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On Games, Reviews, And Criticism -- Part 1

Patrick and BioWare senior designer Manveer Heir begin a three-part conversation about the role of criticism in today's writing about games.

When Simon Parkin published his review of Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception at Eurogamer, a mild firestorm erupted, launching a contentious debate about the role of criticism during the review process.

Parkin’s review took issue with the Uncharted design philosophy as a whole, but still awarded the game an 8/10 at the bottom of the page--a respectable score from an outlet as tough as Eurogamer!

Fans, developers, and even some writers wondered aloud whether Parkin had picked the appropriate venue for his examination of Naughty Dog’s choices. I wrote my own piece about the ensuing response, which prompted a more intimate conversation about the subject with game developer Manveer Heir, who is currently a senior designer on Mass Effect 3 at BioWare Montreal.

Heir has been kicking around the industry for a while now, having landed at BioWare Montreal and the Mass Effect series after five years with Raven Software in Wisconsin, the home state of my dearest football rivals. Heir is known for his outspoken nature, and isn’t one to walk away from a controversial subject. In fact, it was Heir that proposed we start a back-and-forth letter series about game reviews and publish it.

I suggested we throw it up on Giant Bomb in its entirety, and he agreed.

If you’re not familiar with Heir, you can read his dusty blog Design Rampage (which he promises to update), follow him on Twitter, scope this Kill Screen interview about his early years, or load up a Gamasutra interview about race.

Take it away, Manveer.

Note: This exchange took place over email, and I've done minimal editing to reflect the casual style.

--

Patrick,

Heir is working on Mass Effect 3, a sequel to one of this generation's most beloved games.

Thanks for agreeing to discuss the role of game criticism and reviews with me. It's something that has been bothering me for some time now, and I wanted to discuss it with someone who works in the field, instead of just talking to other people like myself who often bitch on Twitter. So you know where I'm coming from, I'll give you a brief background about myself before I became a game developer. I used to cover the news, write previews, reviews, and do interviews for the enthusiast press (what is now known as bloggers) for a couple sites when I was in high school and early college (late 90s, early 2000s). It was a means to an end to get connected to the game development community, instead of wanting to be a journalist, but hey, it worked. More specifically, I don't think I was particularly good at my job. I judged games on 100-point scales that broke scores down into component parts like graphics, sound, etc. (something I find abhorrent now in my life). I say this so you understand that I've actually done the job (to a novice extent) for over five years, and so I understand some of the pressures reviewers are under in today's climate, as well as how the job goes.

My issues currently stem from games criticism and games reviewing, and should they even be the same thing. I am of the mind that they should not, and here's why. I should explicitly note that all my opinions are my own and not my employer's. Games criticism is new, it's in its infancy, and it's growing with every day. Game reviews, on the other hand, have been consumed for a very long time. As a developer, I love game criticism. I love reading my issues of Kill Screen, I love reading how someone finds a game sexist or offensive due to certain elements that are engrained in our culture, when we never stop to sit and think WHY they are engrained. I love all of that, I want more criticism. As a developer, I thrive and grow off criticism. I need it from my peers and those outside to better my own sensibilities, lest my colleagues and I rest on our collective laurels in the future.

But when we give those criticisms a score, we do something else. We make the criticism the focus of the entire product. To use specific examples, let's look at Simon Parkin's Eurogamer review of Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception. Parkin is an author I greatly respect and someone whose work as a critic I find to be on point often times, and his review is recent, which is why I cite it. In his review he states "Uncharted 3 is the most exciting game in the world, but only until you deviate from the script." He goes on to expand on how the game makes you feel like nothing more than an "interactive butler" at times.

Now, this is a criticism of how linear the game is. Like Uncharted 2, Uncharted 3 is very linear. In fact, like Modern Warfare 2, it is very linear. Like Gears of War 3, it is very linear. Like countless other 90+ rated titles, it is very linear. Many blockbuster games that are coming out are very linear. This is the choice they have made. All of them have this problem. The issue I have isn't with this criticism, but rather the calling out of this criticism on Uncharted 3 as a reason for a rating. Because, if that's the case, then shouldn't Modern Warfare 2 have similar criticisms embedded in it and review score docked accordingly? Yet a review of that game by Parkin doesn't mention, in-depth, the linearity issues like it does with Uncharted 3.

