Fair warning: I'm in the mood to rant tonight, and I've got something to get off my chest.
By the way, this rant isn't about any one person, game or review in particular. If you think it's about you, it's not.
(…and if you still think it's about you, it's still not.)
Also, if you're easily angered or not in the mood for a strong, non-Politically Correct opinion, do yourself a favor and click elsewhere… it'll be better for the both of us.
Now that we're at the tail end of 2011, I've got to say that not only has it been a somewhat uninspiring year, it's also ending on a strange note. Recently, I've seen a number of reviews, commentaries, and editorials that seem to suggest that a writer's "feeling" on a game is an acceptable way to review something.
From my perspective, it's not.
If you ask me what a review should be, it should absolutely include feelings, thoughts, and emotions that are stirred in the player. However, it needs to also include other factors, such as various aspects of design, how bug-free the technical side is, and how it functions overall. On top of that, a good critic will take into account a game's content in terms of how it relates to others that have come before it. Does the game in question bring something new to the table? Are there innovations or new ideas?
While I have never believed that a reviewer should (or can) ever be objective, I do think that it's possible to temper a personal level of enjoyment with all of the other factors that go into a critical, comprehensive review. If a piece of writing or a final judgment is passed on the game with the overwhelming reasoning for the score being "feeling", then that's not a review, it's being a fan.
To illustrate the point, my game of the year for 2010 (and I repeat for emphasis, my game of the year) was Deadly Premonition. I absolutely fell in love with it game despite a wealth of problems. However, main character Francis York Morgan was one of the best-written I've ever seen, the story was mature and absolutely intriguing, and the approach by the game's director was frustrating, challenging to my expectations, and genius-level brilliant, all at the same time. What score did I give it in my review? 7.5
If I had gone with my feelings leading the way, I could easily imagine giving it an 11/10 or something equally hyperbolic and absurd. I didn't. Instead, I took note of how much it won me over in terms of emotional connection and intellectual engagement, and then contrasted that with the obvious issues in production, control, combat, and so on. I never stopped saying positive things about the game to anyone who asked, and when given the chance, I was happy to give it the highest honors available to me. In terms of the actual review, I had to be as fair as possible and there was just no getting around the fact that it had warts.
Am I a fan of Deadly Premonition? Absolutely, but taking that particular ball and running with it wouldn't have led to anything resembling what I consider to be a good review. When it comes to a number of games that have been released in the fourth quarter, I can't help but feel as though the concept of "being fair" as I just described has been tossed out the window in service to the giddy excitement that accompanies cracking open the plastic on a blockbuster game and diving in two weeks before retail release.
The biggest and most common example is (obviously) Skyrim, and the staggering number of perfect scores it's racked up—currently thirty 100's on MetaCritic, on the 360 alone.
Is it a terrible game? No, not at all, but I certainly don't think it's deserving of top marks for a number of reasons. However, a number of paeans to its freedom and beauty beg to differ. I don't dispute the fact that people enjoy the game, but it seems to me as though quite a lot has been overlooked in order to praise it to the degree that most people do. The same can be said of Saints Row: The Third, Arkham City, Skyward Sword, Uncharted 3, and others. Although they don't enjoy the same number of perfect scores (though Zelda comes close) I saw many instances of "fun" being the gist, and short shrift given to potential problems.
I mean, don't get me wrong—most games are meant to be enjoyed. That's not in dispute. I guess I'm just surprised at how far the tide has shifted towards giving an utterly personal and subjective feeling so much weight while strongly downplaying areas that can legitimately be seen as in need of improvement. Besides that, I can't recall another time in recent memory where people have been so defensive and quick to take offense if a comment gets made about it.
Let's be perfectly frank here—how many times have you read a review of a certain game that was dripping with praise, only to hear that reviewer change his or her tune a month, two months, or six months afterwards?
It happens all… the… time.
Questioning a flood of glowing reviews for any title is par for the course as far as I'm concerned, but something about this particular year felt… different. It's almost as though people became insecure about their opinions and positions, and the level of touchiness just shot through the roof. The comments I got were nastier, friends were less friendly, and people who usually seem like calm heads got hot.
It's been some bad juju lately, man.
Anyway, if you ask me, I'm glad that 2011 is nearly over. Between some surprisingly underwhelming games and the level of sensitivity and raw nerves we're getting here at the end, and I'm more than ready to get started on 2012. Hopefully tossing out the old calendar and putting up a new one will welcome in some fresh energy, and the gaming sphere can hit the reset button and start over.