On Consistency Across Reviews
The point of the last two blogs is to show I've got an odd relationship with popular games and the gaming media. I don't trust them. I don't think they trust me. It's always been that way. It'll probably keep being that way. I just wanted you to know that when I write my thoughts on the utility, purpose, and audience of video game reviews.
First, I do want to say that reviews are written by individual people. While some magazines have a tradition of using multiple reviewers for a single title or for the larger titles, it isn't the norm at this point in time. The only publication known for involving multiple reviewers is Famitsu, and it is known as one of the most difficult gaming magazines for high scores. Also, it isn't in English. Or even Spanish, French, or some other Romantic or Germanic language.
Given this, while a publication hires someone to write a review, at the same time, and while the review is the property of the site, it isn't exactly the same as being the review site's opinion. You can ask Nick, Chessa, or really any staff member on the site. I disagree with people all the time about reviews. Even when we do agree overall about the tone and approach the review takes, we might not agree entirely. Take the recent Ratchet & Clank All4One review. Neither Nick or I enjoyed the game much, but from what I played of it, I felt it was a little less enjoyable than what Nick's own review said. More, though, websites and publications do have a limited amount of resources and time, and as such, it's virtually impossible for the publication to do anything but facilitate the review for it's writer.
Recently, there's been some ire raised over GameSpot's low-scoring review of Skyward Sword. It's a somewhat substantial amount lower than most other big-name reviews of the game in score. I've played the game to a minor extent myself, and already, I can see that some of these things stated are pretty accurate, in regard to the content. From my own experience, Tom Mc Shea's control experience doesn't seem to reflect my time with the game, but his criticisms of some of the fetch-questing rings a little true. All this said, I'm not a major fan of the Zelda series, though I do respect and understand these games appeal. In any regard, my thoughts having a decent amount of time with Skyward Sword is that Mr. Mc Shea accurately portrays the positives and negatives of the game, though he stumbled a lot more with the controls than I have so far. His review is well-written, and I feel like anyone unfamiliar with the Zelda series would find the truth. I can see that he had a minor inaccuracy about pointing-based controls that GameSpot corrected at the bottom of the review. It isn't a big mistake, but it's nice they pointed it out, regardless.
So, why is there outrage in some circles about his review? If, in fact, the review is intelligently written and addresses gameplay routines and even final areas of the game without offering spoilers, what is the issue? That's tough to pinpoint, in all truth. Try to imagine things from another perspective: Let's say a popular game franchise is great, offers fun gameplay, a compelling story, and an exciting world. However, imagine it overstays its welcome, and continues fetch quests that span massive areas, and has other issues all of its praised predecessors do. I know I'm talking about Zelda right now, but this feels to me like a flaw in a lot of sandbox games, like inFamous, for example. InFamous is full of back-tracking, tons of repetitive quest, and while the boss combat and unique enemy encounters can be fun, and while the story is definitely enjoyable, these repetitive issues definitely make the game far less enjoyable. More, inFamous 2 shares many of the same issues. Do you like an open world with lots of missions and sidequests? Great. I'm happy for you. To me, unless executed absolutely perfectly, it means a the game will cover expansive maps. Even if the maps are full of things to do, the third or fourth time you traverse them is going to be pretty close to the first time through. Isn't it?
It doesn't have to be, certainly not. Take a glance at Super Metroid. Unlike inFamous and even some Zelda games, Super Metroid's back-tracking using new abilities really changes how you, the player, and Samus looks at the world. What was before an impossible ledge to beat with enemies strong enough to kill Samus in a few attacks now becomes a challenge. Do you feel inFamous does the same thing in its world? Do you feel Zelda often does in its?
The answer is up to you, not me. I'm not telling you what to think about these games. I'm not telling you what to think. I'm giving you a perspective. And maybe you believe the perspective is wrong, sure. Maybe you believe it's incorrect. Maybe you identify with it. Regardless, if one were to take a critical analysis of some games widely praised, like Monster Hunter, for example, one would see that with all its praise, all its fans, all of its online communities, all of the fansites, and the positive reviews, these games, however popular they may be, have flaws. Unquestionable flaws.
But Zelda games are popular. They are well-received by most critics, and most fans. So are Uncharted, Half-Life, and Halo. They're all great franchises in general perception, and all of these games receive incredible scores when they're released, with general quality and company support to back these things up.
So what's the problem when someone gives these games a lower score, and quotes logical, researched, and experienced reasons why the game in question isn't of Grade AAA-top quality? The number of problems are expansive, really. Let's ignore the initial, obvious score question.