If a sequel is just following the path established by the other games, is that a knock against it?

The issue does not lie with the criticism. The issue lies with what the game is. I do not judge a pie poorly because it is not cake. Both are delicious desserts, and there is a time and a place for both (the place, specifically, is in my belly). So when talking about player agency regarding linear vs. open-world games, I find these to be drastically different styles that are like comparing pies to cakes. I have a strong preference to see more player agency, and I, too, get frustrated when it is stripped away from me in games. But how do we reconcile this when all of our games that are linear have the same base problem? Do they all just get judged down a point because they are linear? Do we make sure all reviewers from a publication know that when they have different reviewers judge a game?

It seems difficult to handle things this way. I think making pointed criticisms about Uncharted 3's linearity, and then potentially tying it in into the entire industry's reliance on scripted narrative, Parkin could have made a wonderful piece that wasn't overshadowed by the 8/10 score he gave that sent fans into an uproar. The existence of the score took the piece away from criticism of the work and into a review of the work, and sadly, to me, it took away Parkin's ability to actually make a wonderful point because people got too up in arms about a number. To me, a review serves a different purpose. Criticism exists absolutely. Reviews exist relatively. What I mean is, I don't rate Iron Man the movie the same way I may rate Crash. However, if you asked me what I thought of both pieces I would say, in a word, "must see." But clearly their goals are different; one is a well-done piece of Hollywood blockbuster and the other is a poignant piece about race relations in contemporary society. Sometimes I'm in the mood for Iron Man. Sometimes I'm in the mood for Crash. Sometimes I'm in the mood for pie. Ok, I'm almost always in the mood for pie. But I think you get the point.

Shouldn't we then review our games in the same light? Shouldn't a game that is trying to be a linear piece of Hollywood blockbuster be rated against how those types of games typically play and the expectation of the audience? Shouldn't a review tell me if this piece of work is worth my time or not? Is that not a different question than "does this piece of work have flaws"? Trying to relate Uncharted 2 to something like Dark Souls is very hard to do, and I think we go down a bad path when we try to do it.

Let's keep criticizing games. Let's do it louder than ever. The development community needs it! But let's not mix our critique with our reviews. To me one is about recommendations to an audience, and the other is about the state of the art. The latter is far more useful than the former in my world. I'm all for the abolishment of reviews, but I think sites like yours may take a readership hit if that happens. So, without that happening, I think we should separate the two. Am I crazy? Do I have the wrong expectations for what the function of the two are? Or are my opinions just colored too darkly from my life as a developer who has to live with the score of reviews? Let me know your thoughts.

Sincerely,

Manveer

--

Manveer,

Skyward Sword is a terrific Zelda game, but it's also a very familiar game for many reasons.

One of the things I love about the video games industry is our collective commitment to self-reflection, a willingness to open ourselves up in the pursuit of becoming better players, creators or writers. In my case, I'm a journalist first and a critic second, a path I started walking down in high school, when an English teacher suggested the best way to ensure I could make a buck putting words on a page was journalism. I'd been writing about video games earlier than that, however, having attended my first E3 back in 1998. If memory serves me right, I was 14 back then, and I've been writing about games in some form since then, attending college for print journalism and rotating between news posts at various outlets.

And while reporting is my daily bread and butter, I'm also a reviewer, having recently endured the trial-by-fire that was reviewing a new Zelda game--The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword. My experience giving the latest Zelda a less-than-perfect score fits right in to this conversation, as it was the first review I'd written after reading Simon's review of Uncharted 3 and writing a follow-up editorial that criticized the hyperbolic response from fans.

Before I launch into my own process, perhaps we should back up and examine the purpose of a review. Until only recently, reviews have had more in common with what you'd read in Consumer Reports than a serious critical analysis, an attempt to explain what a game is, isn't and whether it's worth spending any money on. That alone is useful to a great many people, and part of the reason reviews are so important to video games in particular is because, individually, they cost more money than other mediums. You don't feel as burned about wasting $10 on the latest bucket of CGI from Michael Bay compared to shelling out $60 at GameStop, realizing the marketing mislead you, and having nothing but a set of achievements to show for it. There is a very real, important role for reviews that intends to accomplish no more than answering the question of yes or no.

