Title: Review fever.
Posted: March 26, 2007 (07:09 AM)
I am tempted to review Crackdown.
The problem is, I can't get to play it! My girlfriend is completely obsessed with it. Still, at least I get to watch.
Another problem is that I generally don't do reviews. I find the concept to be somewhat stange. Honestly, rating games out of 10 is quite pointless. Take Final Fantasy VII, as an example. At the time of release it was a true step forwards in interactive story-telling. The production values attached to the game were above almost anything else up to that point. If I were to mark it on aesthetics alone, it would have to get a 10.
But, what about its' standing as a game? Well, that is questionable. In essence, all you ever do is point in the direction of your next objective, and press the correct button once you get there. You may (read : WILL) be interrupted along the way, at which point you interact with some menus. It would be very hard to score this kind of non-play anything higher than 5 out of 10.
Or, maybe I could approach it purely from the point of view as an RPG? Well, in this respect, it fails miserably. Character progression simply makes no odds. You can basically turn any of the characters into whatever class you feel like, by applying materia to their weapons. Furthermore, you don't get to make decisions. Aeris always dies, and there is nothing you can do to stop it. In a true RPG, I wouldn't have been required to even recruit her. As a role-playing experience, I would again rate it as no better than 5 out of 10.
So, what we have is an exceptionally polished story, that looks and sounds beautiful, with some very limited gameplay sections buried inside it. And this is many people's favourite game ever, and is pretty much guaranteed to score 10 out of 10 in any review.
I am aware that it now sounds like I don't like the game that much. Well, you may be surprised to read that I rate the 3 weeks or so I spent on Final Fantasy VII as amongst my favourite hours in any game. The first disc was simply incredible, and I honestly found myself captivated. Sure, things went somewhat astray later on, especially when you were inside Clouds' head, but overall the good outweighed the bizarre.
So, if I were to review FFVII, what score would I give it?
My reviews tend to focus on the experience aspect of a videogame. I refuse to break a review down into sections for graphics, story, gameplay, etc. Hell, I even refuse to read reviews that do that. Grpahics are irrelevant outside of the time that you play the game. Wind Waker looks painfully good, and makes most other games look like they are not even trying, but it would all be for nothing if the graphical style did not fit perfectly with the world on which it is hung. A realistic style would jar too much when the boat started talking to you. Similaraly, a cel-shaded MasterChief would just look ridiculous, and the Covenant would lose any kind of credibility if they were cartoony.
Graphically, FFVII would score 10. For music, too. Story is more subjective, but for me I would put it at the top-end of the scale. Gameplay? 3. Overall? 10.
The reason being is because I was moved by my experience in FFVII. The feeling overall was one of "Fuck me, I'm glad I played this." I would go even further, and venture the suggestion that everyone should play it. It is one of those landmark titles that have impacted on so much since, that to not see it for yourself means that you are missing a vital lesson in your education. As a game, it sucks. As an event, it was unforgettable.
But, in a review, could I really get that across? A review is supposedly a tool to let somebody know if the game they are reading about is worth buying. The inherent flaw in this system is that most games are NOT worth buying, for the majority of people at any rate. I have lost count of the reviews I have read that have pointed out that a game is "too short" or "good for kids." I always get annoyed when I hear that a game needs to be longer. Why does it? I would much rather play 6 hours of perfection, than replay sections over and over trying to find the final 3% of collectables to unlock a new costume just to justify my purchase by making it last the magic 40 hours. Ico was 8 hours, and 6 on the second playthrough. I'm at 600 and counting in the various Pokémon titles. 360 voice informs me that I have played Geometry Wars on 54 of the days since I registered. Does this mean that it should have cost me more than the 400 points it did? I have full-price games that I have only played for 2 or 3 days, and yet there is not one in my collection that I feel I shouldn't have bought.
Which all brings me back to Crackdown. Most of the reviews I have read go back to the "There's not much to do once you have finished it" complaint, which I have just finished saying is irrelevant. While you are jumping about the city, shooting/kicking/running over bad guys, you are having the time of your life! Sure, you will probably complete the game in a weekend, but it will be one of the most fun weekends of your life. As a reviewer, I would have to tell people to rent it.
As a gamer, I want to say that every single one of you out there should play it!
