video review on it, because they’re better done than anything I could throw together and they’re not the focus of this blag. My favorite ones have been done by ExtraCredits and Zero Punctuation, so go check them out.

That’s just one example, but the one that made me want to write this was the Metacritic review for Grotesque Tactics: Dungeons and Donuts. I’m not sure exactly why it got such a low score. There seem to be a few opinions written in the user review section on it, but the main take-away here was that there was a massive discrepancy between the Critic Reviews and the User Reviews. This might have been a user reaction. Hell, it could have even been the game developers making fake accounts (highly unlikely). That, or it might reflect something I’ve observed a few times.

Critics and Players approach games in very different ways. Critics are often looking for flaws in the stories, glitches in mechanics, poorly put together game-play issues, aesthetic issues, and how the game compares to others in the same genre they’ve pigeon-holed it in. When the game does well, it does well in these areas. When it does poorly, it’s often because something in those particular areas was terrible, or didn’t fit in. The relationship between these elements is important, too. You might think that this covers most of the bases, and you’d be right. it doesn’t cover all of them, though. There is a lot to a game that comes from the player. Critics are paid to do this, and thus, there are two important differences in approach that manifest in these particular methods of appraisal. The first is that they are going to be trying to give a review that will inform their audience about the overall quality of the game. How solid it is. SpecOps took chances on the intelligence and the experience of the player. It made its points through interaction and depended heavily on the player to engage with it. It did not, however, focus on making a cutting-edge, next-generation shooter. It did this on purpose to deliver a story and a message. When you’re reviewing this game for mass-appeal, then you can’t often depend on having a particular player. You’ll be looking at the game itself, rather than how it might or will interact with the player. Silent Hill 2 is a good example of this. Coming out now, it would do terribly. However, it’s an amazing game that I still play today. Thankfully, it’s been long enough that people recognize it as being awesome, much the same way people have come around to SpecOps, but that doesn’t mean it would have the same reception if released today. The other difference, and part of the reason that critics approach games differently, is that playing games for a professional critic is a job. This means that they have to put in the time. They might not have the luxury of settling in after a long day of work and immersing themselves in the world, or taking breaks. This means that the flaws grate harder and the game is inescapable. instead of being a fantasy world, it’s a poorly put together version of worlds that they spend their days in. Also, they’ve got media attention on them, so personal opinions have to fall by the wayside, occasionally. Sometimes, you’ve got more riding on being politically correct than a few Kharmic Down-votes.

This means that they’ve seen a lot of games. This means that when a game scores highly over many reviewers, it’s probably a solid, well-put-together title. That doesn’t mean that games that score lowly will not be good games. In fact, some of them are down-right amazing when approached in a certain way. You have to remember, you are the player and how you approach the game is essential. You add to it. That doesn’t mean that reviews are worthless, though. I always check them first. They’re incredibly useful, insightful, and interesting. Sometimes, they’ve drastically improved my enjoyment of something because they saw something I didn’t. And, this post is just a general observation that only applies occasionally. Lots of the time, a review is a dependable gauge on the quality of a game. Just remember, a quality game is not necessarily a good game, and vice versa.

Finally, I’d like to draw your attention to something we fucked up on. As players, we vote on which games get made, and which chances are taken, by the games we buy. I have to hang my head in shame, because I didn’t buy Psychonauts when it came out. The critics told us it was awesome, and we were too busy playing Halo to notice. So, keep your ear to the ground, and take some chances on interesting ideas, but don’t ignore the critics. They’re working hard to help us find some really quality stuff, but you can’t assume they’re infallible, or approaching a game the same way you do. Hell, Bejewelled 2011 scored a 90 overall, and I hate that game. It’s boring. Well put together, but I don’t enjoy it for more than a few minutes. Now Tetris…

Basically, scores aren’t everything, but they’re damn-well something.


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