|It's nice to see superheroes get some love, but full marks?|
Videogame reviews are an often contentious subject, their broad significance and final scores usually the biggest topics up for debate. They’re constantly complained about; their integrity is often contested; and it’s not uncommon to find people question the meaning of scores, particularly these days after the creation of aggregate sites like Metacritic. Add in the fanboy ingredient -- where people are so infatuated with their favourite franchises and/or developers that they can’t see things rationally or objectively, nor accept another person’s opinion -- and you have an egregious, somewhat explosive (unnecessarily) subject that does more harm than good, and which causes pointless hostility between people who should be sharing in their passion, videogames, rather than arguing over it.
Personally, it’s a topic that I have mostly avoided because I find the discussion over reviews to be, mostly, redundant, and because I’m open-minded enough to be interested in what other people think about a particular game, and how they felt about their experience with it. I couldn’t care less whether a big blockbuster game scores a perfect ten or only receives a seven; I have no interest in whether a review should be a “buyer’s guide” or if it should approach a game critically; and I certainly don’t care about the perceived narrow spectrum of scoring, where videogames are supposedly only scored between the seven-to-nine range. I’d much prefer to be talking about something else, in other words, so I have kept quiet about reviews because I know which ones are the kind I would like to read, and whose opinions are most likely to represent (or at the very least, correlate with) my own.
But lately, there has been a semi-related issue regarding reviews that I am more interested in, and one that, if I am to be honest, has me feeling somewhat concerned and uncomfortable.
As most gamers would know we are currently in the midst of what I call ‘Onslaught Season’: the period in which most developers and publishers release their biggest titles, and where we as players are insanely excited for these games as well as worried that we’re not going to be able to afford them all. This means that blockbuster franchises like The Elder Scrolls and Uncharted make their return, and publishers like Activision will make a lot of money due to yet another release in their Call Of Duty series. It’s crazy season, basically, and definitely one of the most enjoyable times of the year due to the enthusiasm and anticipation that drives it. A byproduct of this period, however, is the way in which these giant games are reviewed and, more importantly, whether the authors of these evaluations are able to cast aside their personal preferences and elation to make a better informed and more meaningful assessment.
|Yet another GOTY in the making?|
This year alone, we’ve already seen three titles that have received 10/10s at various publications. And while such scores might not be consistent with every website and magazine, the general perception is that these games -- Batman: Arkham City, Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception and, seemingly, The Legend Of Zelda: Skyward Sword -- are the year’s best thus far, and the cream of the crop of modern gaming. Now I have no problem with games receiving full marks and actually believe they should get that level of recognition if they deserve it -- unlike others who believe that the aforementioned spectrum of 7-9 is more applicable -- but I do have some concerns if these scores are seemingly thrown around in a carefree manner.
By giving these titles top marks, whether they deserve it or not (I can’t comment on that since, aside from Uncharted 3, I have not played them), the reviewers of this industry send out a message that suggests that these titles are some of the finest you will ever play. That’s fine if these authors mean it and can justify their opinion, but it isn’t good if the result of that message insinuates something that mightn’t be necessarily true later, once this exciting rush of games has passed. It also suggests that these games are better than some of the big name titles from previous years, the ones that are otherwise agreed upon to be this generation’s defining games.
Are we really sure that -- as a collective industry that includes critics, developers and publishers, and players -- we want to claim that Batman: Arkham City or Skyward Sword is better than, say, Portal* or Assassin's Creed II, both games that are regarded exceptionally highly and yet didn’t necessarily receive those elusive 10/10s on release? What about the reputation that such high scores bestow upon the developers behind these wonderful games -- do we want to imply that Rocksteady or Naughty Dog** are better than a Rockstar or Irrational? If yes to both questions, why? Now I’m not saying that these developers or games don’t deserve such praise and adulation, especially when I haven’t had the pleasure of playing them yet, but what I am saying is that do we really want to convey that message -- that these games are better -- because they’re the ones getting perfect scores when other high profile games may not have received similar recognition? If we do then fair enough, but if we don’t because next year when the insanity has died down and we’ve gotten over the initial awe of playing these brilliant games we’ve realised that maybe they aren’t as good as this generation’s best names, then how are we going to deal with that? How are we going to assess and analyse these games, and their position within the wider medium, when we’ve already sent the message out that they’re so phenomenal that they deserve the best scores. When singing the praises of Portal or BioShock, yet again because they really are that good, will we put them above or below the games that have received full marks this year? And what of next year’s titles which have the potential to go even higher?
I’m not arguing any particular point here nor am I trying to suggest these games -- or any others in the future -- don’t deserve 10/10s. What I am saying, however, is that full marks have been appearing quite frequently lately and I just want to make sure it is for the right reasons, rather than because the people awarding these high scores are influenced by the gorgeous graphics, spectacle and riveting gameplay that these titles have to offer. I’m saying that the industry as a whole needs to be careful, because once it has committed to a perspective there is no changing it and we should be wary of the future whilst we are enjoying the present. You only need to look at games like The Legend Of Zelda: Twilight Princess or BioShock 2 to see an example of the way in which these titles can have a backlash post-release, so just be mindful of what you’re doing when assessing these games and please, ensure that you own your opinion and mean every word you use to convey it -- failure to do so is failure to represent the medium sincerely, and none of us want that.
**It should be noted that The Orange Box, the package that Portal originally came in, did receive full marks at a variety of publications, but it wasn’t until subsequent rereleases (such as on XBLA) that the game itself got judged individually.
**Disclaimer: I personally do believe that Naughty Dog deserve to be seen in the same light as a Rockstar or a Valve, and can only hope that the success of Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception will get them there. Guess time will tell on that one.