But is that all we should expect from our reviews? Often times, we already know if we're going to buy a game or not, and a review is just a way to read about the game in some opinionated specificity before the game unlocks on Steam. For that audience, of which I'd argue there's a very large one visiting most enthusiast publications, a typical review doesn't provide any real service. As publications evolve, game companies have only themselves to blame for the predicament we're now in. Metacritic has its own issues, but the importance publishers have placed upon Metacritic is the bigger problem, and it's clear publications are beginning to understand the power of Metacritic to varying degrees. For some, it's a recognition that reviews may not impact video game sales in any meaningful way, but the reviews (and the scores attached) are, in fact, meaningful, as publishers have made them important, and the words that appear in those reviews suddenly take on a different weight.

Few took issue with the script-driven design in Uncharted and Uncharted 2, but Uncharted 3 took heat.

I don't want this to become yet another conversation about Metacritic, as it's only part of the issue, and the evolution of the review seems more encouraged by the homogeneous nature of so many of them. Unless I'm seeking out the opinions of a specific author, I'm not interested in reading a dozen glowing reviews of The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim. I want to read the review from the one guy that fucking hated it, the guy who wants to make the argument about why it's actually terrible. Maybe I don't end up agreeing with this hypothetical guy, but I don't need my opinions validated, I need my opinions challenged.

You do point to one real problem with game reviews that publications deal with in different ways. Edge does not specify who actually reviewed a game. Edge is known for being tough, so when Edge proclaims your game is worthy of a 10 (which, for the record, does not mean perfect!), that actually means something. Most publications, however, have a byline in the review, and when it comes to games that don't receive 10/10 or 5/5, the comparative analysis begins. "Well," so the argument goes, "they gave Skyward Sword and Fruit Ninja Kinect a 4/5, so they're both of equal quality." This isn't fair to either game or the reviewer. I'm not of the mind a publication should find itself beholden to making sure its reviews are wholly consistent against everything that has come before it, as games are good, bad and weird for entirely individual reasons that aren't comparable.

What a 4/5 means for Fruit Ninja is a bit different than what 4/5 means for Skyward Sword.

And here's how I'll circle back to my Skyward Sword review. The Zelda series has existed for more than 20 years, essentially becoming a genre unto itself. This happens to many longtime franchises, and it's happening before our eyes with Call of Duty. The reviews for Modern Warfare 3 almost universally ding the game for being more of the game, but the game's sales suggest that doesn't mean very much to the fans--they want more of the same. The struggle for the reviewer, then, is the audience he's writing to. Haven't most Call of Duty fans made up their mind about whether they are buying the new Call of Duty? Is there anyone who is really "on the fence" about buying Modern Warfare 3? Knowing that, a review that's targeted directly at Call of Duty fans isn't much use to anybody at all, and launching into a larger criticism of this subgenre could be useful to someone like myself, who isn't really interested in yet another on-rails shooter. Parkin didn't review Modern Warfare 3, so we can't predict what he would have said about that one, but the Uncharted series falls into the same boat, and writing 1,000 words about how "Did you like Uncharted 2? Let me tell you why you would like Uncharted 3!" isn't much use, and a grand critique of the foundational philosophy of the series' game design is only possible with the perspective of three games.

With Skyward Sword, I found myself as someone who was no longer satisfied with many of the tropes that had come to define the Zelda series, even if Skyward Sword is a game that works within them very well. The review I wrote, if successful, will read like a five to someone who doesn't have the same hangups, but I'm not that person and I can't write a review for that person. I can only hope to string together a series of words and sentences that allow them to see why I came to my conclusion, and how they might draw another one. But writing a review of Skyward Sword that ignored everything around it would be purposeful ignorance, and a disservice to the same amount of lavish, immaculate detail Nintendo spent crafting the game.

The easy way out would be to drop scores, but let's not kid ourselves, as that won't happen. What's the middle ground?

Good luck finishing Mass Effect,

Patrick

Look for the next installment of our three-part conversation on Monday. Want more pieces like this? Let me know.

