Review of Game Reviewers
Top 10 Hottest Game Reviewers 2016
Being a man of consistently high quailty, class, and intelligence, it is only fitting that I spread some of the wealth onto the uncultured masses like the United Kingdom government does to its people. Which is to say, none at all. So what if you have a crippled spine and two broken legs? Better get to work for Amazon for two dollars an hour, before we shove you in the sanitarium to live with the mold.
But I guess that I live in a privileged country where disabled people have the ability to live freely and not feel like such freaks, especially the mentally handicapped who make up 99% of my audience. Ooh, burn! Seriously folks, it is a privilege to be able to do something as simple as read, and you should check it every day, lest you find yourself in a situation where you don't appreciate the little things in life like the Froghand blog.
I've often wondered myself whether I would rather be blind than deaf. Blind, and my options for reading and gaming would be severely limited, and the visual arts are thrown out the window. Deaf, and I wouldn't be able to understand 90% of YouTube videos, nor be able to appreciate the well designed subtleties of a beautiful environmental atmosphere. It's fortunate that I don't have to deal with either handicap, and I have the means to use what I have to make
A shame that there are so many people competent in body, though incompetent in mind, who waste their abilities in order to make poorly thought-out opinions about video games. Indeed, you might think this is a silly topic to talk about, and your thoughts further lower the standard for gaming, being as young as visual novels, and yet just as legitimate as them in the potential to express ideas and create worlds that matter. The majority of reviewers though, do not understand the potential, and so settle for the shit they are fed through their troughs by their bosses.
The core difference between a reviewer and a critic is that a reviewer looks at a work through a vacuum - checking off the points which would generally be considered "good" to a bored populace - as opposed to the critic who puts works in context and applies their own personal tastes to it in order to understand why it's good as opposed to just saying that it is. The vast majority of people are reviewers, as they lack the experience or intelligence in order to make detailed judgements about games, which is even more lazy when you consider that ten of the best games of all time (the actual best games, and not Journey, for instance) could be knocked off in three months, and you only really need Deus Ex to show just how games have gone downhill since the 2000s.
So please enjoy these segments about me bitching about reviews, as I try not to fall off my high horse.
Bitching about reviews
It seems absurd to me how reviewers can justify their work in the arts when art is, by nature, a Great Conversation, where every great work made takes inspiration from what comes before it, and every great work is an inspiration to what comes after it. It's absurd to me to say that, for instance, Deus Ex is a "fun" game without understanding why that is the case. They'll talk about the ability to make your playstyle unique through different tactics and weaponry and taking the route which best suits you, but fail to talk about the dozens of other games which came after it that aped its mechanics. It's because of this lack of context that saying that Deus Ex is "fun" is meaningless, because you can talk about the purpose of those mechanics and what they do, but without understanding why they work based on the mechanics of other games why those games didn't work, the review becomes meaningless.
I don't understand why people read reviews. Alright, I understand why. They want to find out if something is worth playing - and most often they don't even do that, instead going to the Wikipedia critical reception page and staring at it to confirm their confirmation bias for or against a game, taking in decontextualised opinions of people you don't know without bothering to form your own based on what those opinions state. I will never understand why a collection of random assholes on Metacritic, those of whom were hired based on fulfilling a corporate culture and not of the brilliance of their opinions, is considered to be a better gospel than the opinion of a man who has spent decades writing and perfecting his craft on his own little blog.
It reeks to me of an appeal to authority that just because somebody is paid to do something by a publisher, that means that their opinions are somehow immediately better than yours. Sites like Wikipedia and Metacritic will say that they're not notable enough. If the cunt at IGN who's only been hired for a month is considered to be more notable than a man like Jim Sterling who has spent years of his life reviewing and writing about video games on a daily basis, deciding to no longer be paid by the disinterested hand of business, but by the fans who willingly donate their own money to have him produce his content, then I might as well work at IGN, because getting paid by your boss means my opinion means more than yours which was paid by the people who chose to listen.
The more I think of reviewers, who attempt to judge works as if they were this magical objective thing and not as part of the Great Conversation, the more I think that the vast majority of them are full of shit. Calling names won't do me much good here, as every time I try to read somebody else's review I am struck with the immediate realisation that they're full of shit. "Bloodborne review: scarlet letter", says Polygon, as if they had to dress it up in a new dress to get their audience to view it, despite there being no mention of either "scarlet" or "letter" in the Wikipedia article for the game, or even the review, so this is either some brilliant symbolism about Bloodborne's title being composed of ten (grey) letters, or somebody shat the bed and decided to ship off the mush.
Then again, this is Polygon, which is to the New Yorker what the New Yorker is to Gawker. To class it down a bit, Polygon is the publication for people who think they're reading something important, though are instead reading the lukewarm gruel of a bored writer's ramblings. If all it takes to be a game reviewer is to describe basic game mechanics with adjectives in front of them and no criticism or examples than calling them "streamlined", "groundbreaking", or "smartly designed", then being a reviewer is as easy as copying a press release and then pandering to your audience. Giving the game an arbitrary 9 out of 10 despite ignoring numerous technical issues and confusing gameplay mechanics further causes me to ask questions as to what the fuck a nine out of ten is supposed to represent, other than continued employment from a company which depends on ad revenue. Though this article isn't about Polygon, so let's haul ass and saddle up.
Bitching about mechanics
What most critics have failed to realise is that you're supposed to point out the good and the bad of a work, not just in a linear vacuum, but in the context of other works you could be playing instead of this one. Too many reviewers fail to understand the fundamental quality of video games is that they're supposed to be played. Not watched like a movie, or read into like a visual novel, but given novel game mechanics that get better over time and aren't just a skeleton to hang a veneer of Vaseline and vectors over.
