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 â€“ 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 â€“ 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 â€“ 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 â€˜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 â€“ even though its technical package is sound! The other side of the coin is Metal Gear Solid 2: a game I really dislike â€“ and most people do too! â€“ 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)