Patrick Klepek on Google+
409 Comments
Posted by patrickklepek

When Simon Parkin published his review of Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception at Eurogamer, a mild firestorm erupted, launching a contentious debate about the role of criticism during the review process.

Parkin’s review took issue with the Uncharted design philosophy as a whole, but still awarded the game an 8/10 at the bottom of the page--a respectable score from an outlet as tough as Eurogamer!

Fans, developers, and even some writers wondered aloud whether Parkin had picked the appropriate venue for his examination of Naughty Dog’s choices. I wrote my own piece about the ensuing response, which prompted a more intimate conversation about the subject with game developer Manveer Heir, who is currently a senior designer on Mass Effect 3 at BioWare Montreal.

Heir has been kicking around the industry for a while now, having landed at BioWare Montreal and the Mass Effect series after five years with Raven Software in Wisconsin, the home state of my dearest football rivals. Heir is known for his outspoken nature, and isn’t one to walk away from a controversial subject. In fact, it was Heir that proposed we start a back-and-forth letter series about game reviews and publish it.

I suggested we throw it up on Giant Bomb in its entirety, and he agreed.

If you’re not familiar with Heir, you can read his dusty blog Design Rampage (which he promises to update), follow him on Twitter, scope this Kill Screen interview about his early years, or load up a Gamasutra interview about race.

Take it away, Manveer.

Note: This exchange took place over email, and I've done minimal editing to reflect the casual style.

--

Patrick,

Heir is working on Mass Effect 3, a sequel to one of this generation's most beloved games.

Thanks for agreeing to discuss the role of game criticism and reviews with me. It's something that has been bothering me for some time now, and I wanted to discuss it with someone who works in the field, instead of just talking to other people like myself who often bitch on Twitter. So you know where I'm coming from, I'll give you a brief background about myself before I became a game developer. I used to cover the news, write previews, reviews, and do interviews for the enthusiast press (what is now known as bloggers) for a couple sites when I was in high school and early college (late 90s, early 2000s). It was a means to an end to get connected to the game development community, instead of wanting to be a journalist, but hey, it worked. More specifically, I don't think I was particularly good at my job. I judged games on 100-point scales that broke scores down into component parts like graphics, sound, etc. (something I find abhorrent now in my life). I say this so you understand that I've actually done the job (to a novice extent) for over five years, and so I understand some of the pressures reviewers are under in today's climate, as well as how the job goes.

My issues currently stem from games criticism and games reviewing, and should they even be the same thing. I am of the mind that they should not, and here's why. I should explicitly note that all my opinions are my own and not my employer's. Games criticism is new, it's in its infancy, and it's growing with every day. Game reviews, on the other hand, have been consumed for a very long time. As a developer, I love game criticism. I love reading my issues of Kill Screen, I love reading how someone finds a game sexist or offensive due to certain elements that are engrained in our culture, when we never stop to sit and think WHY they are engrained. I love all of that, I want more criticism. As a developer, I thrive and grow off criticism. I need it from my peers and those outside to better my own sensibilities, lest my colleagues and I rest on our collective laurels in the future.

But when we give those criticisms a score, we do something else. We make the criticism the focus of the entire product. To use specific examples, let's look at Simon Parkin's Eurogamer review of Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception. Parkin is an author I greatly respect and someone whose work as a critic I find to be on point often times, and his review is recent, which is why I cite it. In his review he states "Uncharted 3 is the most exciting game in the world, but only until you deviate from the script." He goes on to expand on how the game makes you feel like nothing more than an "interactive butler" at times.

Now, this is a criticism of how linear the game is. Like Uncharted 2, Uncharted 3 is very linear. In fact, like Modern Warfare 2, it is very linear. Like Gears of War 3, it is very linear. Like countless other 90+ rated titles, it is very linear. Many blockbuster games that are coming out are very linear. This is the choice they have made. All of them have this problem. The issue I have isn't with this criticism, but rather the calling out of this criticism on Uncharted 3 as a reason for a rating. Because, if that's the case, then shouldn't Modern Warfare 2 have similar criticisms embedded in it and review score docked accordingly? Yet a review of that game by Parkin doesn't mention, in-depth, the linearity issues like it does with Uncharted 3.

