Over the last few days, there's been a lot of heat directed at Bobby Hunter, the reviewer who covered Witcher 2 for Gamer Limit.
Full disclosure, I've only played about six hours of Witcher 2. Personally, it wasn't ringing my bell and I didn't feel compelled to play more. I read Bobby's piece since it was the lowest-scored at MetaCritic (I do this for most games I play) and although I didn't finish the game, I found myself agreeing with many of the points he raises.
(I also largely agreed with my fellow critic @RichardNaik in his review of the PC version.)
In any event, the reason I bring this up is not because I agree with the criticisms, but to express a little surprise at how many people in the review sphere seemed eager to take Mr. Hunter to task for any number of reasons; everything ranging from his low score bringing down the Metacritic average and potentially causing a loss of income to the developer, to people who felt that the score was too low despite the site not posting a rubric on their scoring policy. I'm not even going to bring up what was said in the comments posted directly to the review itself.
Even more strangely than those issues, I saw several people complaining that this review had harshly graded The Witcher for not being a hack-and-slash—in fact, Mr. Hunter never states such, only that he says:
"Those coming into the game looking for a simple hack n' slash action RPG will be sorely disappointed."
I don't quite understand how this one sentence could be misinterpreted and extrapolated into the idea that the reviewer docked points for the game not being in a certain genre, but the people who were lighting torches over it should douse them and re-read what he actually said.
I don't know Mr. Hunter, I've never spoken to him, and I have no stake in supporting or defending either his work or Witcher 2, but after seeing the fallout from this review, it seems like we've still got a long way to go...
First of all, the score is just an arbitrary number. Really, that's all it is. There's no standard scale that anyone adheres to unless you want to look towards the "eight is average" overinflation that currently plagues many reviews. So he gave it a 4.5… And what? What "should" it be, and why do we care?
Also, the idea that reviewers should be somehow responsible for the compensation towards developers is absolutely ludicrous. The only responsibility reviewers have is to be honest and to explain their impressions. Any reviewer who takes on the burden of inflating scores so that developers will earn bonuses in accordance with cockamamie publisher metrics needs to stop writing reviews immediately.
Finally, I'd like to applaud Mr. Hunter for being brave enough to go against the current wave of love that Witcher 2 is receiving. To be clear, I'm not saying that the game doesn't deserve it. I haven't seen enough of the game to know, and I don't really have an opinion other than the fact that the first six hours didn't grab me. No, what I'm applauding is that someone decided to express their opinion and give criticism of the current favorite son of critics and players alike. It's a hard thing to take an unpopular stand, but if you ask me, I think that review sphere could use more of it.
As someone who's been playing games for thirty years and writing about them for twelve, I see the same cycle over and over again: a new, hot game comes out. Initial scores are through the roof and critics fall all over themselves to lavish praise. Months (or even weeks) later, lower scores start to trickle in and many of the initial supporters start saying things like "it was good, BUT…" or "Eh, it really wasn't all that…"
I think that if more writers resisted the urge to get caught up in New Game Hype and evaluated titles without fear of repercussions, without fear of lowering the MetaScore, or without fear of being the odd man/woman out, we'd see a much wider range of ratings and viewpoints that more accurately represents the array of opinions that I'm sure are out there. I can only see that as a very healthy thing.
Don't get me wrong , I'm not trying to paint all games writers with one broad brush here. There are certainly people out there fighting the good fight, and there are some writers who I greatly respect for taking the work quite seriously. Without a doubt.
That said, the response from many to this review was still a little surprising, and it just reinforced to me that gamers (and especially reviewers!) have to be okay with the dissenters just as we are with the cheerleaders. There's a world of difference between a review that you disagree with because it's factually wrong or does not support the ideas it presents, and one that you disagree with because you like the game more or less than the author did. If we can't accept that there might be some people out there who have a different, equally-valid opinion, then what hope do reviews have of ever being worth a damn?