This seems pedantic, though true regardless, because you will find that most gamers play a lot of video games, similar to the music fan who listens to a lot of albums, or the film buff who watches movies. After exposing yourself to this medium for a period of time, you develop a personal library of examples with which to reference, and learn about just how far games have come in their history. You could say they... developed... over time, but this is the type of pun that would make King Skarl formally banish you from his kingdom. Christ, who's going to get that reference in 2016?
The obvious technological developments are simple to understand. From the petty old days of monochrome arcade cabinets, to the murky waters of the Atari, to the ass-blasting revolution of the NES, to the scrubby polygons of the Playstation, to the realistic graphics of the Xbox, and now to the complete clusterfuck of the PC revolution, where publishers either focus on bastardising retro art by applying particle effects and scanlines to every object, or they make everything out of modeling clay, douse space lube over it, and turn the spotlights on until we get something that looks like God made a big splooge over everything.
Too many reviewers give games high scores because they fail to realise that having good graphics does not make a game worth playing, let alone ones with a nonsense plot, boring and unintuitive gameplay, and a failure to make the most out of the world they're given in favour of peddling a linear series of events to the masses which would shoot their dick off if they were given any degree of freedom. Games like Final Fantasy 13, The Last of Us, Rise of the Tomb Raider, Grand Theft Auto 5, are all games that were given extraordinary numbers (as numbers are what they are) by the mainstream, even going so far as to name some of them "the best games of all time", and yet trashed by Yahtzee, a critic who is actually worth two shits and a damn, because of several fundamental flaws in their design that were ignorantly ignored by incredible increments of ignorants.
More on the gameplay later, but I have to wonder about this stereotype of reviewers being fixated on graphics. While it may be true for the dudebro who needs to justify buying their new Smart TV, before it gets hacked and turned into the botnet, most reviewers I've read sound like a game design student fresh out of college and with too much Malcolm Gladwell in their head. Think of it this way: have you ever heard somebody talk about a book, maybe your English teacher, who pretend that it's something extraordinarily inspiring and deep, but all the points they make are surface-level explanations of what the book is without giving any real justification for us to care? Now you know why
Ulysses, I mean game reviewers, is an easy target for me.
I remember a high school teacher telling me that there are so many people pretending to know things that you lose sight of those who actually do. If I were to say that Cory in the House was a funny show and say things like "the acting was effortless, the storylines unique, and the characterisation as heartwarming as it was tragic", then I have done nothing more but jack myself off. When you explain why the acting was effortless, such as Cory's subtle habit of twitching his eyebrows whenever he is asked a hard question, the crispiness of the voice work which seemed unfiltered and unedited because of the excellent sound design picking up every last breath, tongue twick, lip smack, and verbal tic of the characters, and body movement which is deliberate in its actions yet still subdued enough to speak volumes about the confidence of The President as he leads his exaggerated and ego-infested crew through the Iraqi Safe Zone, then your audience begins to understand why a work is good beyond just being told that it is.
If you say something like "the Fallout 4 companions will ruin your stealth by blocking your path, walking into enemies, and using your nukes", then that's a legitimate complaint, though it doesn't go into detail as to why it breaks the flow of the gameplay. When you consider the design decisions like "AI must be solid at all times" and the inability for it to change its actions depending on what the player is doing, it shows the laziness of the production, because a game designer who doesn't consider what the player wants when playing the game is one that makes me think that they themselves don't play many video games - because they would understand why the AI acting conspicuous in a stealthy scenario is so frustrating. Either that, or they just didn't care to program the companions to be a convenience to the player instead of a liability, which shows both laziness and mismanagement on the hands of the developers.
This is not to say that we must be pedantic about every point. Sometimes it's enough to point to a specific example of bullshittery to prove a point, like your character having their path blocked by a pebble on the ground, or the objective markers pointing opposite to the location where you're supposed to be going to. It's when you get vague, like "the combat was streamlined and improved for the sequel" that your prose becomes worthless. Even if you elaborate it like with a phrase like "several skill branches were combined, and experience points are no longer skill-specific", it still doesn't say anything as to the design of the game, so for all the audience cares you might as well be reading off a credit card report.
It's this lip service to discourse that isn't actually intelligent that grinds my gears, as if simply describing what happens in a game is enough for the bored randy to go out and drop eighty bucks on the brand new release, or waste six hours of their life downloading it off Pirate Bay. Apparently this is the case, seeing as game reviewers are only interested in describing what happens. No commentary as to why the mechanics are significant, or why they matter compared to games released recently, or how they innovate compared to games that came before it. And this is even if they tread any new ground at all. Did you know that Fallout 3 has experience points? Stop the fucking presses. Maybe if you talked about why RPG elements in a first-person shooter were considered a big deal in the past, but have been oversaturated now, you might have something. But nope, Fallout 3 has experience points. Fucking hell.
And that's even if the reviewer talks at all about the gameplay, and not just about the pretty environments that they force themselves in. Granted, there is certainly a place for beautiful graphic design in games, so long as that design is applied appropriately to game mechanics that make the most of it, such as in a sandbox game that lets you explore the world, or a horror game that relies on it to spook, or even as just a way to identify points of interest in a game through the use of specific colours or shapes. The inappropriate use of graphics as a means to say "look at this!", instead of acting as a means to an end, is the problem with focusing on graphic design in games.
