About Game Reviewing

It’s no secret that I’m a big fan of the Escapist Magazine. That link on our blogroll? My fault. I visit it practically every day to watch their videos (and by the Love of Kefka, those videos can load FAST!). Some of them even excite my mind to the point of warranting a reply in here.

The exception is Lisa Foiles‘ Top 5 videos. Until now.

While I enjoy her videos, Lisa hardly ever bring something insightful to the table. Usually, her videos are pure escapism (I SWEAR I looked up at Thesaurus for a synonym, but couldn’t find anything that conveys quite the same meaning!). Lisa is pleasant to look at (although I preferred when she was a brunette), her antics are (very) cute and I am always ready to hear other people’s top 5s just so that I can compare them with my own. But today, I watched Lisa Foiles’s Top 5 Best Celebrity Voiceovers and it irked me in a way akin to the response I have when Extra Credits say something I strongly disagree with.

Obviously, as in any Top Insert-number-here list, Lisa ranks the voice-overs according to her likes. But the thing is that the criterion was not the quality of the voice-over itself, but who the celebrity was. What Lisa did was a Top 5 Celebrities I Like the Most Who Happens to do Voice-overs for Games, where she goes on and on about that time she met Andy Serkins rather than explaining what made his voice-over in the game so great.

This got me thinking about one of the biggest issues I have with game critique today and the reason why sometimes I can go out of my way to quote other reviews in my own reviews, so I can explain why something that reviewer said is either right or wrong.

Now, I know I may get a very negative response out of this, but here it is: there is a difference between liking something and that something being great by some artistic merit. That difference can sometimes be hard to spot, but it is there. It is ALWAYS there. Any critic, including game critics, of any worth should know this – and yet so few of them actually do! I can count on my fingers the ones I think they do: Yahtzee, Tim Rogers (if you can ignore his frequent logorrhea, where he tries to pass banalities as if they were thoughtful comments), Thierry Nguyen, Michael Abbott, Jeremy Parish, Samuel Kite are the first ones that pop up in my mind.

Liking a game is the emotional connection you have with the artwork. That emotional connection may not involve said artwork’s artistic value – which is something that can be explained, argued and defended. Critiquing something is nothing more than the analysis in order to determinate such value. This is something IGN and Gamespot have never understood, and that Kotaku now has fully eliminated in their new aseptic reviews that could very well be written by machines. IGN has a deep problem with being influenced by hype and how big they expect a game is going to be versus how big the game actually is, but much more worrying is how they rate games based only on what they’ve liked. Some of their complaints (and they are complaints, not critiques) are so uniquely theirs, that they have already become perfect excuses for drinking games: one shot whenever IGN complained that Game X lacks voice acting (Does it even need voice acting? Who cares!); two shots when IGN complains Game Y is wordy (What does IGN has against reading anyways?). The result is that IGN likes practically everything and then, at the end of the year, it launches a Disappointments of the Year list filled with games they have already said they liked – meanwhile the rest of the internet does a collective facepalm. Gamespot, however, is worse. Gamespot doesn’t review games, it just describes them!

People like stuff they know are not great all the time, but they usually think this only happens when they like something that is really, really bad. Superman 64 kind of bad (and in this case they tend to fall into a ‘so bad it’s good’ fallacy, like Jim Sterling did when he reviewed Deadly Premonition (but I forgave him as soon as I’ve read his awesome Final Fantasy XIII mock-review)). However, this is a much more common occurrence than people realize. Take, for instance, Assassin’s Creed II. This is a game I like. In fact, most people do too. However, artistically, Assassin’s Creed II is broken. It’s filled with nonsense idiosyncrasies, a broken plot with missing parts, an ineptitude to understand the theme it tries to carry (brought over by the original game), many superficial and superfluous characters, etc – even though its technical package is sound! The other side of the coin is Metal Gear Solid 2: a game I really dislike – and most people do too! – but is, nevertheless, filled with artistic merit as, in it, Hideo Kojima wove the most cynical commentary on the nature of sequels I have ever seen in any kind of medium.

This, however, is beyond outlets like IGN and whoever believes that critiquing a game is just explaining what they like or dislike about it. They will be limiting themselves, saying that Assassin’s Creed II is a greater game than the original (it’s not) because it has a new monetary system or because the player can now swim.

There is more than that, of course. Being able to write a compelling prose will add a lot to your piece. But because  I can’t I have to be content in ending this post like this.

PS.: Hey, Lisa, is it normal to feel creepy when visiting your website? Because, you know… I kinda did.  (Not even your trusted “Import a Russian Wife” website of choice has that many pictures of a woman posing)
PPS.: Also, how tall are you? Just asking…
PPPS.: Nevermind. My wife say I should not ask that. My wife, she very good wife, bakes good goulash for Fernando to eat.


  1. Tim

    I think my biggest gripe with game reviews is a few things. First, it’s pretty clear they don’t finish the games before they write the review. Most reviews are written in a generic and vague manner. Second, unless it’s a big budget blockbuster or a game they got money to advertise on their site, they clearly don’t give a shit about it. They don’t write the reviews or hold them to the same standard as other games.

    Third, and probably the most annoying, most game “journalists” try to play cheerleader for *insert every small time development game here* or game that is “art”. I couldn’t count how many times I had to roll my eyes at the circle jerking over Braid, Limbo, Super Meat Boy, etc. I’m not dissing the quality of those games, but it’s not their job to push them to sell more. It’s incredibly irritating.

    On a side note, Assassin’s Creed 2 is better than the original is almost every way possible. I couldn’t stand the first game….disliked it with a passion.

    • I can understand why people dislike the first Assassin’s Creed, but it is still a greater game than ACII. Again, liking a game doesn’t necessarily implies greatness. The first AC is focused. It makes use of its annoyingly fixed structure (though, not unjustified, unlike ACII who makes Desmond relieve Ezio’s most inconsequential memories for no clear reason) to fortify its dual themes: one of redemption and hoodwink, and the other of how Assassins and Templars became the same as the steered away from religion (their logo “Nothing is true, everything is permitted” changing its meaning every time we hear it).

      But when talking about which game I like the most, I would have to pick the free-running racing game Ubisoft is yet to make (Come on, Ubi!!) – or perhaps a game consisted only of climbing uber tall stuff to jump from them – a mixture of Bionic Commando and Pilotwings with historical settings.

      I think the problem most reviewing outlets have is that the sooner they produce a review, the better. I pitied them when Red Dead Redemption came out and they had to review it. I can only absorb sand box games like that by taking small bites – and I’m yet way away from its ending (just gathered the posse to assault Fort Mercer – a activity that grew tiresome after the 3 time I had to save West Dicken’s annoying ass) – and I can’t imagine how exhausting it must have been for an IGN reviewer to play it beginning to end in a single weekend.

      As for the indie-enthusiasts, I get it that is much cooler to root for the underdog rather than the souless corporation… but I am yet to understand what people think is so awesome in a game like Limbo. I’ve heard it was an “incredibly deep” game, but few dare to justify it with stuff that are not abstractions they came up with – which is Limbo’s most prominent feature: its lack of features allows for a lot of abstraction. But then again, so is Canabalt. The difference is that while Canabalt is simple, Limbo is simplistic.