I’m a video game critic and I’ll say it out loud. But can I just say out loud how much I’ve been wrong in reviewing video games? And even worse, should I say it out loud that I’ll probably repeat these mistakes again in the future?
The last time I explained how to review a game to an amateur critic, I saw more problems than ever before. when we want to review a game, we consider 4 parts: Story, Gameplay, Graphics, Music but this isn’t true! In this article I’ll tell you why I think the current game review system still has a long way to go.
In reviewing books, movies, or even food, we have more norm-breaking critics who believe that the title in front of them is a single work, not a separable thing. Professional game critics are less likely to believe this principle. We separate many inseparable aspects of games and rate them like consumer products. Of course, I agree that examining the components of a game separately is one of the main elements of traditional reviews, but we have a problem exactly with this element: traditional!
Games are not traditional products; games belong to the future! Even the first Super Mario game contains amazing pieces of technology, cinema, literature and music. Death Stranding was mostly criticized for its boring gameplay and lack of creativity. On the other hand, some critics introduced this game as one of the best games in history, especially for its creativity and avoiding stereotypes!
Why is there so much difference between the reviews? Disagreement is not a problem, but we are talking about fundamental disagreement. What’s worse, the critics don’t even offer a good reason for this huge gap. The creativity does not necessarily mean that we must praise the game and the opposite is also true!
Should we consider strongly negative reviews or strongly positive reviews? Considering the average of strongly positive and negative reviews leaves us even more confused. The truth is that we see video games not as a form of art but more as a commercial product made with the sole purpose of making money. Unfortunately, even something like Journey can’t change that among critics. Of course, they may believe in something other than this, but in practice they behave differently.
The games themselves have a part in this thinking and their approach leads us to this conclusion. we can refer to the debates caused by loot boxes in the past. Consider different versions of Call of Duty, Assassin’s Creed and many battle royale and mobile games for the next few minutes. These games explain what we want to say.
The sound and visual effects of many games turn them into blockbusters. Many companies release new versions of their popular games every year without any interruption. Let’s put it this way: we could stand here and talk about the evil nature of big corporations for the rest of this article, but what work of art isn’t primarily commercial? Even such thinking does not allow us to look at video games only from a commercial point of view.
Critics often forget to look at events differently. They forget that the value of buying an interactive product is vastly different from the value of play it. You may play a game for the money you paid for it, but how much do you care about playing for other values? How much do you care that a puzzle in Braid engages your brain and inspires you? This game uses pixel graphics that were used before the modern era of games, but this particular graphics has created a ground for fun innovations in the field of Game Design and, in the next place, storytelling.
Or, how much do you care to challenge Free Will in The Stanley Parable? Even if a critic agrees with the high quality of this game and suggests everyone to play it, there are still many philosophical discussions in the background that a traditional review is unable to express. The problem is that traditional critics cannot point to other reasons that are as important as paying to play a game. Reasons that should happen to be more important.
Shadow of the Colossus challenges most of the common rules of video games. Instead of fighting different waves of enemies, you jump right into boss fights. If you consider the value of the money you paid, it seems that half of the game, which is fighting different enemies and passing different obstacles, has been removed.
But in fact, the game is based on showing something more purposeful and meaningful. In every part of the game, there is a sense of loneliness. Shadow of the Colossus provides a dark and incredibly clever connection to Ico and its forbidden world. Do critics pay as much attention to a game’s meaningful emptiness as they do to how much it fills?
Reviews of Shadow of the colossus are largely positive, but some critics have praised it based on attitudes that the developers may not consider an advantage at all and do not want players to play it with that mentality. I’m not insisting that a critic must consider a game’s creator’s intent in their review, but if they do, they’re a step away from traditional review. This type of review is no longer about what the player wants, but about what the developer wants.
If the creators of Deus Ex didn’t impose their own world view on the game, maybe it would have sold more copies, but we would simply forget it. The reason Cult media works become CULT is dependent on the persistence of the creators on the features that make them last in minds but fail in markets. Critics do not see these features, and even if they do, they cannot introduce them correctly.
Some Video Games Make Critics Reconsider
Some indie game developers go against the market trend in such a way that critics can’t use common review methods. The doors to traditional reviews close at the point where games don’t try to be commercially attractive. Undertale doesn’t even try to sound commercially attractive and attract more buyers; So how does the critic want to criticize this game based on the purchase value, which the game itself negates? No wonder we call indie games indie gems!
At a glance, we realize that even the price of indie games is only enough for their developers to be able to continue their path in the way of showing different reasons to play. The Forgotten City With a gameplay shorter than 10 hours and half the price of a AAA game, will not force you to play the game as much as the recent versions of Assassin’s Creed does!
Both games take place in the historical settings. But The Forgotten City brings you to a different ending each round, and instead of forcing you play the game again, you’ll probably be personally motivated to play it again. In indie or art games, the buy value gives its place to other values for playing a game. Maybe that’s why well-made indie or art games have a better chance of not being criticized by critics from the point of view of a commercial product.
If the critic fails to understand the metaphor and symbolism of The Last of Us Part 2, all attention will be focused on the visual effects, sound and gameplay, which seem to have no purpose without understanding the philosophy behind the game. When the critic changes his lens and tries to write about something that has been written about less than before, probably concludes that he needs to show people to look where they weren’t looking before.
So, if the critic takes the initiative, with this new approach, he can introduce the audience to historical, social, political and other subjects. Such a rare critic can show why the differences between capitalism and other economic systems in Disco Elysium are extremely noticeable. That’s when the real magic of a game is shared between the developer, player, and critic.
The Problem Remains With Us
However, the overall problem is not going anywhere. Many critics, after reviewing a game, never come back to it, or if they get a chance to play the game again and even change their mind, no one notices. Fallout 76 and No Man’s Sky in their current state are not the same games that were released in the past. As a heavily commercial product, Assassin’s Creed Unity was criticized for its bugs at the time of its release. considering we have said so far, we know that even if this game had no bugs, it would not be criticized with the right attitude.
This attitude come back to the same materialism view that we talked about. Apparently, there is no difference between an electronic product and a game; the game must work like a full functionality product. Games, in the eyes of our great critics, dance between a form of software and art!
On the other hand, user reviews under an evidence-based system (like hours of gameplay) are far better than professional critics. Reading Steam user reviews is one of the best ways to decide whether to play a game. These users review the game through different lenses without even knowing it. Even YouTube reviews have relatively more credibility than most media critics.
We have no doubt that there’s no problem with critical thinking and it should be welcomed in any situation, but when thinking is removed from it, we’re left with a critical situation! Let’s go back to the previous parts of this article; I said very clearly that creativity and innovation alone cannot be good reasons to praise a game, but even if the innovation and creativity in a game does not make that game worthy of praise, it can make critics think for a few minutes, change their method and show the lost potentials of that game better.
So, finally does everything we’ve said so far make me want to talk about game reviewing differently the next time I talk to an amateur critic? I’ll try but anyway he should learn that himself over time. But as for me, maybe next time I accept with all my heart that I’m a professional in being an amateur!