In my entire reviewing career, I have given the maximum score to only 2 games. Grand Theft Auto : Vice City, and Wii Sports. Crackdown probably wouldn't get a 10, because as a reviewer I have to tell you if you should buy it. As a critic, without having to come up with a score, I could tell you how great it is, how it is built from all the elements that videogames should be, and how it uses XBox Live to make it even more compelling. (I am constantly amazed at how many 360 reviews never even mention the achievments. It is my considered opinion that once your gamerscore breaks 3,000, acheivments start to matter!) As a commentor, I can muse about how much fun I had just watching my girlfriend play it, helping her to find the agility orbs, hinting that she might be better off switching to the weapon the bad guys use, things like that. As a reviewer, I am limited to telling you "Buy it" or "Don't buy it." I don't think that's enough.
Posted: March 26, 2007 (11:03 AM)
Most games are NOT worth buying to YOU.
Quite some time ago, I criticized a review of the terrible PC title, Big Rigs, for not providing enough information about the game. My point was that no matter how bad a game is, someone out there will want to purchase it. The reviewer's job is to provide gamers with all of the necessary information so that they can make an informed decision. Then there are the parents, who don't realize that the majority of games are crap. At that point, we have the potential to step in and save their kids from the gamut of horrible atrocities sitting on store shelves. Reviews can also point out the hidden gems that you may have passed over at first glance. Otherwise, we'd be stuck playing only the series that have already been established.
As for a game being too short. That can be a valid complaint. Sometimes you just can't get enough of a good thing. I felt that way about Katamari Damacy. Sure I can go back and play through it again, but the first half of the game is so easy for me, that it feels more like routine than fun. If there were more levels of higher difficulty, there would be more for me to go back to.
Posted: March 26, 2007 (11:54 AM)
When I review a game I look at the game in the time period that I'm reviewing it in. So if I'm writing a review now for a game made in, say, 1990, I'm writing about how fun it is in 2007. That's why I'm against formulas and seldom talk about graphics or sound or whatnot. A review is there to tell whether or not a game is worth playing, so I only like to talk about important aspects. To me graphics and sound in an 8-bit or 16-bit game are not important to me unless there's a stand out soundtrack or something. The same goes for newer games today; if the game isn't impressive looking or doesn't look like ass I don't see a reason to talk about it.
I don't agree with a buy or rent statement, either. If a review did its job the reader should know whether to buy, rent, or avoid. I don't feel like that's my job as a reviewer. It's up to me to give my opinion on a game, and it's up to the reader to make the decision.
Posted: March 26, 2007 (12:27 PM)
The only time that I feel compelled to really discuss graphics and sound are when they are complete crap. Crap today is still going to be crap tomorrow. Other than that, I might mention how well they fit or reinforce the gameplay.
Posted: March 26, 2007 (12:57 PM)
"When I review a game I look at the game in the time period that I'm reviewing it in. So if I'm writing a review now for a game made in, say, 1990, I'm writing about how fun it is in 2007. "
A valid point, which only falls apart because of the assumption that the review will be read in 2007. This isn't print media, where the reviews are only meant to be relevant for the next 30 days. This is the intertubes, and reviews posted here last theoretically forever!
You are correct to pretty much disregard graphics in your reviews. So, the question then has to become "Why do so many reviewers insist on talking about them?" I have even done it in the past, before I decided to only talk about the core essence of "What is it like to play this thing?" I can only shamefully admit that I did it out of some kind of need to 'fit in' with established styles. These days I am much more confident in my own voice.
Posted: March 26, 2007 (03:33 PM)
Gaming is also at a much different point than it was in the early-mid '90s. Back then, you could talk about graphics because it was always in terms of the current systems. Now, with retro-gaming and indie-gaming becoming bigger than ever, the terms are hard to define. Take a 2D indie game for example. Do you match it up to current games with multi-million dollar budgets, other current indie games, or the time period that the graphics seem most indicative of?
So we have thrown graphics out the window, but this still raises an odd concern with retro gameplay. Someone recently made the mistake of thinking that Smash TV was a new game made for XLA, when in fact the game is 15 years old. If that person did a review it would definitely be from a modern perspective. For someone like me, do I try to judge it from the same modern perspective, or do I draw upon my past? I sometimes find this funny when I read reviews from people who try to put a game in historical perspective, but probably weren't able to walk when it was released.
I like this discussion, so I'm going to extend it into the Review Contributor's Forum.