If a sequel is just following the path established by the other games, is that a knock against it?

The issue does not lie with the criticism. The issue lies with what the game is. I do not judge a pie poorly because it is not cake. Both are delicious desserts, and there is a time and a place for both (the place, specifically, is in my belly). So when talking about player agency regarding linear vs. open-world games, I find these to be drastically different styles that are like comparing pies to cakes. I have a strong preference to see more player agency, and I, too, get frustrated when it is stripped away from me in games. But how do we reconcile this when all of our games that are linear have the same base problem? Do they all just get judged down a point because they are linear? Do we make sure all reviewers from a publication know that when they have different reviewers judge a game?

It seems difficult to handle things this way. I think making pointed criticisms about Uncharted 3's linearity, and then potentially tying it in into the entire industry's reliance on scripted narrative, Parkin could have made a wonderful piece that wasn't overshadowed by the 8/10 score he gave that sent fans into an uproar. The existence of the score took the piece away from criticism of the work and into a review of the work, and sadly, to me, it took away Parkin's ability to actually make a wonderful point because people got too up in arms about a number. To me, a review serves a different purpose. Criticism exists absolutely. Reviews exist relatively. What I mean is, I don't rate Iron Man the movie the same way I may rate Crash. However, if you asked me what I thought of both pieces I would say, in a word, "must see." But clearly their goals are different; one is a well-done piece of Hollywood blockbuster and the other is a poignant piece about race relations in contemporary society. Sometimes I'm in the mood for Iron Man. Sometimes I'm in the mood for Crash. Sometimes I'm in the mood for pie. Ok, I'm almost always in the mood for pie. But I think you get the point.

Shouldn't we then review our games in the same light? Shouldn't a game that is trying to be a linear piece of Hollywood blockbuster be rated against how those types of games typically play and the expectation of the audience? Shouldn't a review tell me if this piece of work is worth my time or not? Is that not a different question than "does this piece of work have flaws"? Trying to relate Uncharted 2 to something like Dark Souls is very hard to do, and I think we go down a bad path when we try to do it.

Let's keep criticizing games. Let's do it louder than ever. The development community needs it! But let's not mix our critique with our reviews. To me one is about recommendations to an audience, and the other is about the state of the art. The latter is far more useful than the former in my world. I'm all for the abolishment of reviews, but I think sites like yours may take a readership hit if that happens. So, without that happening, I think we should separate the two. Am I crazy? Do I have the wrong expectations for what the function of the two are? Or are my opinions just colored too darkly from my life as a developer who has to live with the score of reviews? Let me know your thoughts.

Sincerely,

Manveer

--

Manveer,

Skyward Sword is a terrific Zelda game, but it's also a very familiar game for many reasons.

One of the things I love about the video games industry is our collective commitment to self-reflection, a willingness to open ourselves up in the pursuit of becoming better players, creators or writers. In my case, I'm a journalist first and a critic second, a path I started walking down in high school, when an English teacher suggested the best way to ensure I could make a buck putting words on a page was journalism. I'd been writing about video games earlier than that, however, having attended my first E3 back in 1998. If memory serves me right, I was 14 back then, and I've been writing about games in some form since then, attending college for print journalism and rotating between news posts at various outlets.

And while reporting is my daily bread and butter, I'm also a reviewer, having recently endured the trial-by-fire that was reviewing a new Zelda game--The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword. My experience giving the latest Zelda a less-than-perfect score fits right in to this conversation, as it was the first review I'd written after reading Simon's review of Uncharted 3 and writing a follow-up editorial that criticized the hyperbolic response from fans.

Before I launch into my own process, perhaps we should back up and examine the purpose of a review. Until only recently, reviews have had more in common with what you'd read in Consumer Reports than a serious critical analysis, an attempt to explain what a game is, isn't and whether it's worth spending any money on. That alone is useful to a great many people, and part of the reason reviews are so important to video games in particular is because, individually, they cost more money than other mediums. You don't feel as burned about wasting $10 on the latest bucket of CGI from Michael Bay compared to shelling out $60 at GameStop, realizing the marketing mislead you, and having nothing but a set of achievements to show for it. There is a very real, important role for reviews that intends to accomplish no more than answering the question of yes or no.