Bitching about graphics
Now back to that point about graphics being the point that most dudebros, and indeed most reviewers, fixate on. If badly explained game design is the bread of reviews, then badly explained graphic design is the air above it. You thought I was going to say butter? Fuck you. If you need to butter your bread, you're eating shitty bread. Imagine if I was eating a hamburger, and the bun was dry, and I thought "I sure wish this bun had some butter on it right now", and you'd think I'm a lunatic. Why is it that when you eat bread as a solo endeavour and not as a creation, you need to justify its poor quality by saying it needs butter? Why don't you buy some decent bread instead of buying into the butter conspiracy?
Much like butter in relation to bread, a reviewer will too often forgive the fundamentally broken bread of a game in favour of slathering on the review with too much graphics butter. If the game has a buggy, wooden, and barely functioning engine behind it, with character designs that are as out-of-place as they are mechanical shells for voice files to be spat out of (note: you will never see a reviewer talk about character design), then saying that the environments are as immersive as they are large is at best a charitable description of a world you have ignored the flaws of, or an outright fabrication from a bored reviewer to justify giving Fallout 4 a 9/10. I'm saying Fallout 4 is the butter, and Fallout 4 is trash. But you know what else is trash? Butter. It has BUTT in it.
The fascination on graphics makes sense if you think about it. Graphics are the first thing you see in a game, the enticing smell of perfume outside the whore house, and a picture is worth a thousand words. It's also the only thing that you see when it comes to screenshots, meaning that a person's first exposure to a game will be in its graphic design. It's a fundamental flaw of the world we inhabit, though the reliance on the visual acts as a sanity check for video games where the graphic design is so ugly or mismanaged that if the developers couldn't put effort into something as simple as an art style, then how are they going to pull off an entire game?
It makes even more sense when you look at it from a historical perspective. With the absence of the game itself, screenshots are all one has to instantly understand the march of progress that games have gone through - especially looking at a series like The Legend of Zelda, which has been around for a long time and has always tried to pimp out the console it's on. While the development of gameplay and story is still significant, you would have to think outside the box to explain it in a way that didn't require paragraphs of text. Graphs, perhaps? When you get to the point where you need to prove your point with graphs, something went wrong with your writing.
It's in this easy ignorance, this ability to see games as nothing more than a series of progressively higher resolution and shinier screenshots, that muddles the creation of decent game reviewers, and have instead thrown the gates open for any disinterested gamer to come along and make a judgement about a work without doing the proper research to earn the right to. It is easy, deathly easy, to look at a game at the surface level, talk about the things you see and the things that are presented to you by the game. The challenge is to look deeper and understand why the game works the way it does, and the many ways that it fails to work as well.
Now talking about that stereotype that all reviewers do is look at graphics, it's a great oversight to assume this is the core reason that game reviews are unreliable. Not about the ignorance of the history of gaming, or any such knowledge being lip service to an otherwise uninspired review. Not about the inability for the reviewer to talk about video games as anything more than a series of things happening that you play, as opposed to an arduous sequence of deliberate decisions made over the course of a year in order to allow the player to play the game with such ease, that it seems like games are easy to make. Not about the prose of each review failing to have any personality, nor brilliant prose, and any such personality or prose is pretentious at best and arrogant at worst.
Reviewers are obliged, for better or for worse, to talk about aspects of a game that they have little to no idea about. Something as simple as audio design, or the way games as programmed, can lead a reviewer to be completely lost, not understanding how sound effects produced at certain moments in a game tells the player what's going on it in, or how the fundamental failures of a game leads a game to crash more often than Google Chrome. This also applies to game design, which is generally considered an important thing to games, and something that you think would be brought up in a review. Of games.
Bitching about graphic design
When reviewers talk about graphic design, they find themselves at a loss for words. A reviewer could skip programming or audio design, as they typically do, because they're not considered essential knowledge in the eyes of the gaming press, and this is despite the lack of respect that they show for video games by ignoring an essential part of the way games are made. Graphics are non-optional, because video games are, at a minimum, made up of the two things reviews focus on the most: gameplay, and graphics. The difference between gameplay and game design is the same as graphics and graphic design; the latter is the physical construction of the discipline onto a video game during a conscious development process by capable people, and the former is how the player experiences that process in the end result of the work.
When you describe a game world, in all its aesthetics, layouts, affordances, and psychological manipulation, it does wonder for your writing when you use more descriptive words than "organic", "open-ended", and "realistic", which can describe anything from a chicken stir fry to a good hard knotting. The words become meaningless without context and examples, much like art is meaningless if it isn't put into the context of what comes before and after it. I could say that Kingdom Hearts had unintuitive level design, but that doesn't mean anything until I say that the lack of a minimap combined with multi-leveled rooms that loop into each other, little visual distinction between each room, puzzles that bring the action to a dead stop, and with setpieces that act as props instead of providing a means to bring new gameplay opportunities.
I talk a lot about level design with graphics, because a big part of graphic design is communicating information, and levels are designed to do exactly that. Throwing your player into a square room with nothing in it would have been the cutting edge in 1988, but any time after that and it shows no creativity at all. The levels has to fit aesthetically with the rest of the game, making sets that don't interfere with the aesthetics that you've planned for your game, and instead compliment them by making the player feel like they're exploring the sets on their own and not as part of dev team effort. This is what I mean by graphics - using the way the game looks to make the player enjoy it better.
