How does one, as this holiday season kicks into full gear and so many new video game owners erupt into this world, decipher between the games worth playing and those worth throwing into the fire place. Easily, common sense would tell us, by looking at gaming Web sites. But the absolutely horrid (and questionably corrupt) universal positive ratings for some games should make any new buyer cautious. The purest example: FIFA 10, a score of 91 by Metacritic (http://www.metacritic.com/games/platforms/ps3/fifasoccer10?q=fifa%2010) and a generous 8.0 by users. Anyone who has spent more than an hour with game becomes so frustrated with it that they want to bend it in half and whip the shattered pieces across the room if not for the resale value[i].
These Web sites also love to praise unnecessary changes in sequels (that they call for in their original reviews) and use these to rank their sequential reviews higher. Why are their more options for guns in Uncharted 2? Is anyone really a fan of this?? Are there really people that enjoy being in the heat of a gun battle with their fully loaded AK-47 and as they fire and then when trying to pick up more ammo are instead given a new gun with almost no bullets, and unable to find the original gun they finish out the battle, are given a cutscene, and forced to start the next chapter with the now empty gun and unable to retrace their steps to get the once full one? Really? People enjoy this? And do not blame the developer. Uncharted 1 introduced one new automatic weapon towards the end of the game and it never interfered with combat. Now all of a sudden the sequel is inundated with them, and we’re supposed to think it has nothing to do with the big-brother-type influence game reviewers hold over the quality of suggestions developers receive and implement?
Listen, game reviews have led me to great games. I never would have purchased Prince of Persia for PlayStation 3 (despite playing almost every other incarnation[ii]) if not for the review on IGN, and Fallout 3 was sold to me by it’s wonderful and descriptive reviews by many, many publications. But the fact that they can be horribly misleading (how does Devil May Cry 4 get an 84 on Metacritic when anyone over the age of 13 can do nothing but cringe at every cutscene? And what does it say about me that I actually played through the whole game?[iii]) Listen, I’ve been playing video games for almost my entire life, and I’ve been pretty selective with them. Most games I’ve purchased after they’ve been out for a while. But as I look back, I realize not only how wrong reviews can be, but unnecessarily subjective. I mean, do people actually listen to movie or music critics? It seems to me that word of mouth spreads a product second only to advertising, which obviously trumps all (except for the rare game like LittleBigPlanet, which I, personally, could not stand, which may discredit this entire article).
So how does one go about finding the best games this holiday season? It’s impossible. There are two games I personally think anyone would enjoy (well I guess 3):
Uncharted (obviously go with the first one for the monetary and sequential reasons, but neither have any drawbacks).
Bioshock (I defy anyone to prove, with substantial evidence, that this is not one of the best atmospheric and aesthetic entertainment experiences one can be a part of).
After that it’s anyone’s guess. I personally prefer storyline over everything else. And the open-worldness bugs me, this supposed sandboxness that all reviewers seem to crave, despite how unnecessary it is (it works great for certain games, likeFallout 3 and GTA4, but is annoying in a game that is built for linear play, like Assassin’s Creed II).
So what are we comparing games to? What is the standard? What is a game like Modern Warfare being judged against? If it’s just graphics than the game should be a 10. The storyline is good, but it is far too short for a game, and all the people playing it care about is the multiplayer. So in that sense, why are they even bothering with a storyline? And why is it being judged on things like graphics and sound? If movies were reviewed like games than Pluto Nash would be a 7 at least, right? Graphics and sound would bump up its score. So why do games get such substandard treatment. So many of these sites like to say their overall score isn’t an average, but it so often feels like one. A game with bad graphics almost never gets a good overall score, but a game with great graphics almost never seems to get a bad one. Shouldn’t the overall experience be the only thing rated, just like any other medium? We could say it’s coincidence (or maybe I’m just an idiot and I’ll be proven horribly wrong) but it seems that games just aren’t held to the same standard. It’s 8’s across the board or bust. Any disparity is revealed in the comments, but come on, who actually reads those?
Unfortunately, I have no answer as to how to pick your games. I have yet to find a site that rates games with great accuracy. Things like nostalgia play too great a role (which is why Metal Gear Solid 4 got so many perfect scores) and reviewers like it when things they are personal fans of are included, even if it doesn’t work well for the game (and in an industry so rampant with sequels, this happens a lot, as developers feel like they have to make additions in order to sell sequels). But good luck with your purchases, and remember, if you don’t like a game, you can always sell it on eBay, and hopefully make most of your money back.
[i] FIFA 10’s major problems have been exhausted elsewhere, but here are the main ones to me: a) There is a lag between when you press the pass or shoot button and when the player actually does, resulting in the player losing the ball before completing the action far, far too often. b) Defenders run away from opposing players as they charge into the box, parting like the red sea for the opponent to shoot on goal, no matter how you struggle to switch to a nearby player. The computer gets a cheap goal like this once every other game or so. c) There seems to be no rhyme or reason behind passes, often going astray for reasons you’ll never be able to comprehend. d) You will NEVER get a foul called in your favor, especially not in range to score on a freekick. You will get the whistle blown against you for the touchiest of fouls, though. So, to be fair, the total amount of fouls called is probably reasonably accurate, it’s just that, they’re all against you. e) It is impossible to score on corner kicks. The one time out of ten your player gets a head on it, it will always sail over the bar. f) Players fall over at the slightest touch (especially if sprinting) and have no urgency at all to get up. In fact, no one on your time will ever show urgency to do anything at any point. It’s as if the attitude of Vince Carter inhabits every player on the pitch.
[ii] There are very few franchises in which I have played all the major versions of (actually, Mario is the only one I can think of, though Zelda is close). When you play through a couple incarnations of a game, it is usually because you liked the first one so much that you want to enjoy the experience again, but by the time you get to the third or fourth version you are consciously questioning why you are playing this game again as you are going through it. And once you do this, your love affair is pretty much over and you’ll ignore any new versions (Tony Hawk fans are nodding their heads, I’m sure). So having played most of the Prince of Persia games, Nintendo through PlayStation 2, I had this open questioning happen pretty much right at the start of Warrior Within. I labored through the game and never planned on playing another PoP game again. The IGN review for the newest one caught my eye and convinced me the game was worth playing. It was cheap and I had a gift card, so I got it, and it turned out to be one of the better games I’ve played on PS3. So there you go.
[iii] Maybe it’s because I’m cheap, but I feel like if I purchase a game I have to beat it. There aren’t many games I will give up on because of poor quality. Even games that are unnecessarily difficult I will begrudgingly labor through. There is an overwhelming urge to complete the game no matter how much I hate it. About the only thing that can stop me is length. If I’m just not feeling a game and know there is no end in sight, I’ll stop. I’m talking to you Vagrant Story.