But is that all we should expect from our reviews? Often times, we already know if we're going to buy a game or not, and a review is just a way to read about the game in some opinionated specificity before the game unlocks on Steam. For that audience, of which I'd argue there's a very large one visiting most enthusiast publications, a typical review doesn't provide any real service. As publications evolve, game companies have only themselves to blame for the predicament we're now in. Metacritic has its own issues, but the importance publishers have placed upon Metacritic is the bigger problem, and it's clear publications are beginning to understand the power of Metacritic to varying degrees. For some, it's a recognition that reviews may not impact video game sales in any meaningful way, but the reviews (and the scores attached) are, in fact, meaningful, as publishers have made them important, and the words that appear in those reviews suddenly take on a different weight.

Few took issue with the script-driven design in Uncharted and Uncharted 2, but Uncharted 3 took heat.

I don't want this to become yet another conversation about Metacritic, as it's only part of the issue, and the evolution of the review seems more encouraged by the homogeneous nature of so many of them. Unless I'm seeking out the opinions of a specific author, I'm not interested in reading a dozen glowing reviews of The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim. I want to read the review from the one guy that fucking hated it, the guy who wants to make the argument about why it's actually terrible. Maybe I don't end up agreeing with this hypothetical guy, but I don't need my opinions validated, I need my opinions challenged.

You do point to one real problem with game reviews that publications deal with in different ways. Edge does not specify who actually reviewed a game. Edge is known for being tough, so when Edge proclaims your game is worthy of a 10 (which, for the record, does not mean perfect!), that actually means something. Most publications, however, have a byline in the review, and when it comes to games that don't receive 10/10 or 5/5, the comparative analysis begins. "Well," so the argument goes, "they gave Skyward Sword and Fruit Ninja Kinect a 4/5, so they're both of equal quality." This isn't fair to either game or the reviewer. I'm not of the mind a publication should find itself beholden to making sure its reviews are wholly consistent against everything that has come before it, as games are good, bad and weird for entirely individual reasons that aren't comparable.

What a 4/5 means for Fruit Ninja is a bit different than what 4/5 means for Skyward Sword.

And here's how I'll circle back to my Skyward Sword review. The Zelda series has existed for more than 20 years, essentially becoming a genre unto itself. This happens to many longtime franchises, and it's happening before our eyes with Call of Duty. The reviews for Modern Warfare 3 almost universally ding the game for being more of the game, but the game's sales suggest that doesn't mean very much to the fans--they want more of the same. The struggle for the reviewer, then, is the audience he's writing to. Haven't most Call of Duty fans made up their mind about whether they are buying the new Call of Duty? Is there anyone who is really "on the fence" about buying Modern Warfare 3? Knowing that, a review that's targeted directly at Call of Duty fans isn't much use to anybody at all, and launching into a larger criticism of this subgenre could be useful to someone like myself, who isn't really interested in yet another on-rails shooter. Parkin didn't review Modern Warfare 3, so we can't predict what he would have said about that one, but the Uncharted series falls into the same boat, and writing 1,000 words about how "Did you like Uncharted 2? Let me tell you why you would like Uncharted 3!" isn't much use, and a grand critique of the foundational philosophy of the series' game design is only possible with the perspective of three games.

With Skyward Sword, I found myself as someone who was no longer satisfied with many of the tropes that had come to define the Zelda series, even if Skyward Sword is a game that works within them very well. The review I wrote, if successful, will read like a five to someone who doesn't have the same hangups, but I'm not that person and I can't write a review for that person. I can only hope to string together a series of words and sentences that allow them to see why I came to my conclusion, and how they might draw another one. But writing a review of Skyward Sword that ignored everything around it would be purposeful ignorance, and a disservice to the same amount of lavish, immaculate detail Nintendo spent crafting the game.

The easy way out would be to drop scores, but let's not kid ourselves, as that won't happen. What's the middle ground?

Good luck finishing Mass Effect,

Patrick

Look for the next installment of our three-part conversation on Monday. Want more pieces like this? Let me know.

Staff
Edited by raiden2000

Game companies take reviews very seriously it seems.