And yet when reviewers talk about graphics, they ignore the opportunity for design to compliment gameplay, ignore the designs efforts to make the player feel and do things, and ignore how the design affects the game in a practical way. This is a brain-dead retarded example, but consider that in Super Mario Brothers, the water levels were set in water. It was actually a blue background combined with some well-placed sprites and animation; there was no water, and the water was a metaphor. It's that context that the graphics gave the level that made it sensible for Mario to be swimming, and to allow the enemies to be floating fish to introduce a new threat in the form of novel enemy attacks.
Side note: this is what I hate about game design. When you go deep enough into things, you sound like a complete cunt. While it's true that very few people would be able to express that water was just a metaphor, it's the saying of the thing, this unintuitive truth that's so obvious once you hear it, that makes you sound pretentious. It's like that story about having to make an egg stand upright. You can't, until you break the top off and stand it using its new surface area. It's dead fucking obvious once you know how to do it - but you don't know how to do it until you see it, and that's why people think you're a cunt for expressing something they think they should have known, but didn't.
Another note about game design is that the basicness of your examples is inversely proportional to the complexity of your speech. If you go really deep, you can say that a lot of people enjoy shotguns because the closeness of the encounter combined with a one-shot, one kill weapon triggers people's risk to reward ratio, making them think they're doing something more badass than it really is, and the ability to maximise the apparent risk of being in close-quarters combat combined with the reward of having an enemy spectacularly die right in front of you is a very compelling offer, and to subvert this expectation by making a shotgun weak at close range leads to a frustrating experience.
When a shotgun is effective at long range, it also makes the player feel good because it feels like they're holding a powerful device that subverts the expectations of what a shotgun is, making them feel like they're using something in a unique and novel way, in addition to the catharsis of being able to assassinate an enemy at range with what is typically a short-range weapon, as well as the innate unique difficulty of aiming multiple pellets at an enemy at length, as opposed to the ease of hitting them all at once at close up, or the typical expectation of shooting an enemy with single-shot bullets at length such as with an assault rifle or pistol.
I said all of that to explain "shotguns are cool". Do you see now, why it's so exhausting to talk about game design? The fundamental truths we take for granted, like health, magic, experience points, stock weaponry, controls, and mechanics, all have a rationale as to why they're included. Even if the designer doesn't understand the rationale, even if the player doesn't realise they're there, they are still included. They just intuitively know how the things are done. We don't need to explain a three life system, because everybody and their mother knows that when you get to 0, it's game over. So when we try to explain the rationale for including such lives, it is very, very difficult to explain
The rationale, of course, is that lives provide an incentive for the player to get better, as the more lives you have at the end of the game the more personal pride you feel (a bit like medals), the less lives you have the more cautious you have to be to avoid getting a game over (because it feels like your time is wasted when you get a game over, so is not a pleasant choice), and providing an immediately intuitive way for players to understand that doing poorly will cause them to fail. All of these make lives a high-value mechanic to conserve and be aware of, and throw in the opportunity to increase lives, it becomes a very compelling, simple, and universally-understood mechanic.
Like I said, fucking exhausting. And this isn't including other points of views from other designers who think they know better, poorly explaining the justification for mechanics to exist, and failing to understand the proper use of such mechanics, instead opting to shoehorn them inappropriately and apply an irrelevant perspective to a game that already has clear design goals. I got into an argument about my space shooter not having a lives system, instead opting to have a large health pool with variable enemy damage. Their position was that lives make less frustrating for the player, giving them extra chances to live and encourages them to get better. My position was that health already provides that encouragement, and does so in a way that allows for a game that defies space shooter tropes, as well as opening up opportunity for new mechanics in a simple way that naturally increases the difficulty of the game instead of feeling like a "fuck you" where everything kills you instantly regardless of how threatening the enemy actually appears. At the end of the days, most lives systems are just extra health points, like the energy tanks in Metroid. When you die and respawn a short distance away, it's just like using up a full heal potion, and so there's not much reason to include lives unless you intend to flip the mechanic on its head.
Back on the topic of graphic design
I'm not expecting reviewers to write down even an abstraction of the level of detail with video games like I've just provided. I simply expect them to respect the medium enough to be able to talk about in a way that isn't a waste of time. When reviewers think of graphics as a game simply looking good, or gameplay as just what the player does, it ignores all of the design decisions made, consciously or instinctively, that goes into a video game. When a reviewer is given a position of power and the opportunity to talk about a game at length, failing to go into detail, and only settling for the surface level examination of a game, it damages the medium of games by letting players think it's okay to make judgements about a them without understanding how and why they work, and by encouraging developers to become unsure in their own decisions by not giving them concrete examples as to why aspects of a game works, and why it doesn't.
It's the job of the critic to take all the information that they know, be able to summarise it in a way that is accessible to the reader, giving them context as to why they know something, and using their words to teach their audience as to what makes a good piece of work, as opposed to an average one, and help them adopt a higher standard of quality in their own work. A typical reviewer fails at all of these, providing vague information, not putting works into any context, and severely overestimating the quality of a work by willfully ignoring its flaws.
When they talk about graphic design, the entire field of it, a reviewer will focus simply on how good it looks. Not on how the map is designed to enjoy the game better, not on how the composition of the scene makes the player go to certain places, not on how the layout makes the player feel like they're making great progress, and not on how it compliments gameplay by providing fun stuff to do in the map. Instead, they treat the discipline as if it was simply their job to make good screenshots by adding in random junk to a scene - visual information be damned.