Let's look at Tom Mc Shea's Uncharted 3 review. I'm not going to examine this piece-by-piece, but it's clear to see from the first paragraph, the review is of a much warmer tone. In the positive and negative section, I note one thing: The game's music is praised. Skyward Sword's music was mentioned in the review, but only in passing. It wasn't a “The Good.” Let me tell you this: Skyward Sword's music is phenomenal, if not in just the orchestration itself. The music adds a lot of depth to the emotion behind scenes that might otherwise be a bit bland. While I often limit the amount of music I mention in my reviews, only looking for the times when the music distracts from the experience, or meshes with it, or even just adds a degree of versatility, any time a soundtrack really enriches part of a video game, to me, it's a praiseworthy experience. Let's also not forget that Skyward Sword is fully orchestrated, and that makes a difference in and of itself. Whether or not Skyward Sword is of the same quality as in its entirety as Uncharted 3, that's not necessarily relevant. What is? A clear inconsistency regarding the quality of music across games.
I haven't played Uncharted 3. I'm not a fan of the series from my limited experience with them. Read my past two blogs to understand some of the reason why not, but also understand that I find the segments where Nathan Drake “climbs” in different places with super-human jumping ability and strength to completely remove any further suspension of disbelief. I can't get past that. I've tried. Worse, I feel like the game's tenseness relies far too heavily on a false illusion of danger. Drake practically always makes his jumps, and even when he doesn't, it's just a scripted mini-cutscene. Those are my feelings. They don't match up with most people's feelings right now. That's fine. The point being, comparisons in elements beyond this in Uncharted 3 that are comparable to Skyward Sword aren't as common. That said, both games contain quite a few puzzles, and already, in Skyward Sword, the puzzles are very impressive. I've seen puzzles in various Uncharted titles from Chris's runs through the games, and I've seen them demonstrated at E3, as well. They seemed to be about on the level as the puzzles found in Zelda titles, with an exception: Link utilizes both the tools in his arsenal and the items in the environment to progress forward in his games. Nathan's puzzles seem to be very situation-dependent. I wouldn't say that's a positive or negative in either direction, but my predisposition is that the Zelda way to explore puzzle-making is a little better than the Uncharted way, and this holds true even more in Skyward Sword, where puzzles rely on direct control over your character's actions to a higher level than almost any game before.
My point is pretty simple: I think Mr. Mc Shea's Skyward Sword review is pretty accurate so far. It does miss a few very positive elements in the series, but it also touches on some of the game's problems. It's well-written, and clearly thought was put into it. It isn't a bad review. However, when one compares it with his Uncharted 3 review, the Uncharted 3 receives praise for strong elements in Skyward Sword that were, simply put, overlooked. Whether Skyward Sword is a “good” game or if Uncharted 3 is something of an “Editor's Choice” isn't in question. What is, you ask? Consistency.
If there's one thing I feel a reviewer must remain, it's consistent. If a reviewer's perception of a “good” game is negative, simply because it's an average title, then his or her perception of the next average title must be that it's simply a good. Destructoid is a site known for bombastic points, and dynamic reviews. Take a look at their review for a zany game that, I, myself have an upcoming review for: Otomedius Excellent. It's weird. Not so much “weird,” as it tries to make light of the scantily-clad anime girls in an... unnatural way. Why's this relevant? Well, peruse this reviewer's history, and chances are, while you might find editorials and news pieces with a sarcastic tone, Allistair Pinsof actually covers the wacky, wilder classic games out of Japan with an even tone. All of his more recent reviews tend to take a reasonable, rationale tone, at least at first glance. While I don't feel Otomedius Excellent is a great game of any type of exceptional quality, when one looks past its surface, one finds a pretty standard Gradius title. These ideas are mentioned in Mr. Pinsof's review, but they're not the focus. Instead, the focus is to make a joke about some kind of recently-released sexual predator. Sure, it's fun, sure, it's entertaining. There's one thing it isn't: Fair to Otomedius Excellent, even if Otomedius takes playful jabs at its own reality. If Allistair Pinsof wanted to approach every title with a different character based on the feelings he received from the game in question, that would be consistent, and it would be meaningful to those who read his reviews. As it stands now, Otomedius Excellent doesn't feel like it's been reviewed all that well by Mr. Pinsof. Also, believe me, I'm no champion of Otomedius Excellent. In any way when I say