Edited by GalacticGravy

Finally, a reason to stop doing work at work.

I truly enjoy this sort of discussion. I subscribe to Kill Screen. I want to see more questioning of common practices. Even if it seems insane, it's worth questioning. And I mean literally questioning. Not bashing. That word "questioning" comes with a bit of a connotation sometimes.

Edited by Cyrisaurus

I enjoy reviews, but they have never stopped me from buying a game, nor have they led to me buying one.

Honestly, if your review gets people talking, then it's a good review. Either way, the game gets more attention, and so does the site. Win win.

Posted by rmanthorp

#REALTALK

Moderator
Posted by kiwi_whisker

I like the thoughtful analysis Patrick. Original stories, and especially ones with thoughtful yet thoroughly readable exchanges like this are most welcome. Bring them on!

Posted by ObsideonDarman

I absolutely love these kind of articles. Keep them coming Patrick!

Posted by Nocall

Want more pieces like this? Let me know.

Yes, I do. This is a great piece.

Posted by chortleofearl

good stuff patrick.

Online
Posted by Theory

This piece is fantastic! I want more!

Posted by homer4hire247

Great article Patrick, and yes I would like to see more articles like this

Posted by hwy_61

Very interesting. I look forward to the next installment. Maybe we should have a name for this type of feature? I suggest Pat's Corner.

Posted by Y2Ken

Really enjoying reading this discussion Patrick. Thanks for posting it.

I wouldn't say I've ever been swayed by a review score, what helps make up my mind is reading what people have to say, and hearing their enthusiasm (or boredom) on podcasts and the like. Also talking with friends who have played it, and watching or playing the game itself.

Dropping scores would be amazing, but as you say it's an idea which will never hold.

Edited by poisonmonkey

Great read Patrick, its interesting to see the developers and journalists differing opinions on reviews. I just hope Manveer is not paving the way for negative Mass Effect 3 reviews! I would love to see what other developers think (eg. Doublefine) of game reviews on a whole.

Posted by ShaggE

+100 Respect to Patrick. I've been trying to say this about the review process for ages, and I had been hoping that someone with a far bigger platform than mine would say it as well, because it really does need to be said (and hopefully heeded).

Posted by Kovski

If anything it is important that reviews actually go down and really criticize the games, like we just can't sit and review each game for what it is, or else there will never be devlopment. I don't believe in the mantra that a review is only meant to be a consumers guide to buy it or not. I would say reviewers job is actually to call out when something in the game is done right and when something is done bad, so we can judge "is this going to work for me?" and that is what Parkin did in his Uncharted 3 review. Why he didn't do it in the MW2 piece - I don't know, but i'm glad he actually pointed it out because that is not only reaching out the consumers but also developers so next time we can hope to get a less linear game by Naughty dog.

For the scoring and not scoring, I think that is a whole other discussion, I would refer to the mail exchange done by Jeff Gerstmann and other reviewers from other game review outlets, where they talk about this exact problem. I don't know where you can find this exchange these day tho, but it's probably out there somewhere.

Edited by StrikeALight

Excellent read. I always found criticism far more useful (as a consumer) than an arbitary number, although perhaps I am in the minority. I already know what I like, but its always interesting to hear another person's perspective. My take on things would probrably differ if I wasn't already an informed gamer, though.

It sickens me that many developers / publishers rely on metacritic so heavily. (bonuses for developers who garner a 90+ score).

Posted by Sergeant_Stubby

THIS is the reason i like Giantbomb... fucking great work Patrick keep it up.... and maybe i will renew my monthly membership

Posted by Zalathar

If it doesn't help me decide whether to spend my time and money on a game, it isn't a review. True criticism is great and should be encouraged, but it shouldn't have a number slapped on the end of it.

Posted by Morningstar

This was a nice read. Cant wait for the next part ^^

Posted by Aelric

You see, Patrick? THIS is why, in the end, I like you. You bring something very valuable to Giant Bomb. Fuck the haters in the end, you are a damn good newsman and interviewer, just a bit camera-dumb, no offense (i.e. Nolan North oddball insult.)

In the end, I got a few problems with your personality, but anywhere else, I'd not know your personality. I am glad you are here.