It doesn't matter if the levels in Hitman: Blood Money were meant to provide challenges to the player through clever use of chokepoints that the AI can go through as he smuggles contraband past them, or if Ocarina of Time used a wide open hub world in order to give a sense of scale to a game with otherwise small levels. If each and every game doesn't have extremely realistic water, or lighting effects with high contrast and a shit-ton of bloom, or particle effects that pop up and clutter the view of the player, or animations that act as realistically as they would in real life, then they'll mark the game down hard. To them, the artistic integrity or aesthetic design of a game, let alone the functional design of a game's graphics, is nothing. Literally nothing - as in they don't even think about it.
Notice those key words: artistic integrity. Too often, games go for the most uninspired realistic designs that they possible could, limiting their freedom by coating their visual art in the worldview of "if it wouldn't work in real life, throw it out". Games have one of the most significant advantages that other mediums don't: completely virtual worlds. You can do fucking anything in a game, anything, so long as you have the balls and the work ethic to code it in. To squander this opportunity in order to go for the expected, the typical art style that every other game and their children has, is not only a massive waste of the unique opportunities of gaming, but also a massive waste of your creative effort. A person who is afraid to innovate in a medium is a person who does not deserve to work in that medium.
The interesting part, the really interesting part about this, is that when that same reviewer that looks at a video game that uses the typical palette of dark brown, dark grey, and dark blue, as applied to muscular humans in a world that looks as depressing as an actual warzone would with lights that are inappropriately used for spectacle and not as a way to bring attention to areas of a map, they don't pan it for being the most cookie-cutter art style that the most creatively devoid development team can adopt, the most inside the box aesthetic design from developers that just didn't care to do anything different. They praise it for having "detail". They praise it for being "beautiful". And these words, used so cheaply, destroy the reputations of truly detailed and beautiful games, as the lowest common denominator who does not care to understand the process that goes into the creation of a style and fails to appreciate when a game goes above and beyond its peers by standing out with art that has the willfull and skilled design of a proper visual artist, is a person who is given the opportunity to learn about such things, and fails to do so because of their own laziness.
And yet, if you show these reviewers a game that doesn't have this typical art style, they will praise it for being "unique", even though they were the ones who were praising the graphics of the uninspired games. They are hypocrites who try to please everyone at once instead of having a concrete opinion, and are hypocrites who do not respect games enough to develop said opinion. They will look at Wind Waker and call it beautiful, and they will look at Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare and call it stunning. These opinions both come from IGN, showing that this is a publication that does not have an editorial point of view, choosing instead to let their uninformed reviewers run rampant instead of holding them to a consistent tone. Granted, these reviews came twelve years apart, and while it may be true, though not bloody likely, that Call of Duty is just as stunning as Wind Waker, it shows a lack of courage from IGN to look at these inconsistencies and let them lie, as I am sure is the case with their many other reviews, though to do a full look at IGN's writing style is not the purpose of this article.
Also interesting to note that gaming has grown up a bit from this uninspired design, instead choosing to go over-the-top with cartoonish designs and fantasy characters, which a Battleborn dev referred to as "anime meets Pixar", and I don't think I can come up with a better phrase than that. In this sense, the art style is a different form of uninspired, instead choosing to have incredibly detailed character and weapon models with a bunch of doodads and accessories plastered onto them like the jagged metal spurs on a statue, forming their own form of contemptible design with a failure. Overwatch exemplifies this, being characters which exist only as a series of action figures throwing down in a sparse map, as opposed to designs that reflect a simple beauty in their character and not a need to throw as much shit at a character model and seeing what sticks.
While the dank realism of shooter games still exists, it exists in more fitting forms such as with fantasy games like Dark Souls, which is a bunch of knights fighting monsters in settings that look ripped from Quake. Gaming has discredited the typical scenario of a bunch of dudes in a desert, jungle, or city fighting each other for no penetrable reason, and this is due to the culture discrediting it for a lack of originality. Naturally the dudebros of the world won't give a flying fuck about anything that isn't the perfectly brown syrup on their perfectly circular pancakes, and so the style will always exist in one form or another.
Graphical lack of context
Just as praising a game mechanics for being "innovative" is meaningless without the context of other works, calling an art style "unique" is meaningless without the context of other art styles, which reviewers all too often fail to provide. While there's an implication that we're putting a work into the context of others, all it is, is an implication. Going with Wind Waker, yes, Wind Waker looks different from Majora's Mask, and it doesn't take a detailed vision to understand why the toon style is different from the realistic one. But to consider them both great styles without understanding the differences between them is a disservice to the games.
You always have to look at an art style in a game through the perspective of "What does this art style do for the player?". You can't throw art onto a game with disregard - you have to understand that the player is going to use the style you choose to poke around your game world and try to make discoveries about it. If you make your game a dirty and grungy and generally unfun experience, then your player will assume a real-life point of view and try not to do anything extreme. But if you make the style lighter and softer, the player will expect you can do more with the game, and they will try to break it because they're not expected to take things more seriously.
Granted, this isn't to say that somebody will instantly change their gaming style based on how the game works, but if you're going to make your game realistic, it's very much unrealistic to add in "video gamey" mechanics like rocket jumping, health packs, strafe-shooting, and going full HAM with your guns out. Easy example: compare Half-Life 2 to Team Fortress 2. The art style of the former was restricted, and as such you couldn't do anything like grenade jumping or laser boosting like in Half-Life 1, though you could still jump backwards and bunny hop across the level at the speed of a train (video games are incredible). In Team Fortress 2, this silliness is encouraged, and a brief look at their development blog, the REALLY early posts, will show that they wanted the art style to be less restrictive than Half-Life's. This fits in well with its use of video-gamey mechanics as described above.
And game reviewers just don't have that perspective. Do you think they'll look at Resident Evil and see its cramped designs and numerous chokepoints as an affordance for the gameplay to be a close-quarters and intense brawl? They might instinctively know that the realistic art style makes it scarier, but they don't have the talent to express why that is. It might be obvious to say that more realistic art makes the horror more believable, though I have been spooked solid many times not by the technical skill of a piece of art, but by the concepts that they represent. And reviewers certainly won't share their own experiences with being spooked solid, otherwise they might trigger the creative thought alarm.
So a lot of information being expressed, and in sum, the failures of reviewers to appreciate graphic design as it is applied to video games, not just in a specific work, but in the context of video games as a whole, understand its importance to the process of how games are made, and the failure to express those concepts, leading to their opinions on graphics being evidently unimportant. Because they cannot summarise why graphics are important to games, which ties into gameplay tightly, it is also unlikely that they'll talk about the importance of mechanics, leading them to give video games higher scores (which is an arbitrary number that doesn't represent thousands of words of opinion) because of their ignorance of the medium.
A short burst of numbers
Reviewers have been accused of giving outlandishly inappropriate scores to games in the past, as they will in the future. If a reviewer likes a game that nobody else does, expect their opinions to be disregarded. If they dislike a game that everybody else does, expect them to be called biased for not liking what you like. Of course, these are only issues if the writer is so shit that they can't convince people of their opinion - and this doesn't apply to the Internet hate mob which gangs up on writers without even reading what they wrote. The famous "8.8" score was legendary because of this. Somebody didn't like Twilight Princess as much as is federally required, and gave it a "great but not amazing score".
I find it fucking incredible how an eight and an eighth out of ten is considered to be unacceptable - doing something 88% percent right is a terrible strategy for keeping a job, but when you're working with something as hard as making art, it's generally a miracle that you do everything even 70% right. The problem with these sentiments is that these percentage points are completely arbitrary. They don't mean anything without being compared to other examples, because otherwise you're reviewing things in a vacuum where there are no rules. I've expressed this sentiment about a dozen times in this article, but it's so important to understand that I will keep saying it until you learn that you cannot express an opinion without giving concrete evidence as to why that opinion is right. Opinions are just facts as distorted through a worldview.
I could bitch about the scoring system for a long while, but the paragraph can be summed up with what I just wrote above. You simply can't distill an opinion into a number, because everybody has their own personal biases towards art that cannot be whisked away by a number. By providing a number, you alter their biases by causing them to think in terms of that number, and not in terms of what they will personally get out of a video game, and what they feel during playing it, and instead cause them to talk about works in a way that is easily dismissed by critics as not having a high enough number, or derided because it had a number that was too low for their tastes.
The numbers aren't indicators of what a reviewer felt about a game. Most of the time they're inflated, because they ignore flaws in a game that would theoretically cause the number to be subtracted from. Because of this, gamers have been taught that the only games worth playing are those with numbers that start with "nine", and sometimes "eight", regardless of what they would personally enjoy. To replace a review, with all its nuances, biases, and opinions, into a one-byte number is like replacing a Mozart symphony with a five-second MIDI, or the Louvre with a single-frame GIF. It's so poor of an abstraction that it tells you almost nothing about the work at large, and what little it tells you is not enough to make your own opinions on a work, instead leading to dismissal by a bored gamer who looks at numbers and decides to play games because of those numbers.
What buffers my dander isn't when some randy gives a high number to a game out of their own dispassionate view towards it. Given the circumstances of their upbringing where they both have to deal with a publisher that has to suck and fuck for review copies and have to practice more self-censorship than the entire Chinese populace, in addition to the person deciding that the best way to get involved with games is to put themselves in a position where their work is as easily digested and shat out as a jalapeno scone, I can't blame them for being so bloody awful. What instead danders my buffer is when everybody and their damn mother believes that a game is worth playing because the collective numbers of a bunch of randies, as if their opinions were more important than the opinions of a single intelligent man. I'm looking at you me. You're the only person I trust, so don't slack off. I still love you though, so don't worry. We're going to fuck later, eh? Yeah, I know...
Enough with the narcissism, though also interesting to note that believing in one's opinion as infallible is a sure way to get your website DDOS'd (please do, I need the traffic to sell advertisements), and also makes you an unpleasant person in general. I would say the best way to write, and I got this from a My Little Pony fanfiction guide, so you know there are no ego issues there, is to write the first draft completely unabashedly, trash every single unfunny, worthless, or contradictory line as you're writing it, look over the paragraph every time you finish one, and then by the end, take one last hard work at your work and think of it through the eyes of somebody who absolutely hates your guts. Write like you're God, and edit like you're a mad motherfucker with something to prove. When you get good at it, the editing-while-writing takes a few seconds and comes naturally, and the giving the work a once-over
Enough with the arbitrary writing tips, though it's important to note that if something in your work is interesting to the reader, there's no reason to throw it out, as it adds value to your work even if it isn't what they came for. It's about the journey, and not the destination, that makes the reader enjoy your work. And if your work is 10,000 words long, you'll definitely need that journey to be interesting, as opposed to the game Journey, which wasn't. I need to fill words here to get to the next paragraph so I don't feel like this paragraph was a distraction from the main topic which would be dead easy to write, though my character counter is coming close to 50,000 words and I really like the number 50,000.
Bitching about Best Ofs
Enough with the blatant padding. This issue that I have with a bunch of randies having their opinions treated like the Gospel is that it's too easy to pigeonhole games into being good based on a consensus of assholes and not the refined opinions of a few men that you know and trust. This is exemplified best in the Wikipedia "List of games considered the best" page, which is updated constantly with whatever games were considered to be "the best" by at least ten different lists which compiled games that they opined as such, without regard for who wrote those lists and what their editorial point of view was, their justifications for the game being on the list, and whether or not the justification is great enough for any such games to be on a list.
Consider Kingdom Hearts, with gameplay that ranged from functional to overwrought, boring, and a waste of potential, design decisions that show contempt for the player - such as forcing them to wait through cutscenes every time, making bosses have three times as much health as they need, giving them upgrades in no logical sense of progression, and making them play mini-games which will never be brought up again -, and a story that's so simple that it's mind blowing how they managed to fuck it up, constantly introducing plot points and characters that never go anywhere, and not even having the balls to have an ending beyond "here's hoping for a sequel, guys!". Granted, it was 2002, so I'm guessing it has that Goldeneye 64 quality of being worse than you remember.
It should be noted that there is a serious difference between a game that can be considered good for its time, and a game that is still good now. These differences come through the fundamentals, such as technical choices that made the most of the platform they were on, a story which makes the most out of video games, and gameplay which innovated for its time yet was firmly grounded in what would universally be considered sensible design. When the march of time takes its toll, it breaks down these fundamentals, and games that stand its test are the ones which made good decisions.
Goldeneye 64 doesn't hold up because the developers were restricted by their poor technical choices, such as a charitable 10 frames per second, a control scheme which is great if you have three hands, and AI that has real problems with waist-high fences and staircases, it overshadows the innovations of FPSs, such as allowing you to take a stealthy option with silenced guns, having intuitive and tightly-design combat and level design, objectives that gave you free roam over the level and encouraged you to explore it, and a multiplayer mode with game flow that is still unlike anything that's come after it.
Kingdom Hearts doesn't suffer from any of these problems - it has next to no technical problems, the control scheme is actually brilliant, and the enemy design is unique and sensible. The foundations were great, as was the feeling of being able to experience novel environments like in Spyro the Dragon and Ocarina of Time. It is, however, about fifteen hours too long, has an overwritten story with levels that feels like a series of fezbears, gives no development for its characters nor reasons for us to care, suffers from boss and mook fights which are dead easy and end up being a grind (except for Kurt Zisa and Sepiroth, which actually made the most of the game mechanics instead of just having us spam our best abilities), and pacing which grinds the action harder than bone. Its good parts are good because you can see the potential in them to be great - not because they are, in a cohesive work, a good feature.
So if Kingdom Hearts can belong in the same list as Bioshock, Portal, Deus Ex, Snake Eater, Ocarina of Time, and Super Mario Galaxy, then the reviewers who decided that Kingdom Hearts was one of "the best games of all time", either have not developed good enough personal taste to understand that a work that you really, really want to be good, and yet isn't, is not good, or had its flaws blissfully float by their heads as they are stood in shock and awe by its fezbears. Or maybe they're just being charitable, but to expect the games reviewers that consider Kingdom Hearts of exceptional quality to understand what exceptional quality is - wait, that's cyclical reasoning. Replace Kingdom Hearts with, uh, "Journey"... yeah, that'll do.
No, I'm not using this as a launch pad to bash a fourteen-year-old game. I'm pointing out that reviewers are blind to these problems and instead give exceptionally favourable numbers to games despite them, undermining the purpose of such scores as a supposedly "objective" unit of measurement, not understanding that opinions by definition cannot be objective, and so causes their position on any "best of" list to be looked at with extreme skepticism. We then have to wonder what the bloody hell a number is for. Well, we know what it's for. It's to look good on Metacritic and to give the audience something to scroll to the bottom to, like chickens being fed through a tube.
So I guess any intelligent discourse as to what a number is really "for" won't matter in a practical sense, because anybody smart enough to realise that numbers aren't representative of a complex opinion won't end up using them, and anybody ignorant enough to be using numbers don't care about the innate problems with them, choosing to ignore the problems in favour of being as easily-digestible and appealing to both audiences and advertisers alike, selling their power of persuasion in exchange for the dollar.
That then leads to people who are using numbers out of necessity, but understand their problems. What is a number for to them? Well, I always though that the ideal number system would not be representative of the supposedly objective nature of what is considered to be good things in a game, such as stability, a sensible plot, decent gameplay, characters that aren't ass, and music that's good too, but instead a representation of the person's opinion they had of the game. Looking at a game through that lens is great for people devoid of soul, though for those of us of higher standards who don't enjoy playing games that are technically competent and yet have zero innovation, we must chew on a little bit more.
There's no doubt in my mind that Pokemon Mystery Dungeon: Explorers of Sky is a hell of a grind with some design decisions that make you wonder what they were smoking. That said, I would be inclined to give it a very high number not because it is the best game technically, but because it is one of the games that most deserves to be played to the end. Meanwhile, I gave Bioshock Infinite shit because while it was perfectly functional technically and with some graphics that make for nice screenshots, it suffered from having a huge difficulty curve to the point of being a chore to complete, gameplay that was ill-fitting for the fights it put us in, a story that's really simple and yet throws bullshit at us by virtue of being up its own ass, and themes that manage to be laughably bad while still being aforementioned up its own ass. I'd give it a low number, but I don't fuck with numbers (for the reasons above, no TL;DR in my house), so don't expect any.
The end of Best Of
The shocking twist is that neither of these games are on the Wikipedia "best of" list for now. Bioshock Infinite is too damn new, even though The Last of Us is on that list, and Christ knows that was a dreadful experience, and probably suffers from all the people feeling bad that a game is talking about racism. To be perfectly fair, it talked about racism extremely poorly, but that was enough to get a rise out of the dumbasses of the Internet who haven't even played the game, or watched people play the game, or read a review of the game, or watched more than five minutes of footage. Why am I bringing up 2013 again?
I don't think Bioshock Infinite is a great game if I'm being lenient, and if I'm being harsh, I don't even think it was a good game. But a hell of a lot of people do, so I was surprised to see that it wasn't included on Wikipedia's list, for winning 71 arbitrary industry awards because the games industry whores out awards worse than live-action television (maybe not as much), and generally getting its dick sucked. So if such a darling isn't on this list, then what deserves to be on it? I could tell you what doesn't, but we'd be here all day, and I've already been pushing my luck fighting off sleep deprivation for the past week.
Now if the safest and most bland pick for one of the "best games" isn't on the "best games" list, what is the hot chance in hell that I'm ever going to see a game like Explorers of Sky on there? It isn't a universally-liked game; it wasn't even liked that much on release, and it was barely given a footnote in Nintendo history, if gaming history at large. Not even two more sequels has given it any impact on the gaming world, except for Famitsu, who's the Japanese IGN so they don't count. The only people giving this game any cred is the Pokemon fandom, and having played the same game for over two decades, they aren't known for their intelligent discourse on video games.
But I'm picking up the world and dropping it on its fucking head, because I liked it a hell of a lot more than I did most of the games on that list - even the ones I felt deserved to be on there. I liked it because it had a story that managed to make a grown man cry, and I'm that grown man, and thinking about it still makes me tear up a little bit, and nothing in my memory holds that special space. Any complaint I could make about it is but a petty niggle on a hearty journey with joyful sights and a cast of characters you end up caring about - all of them - and not just as a means to slog through more gameplay. It's one of those very few games I felt personally invested in, personally attached to, like it mattered that I was playing it and not just as a distraction from the grave. It is a joy to play and a joy to experience and at the same time will make you really, truly, sad if you let it.
This will probably be meaningless without a full review, or you actually playing the game and finding it as special as I have, but let me throw it out there. Nintendo has every opportunity in the world to keep making games like this. Nintendo has all the money in the world to finance new experiments, and they have the most creative development teams in the entire games industry. They do one thing, and they do it well: video games. And every time they squander that opportunity to throw away a new Mario thing, or Zelda thing, that will be forgotten within one month of its release except as a collection of screenshots on Tumblr, they throw away their opportunity to change lives and remind the world just what Nintendo is capable of doing. And I know they're capable - they've done it dozens of times before, in an industry where it's a miracle if you do it once.
Yeah, I know you might disagree with me, thinking it wasn't so great. I don't expect you to think of things with the same rosey-coloured eyes as I do, especially with something as subjective as art. I just hope to make you understand why I find it special, and what you might find special, too. I don't exaggerate. I don't like exaggerating. So whenever I say that something really means a lot to me... well, I mean it. I don't like exaggerating. So I don't. And I especially, above all else, do not lie. Given all of that, all I can do is show you why I feel.
And I guess the problem with games journalism is that, in a world where the gangs are all strutting their stuff trying to addict people into reading their publication, nobody's learned how to be sincere along the way. There's probably some youngster with a big heart out there writing for a bum job that they hate, and their talents are being squandered on an ungrateful populace. Do you think the people reading IGN give a fuck about how I felt while playing Pokemon? They don't care - they're just waiting for a number so they can shit on me for not giving it the number they wanted. And I suppose the chief problem with numbers, beyond all of the practical aspects, is that they give people permission to ignore what you have to say. And that ignorance is one of the worst things in the world to me.
I don't expect anybody to put it on a "best of" list. I don't even care. I don't need their permission to care, and their permission doesn't change how I felt in that month-long stretch of time I was playing the game with. I'm not treating it like the best thing ever, and I understand that it has its flaws, as to have something that is truly perfect is something we can only strive for. I, however, was impressed with the game in ways where the complaints ended up being minor, and the ways in which I was impressed with it are the reasons I look so highly upon it.
The exact same could be said for any of the "best of" games... so fuck them. If they want to justify to themselves that the milquetoast, run-of-the-mill trite that they've been shifting through the past five years, is not an endeavour in pumping and dumping a game with no consequences, no emotional attachment, and no positive life changes, but is instead something that you feel the need to subject other people without any regard for how they might care or feel about a work that isn't worth their time, isn't worth spending their life on, isn't worth occupying their thoughts with as a work of art, and not just mindless entertainment... fuck you.
I've expressed in a great deal of words what I sum up in these two. Reviewers don't respect video games, how they are made, or what they can do for people, and they write ignorantly about the most basic observations of such. They disrespect their players by recommending to them the cheap-and-easy, easily digestible dog food that comes out year after year, because they're too weak to develop a critical opinion about a work that doesn't come from the pressure to conform to stupid people's expectations. You waste the time of everybody you come into contact with by spreading opinions that are so bland and basic that they can be summarised by a number, and then using that number as a figurehead to lead your audience around like rats in a cage, because an audience that relies on such number as a replacement for actual, hard, work, is the audience that's the easiest to sell advertisements to. But to say your business was about anything but advertisements would be a folly on my part.
I have expressed in a great deal of words what I sum in these four:
Sincerely yours, fuck you.
I mean it, eh? Froghand.
Today's page was updated on September 30, 2016!
A lot of people speak without actually saying anything. Never trust somebody afraid to justify their opinion.