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Posted by Hugh_Jazz

I haven't played Uncharted 3 or any other Uncharted game for that matter, but I was of the opinion that the criticisms levelled against it by Simon Parkin had to do with the linearity directly affecting gameplay in a way that hadn't happened as much in the earlier games. Namely, if you didn't make a jump exactly how and when you were supposed to you wouldn't make it, kind of like a QTE. In Modern Warfare, for example, the linearity of the game doesn't force you to edit your actions in the same way. If you stand still, dudes will keep running at you, and you will keep shooting them. The game doesn't further penalize you.

It seems to me like there's a pretty big difference between these two series that Manveer Heir kinda failed to touch upon, or recognise. Or am I all wrong?

Posted by Movius

NSJ for life man.

Posted by BeachThunder

For mostly better and only a little bit worse, "On Games, Reviews And Criticism -- Part 1" is the best Patrick article in months, and makes a strong case for mostly-unedited email exchanges when done right.

Edited by Nardak

For me it seems that game developers would love to get rid of the review scores as then we players wouldnt be able to get an average review score from sites like metacritic or gamerankings.

It would probably be much easier to sell more copies of bad games if people have to browse through several different reviews in order to get a good idea of what the game is like.

I understand that it isnt nice to see bad review scores for a game that you have developed for years but review scores are the first line of defense in protecting us from buying games which arent that good.

Also why should games be an expection from the rule when it comes to review scores? Other forms of media are also rated (films, tv shows and so on).

Posted by Max015

I don't really use reviews to decide which games to buy anymore, instead I watch Quick Looks, or listen to podcasts.

However I do still find myself opening reviews and flicking through them, I think I do this just to judge the reviewer or publication more than anything else, which I think is actually a bad habit, but when I read the comment sections on most reviews I can't help thinking I'm not the only one.

Posted by Daiphyer

This was fantastic. Keep 'em coming!

Posted by themartyr

I think this is an interesting topic, but I would prefer it to be a little more pared-down and edited.

Posted by LethalKi11ler

Moaaaarr!!!! <3

Posted by Deathpooky

Great idea - glad this reopens what I thought was an interesting debate hidden behind a shitty Internet "controversy" with the Uncharted 3 review.

I'd say I agree with Manveer, but it's difficult to draw a line between proper game reviewing and larger "game critic" points that shouldn't really go in a review. Picking a review as a place to go after an entire gaming trope or style, or to make a larger point about the role of player agency in modern games, is just out of place. Further, coming at a game as someone who doesn't appreciate that style of game just makes for a review that isn't all that useful. I wouldn't want to read a review of NCAA Football or Madden by Jeff.

It wasn't as much that the review went after the linearity of Uncharted. As Manveer said, it was the fact that the linearity of Uncharted 3 was dinged where it's gone overlooked in other games, and where it wasn't all that different in terms of linearity from Uncharted 2. And the fact that linearity was an essential design choice, not necessarily a "flaw" in the game. If you're making an open-world game and it's linear, then fine. But people don't come to Uncharted expecting sidequests or the ability to go off the main path.

It's possible that this was the game that finally breaks the camel's back in terms of appreciating a linear experience, but that didn't seem to be the case from the review - it seemed like the reviewer wanted to make a larger argument about where games were going and the basic design choices of the Uncharted series. Which doesn't really make that much sense in a review.

Posted by Querky

I have to say, i did throughly enjoy reading this. On my opionon considering the subject: I do generally consume quite a lot of information considering the games i buy from several outlets and in recent memory i can't recall any time i ended up with an experience that truly surprised me in a game. This includes quality, gameplay etc. (I hope I don't sound like an elitist twat in that statement, i did not mean it that way. The thing being that i like to know very basicly what i'm gonna spend an untold number of hours on)

For example: I knew The Witcher 2 was going to look good and play like an RPG. I had my hopes that the game would be good (i did like the first one despite its many problems) but i could not know. In the case of witcher 2 there was never a question of wether i was gonna buy it but reviews and early word prepared me for the initial difficulty curve in that game and i believe my experience with that game was the better for it.

The only reason i really notice a score in i a review would be if i pick up and older game, for example in the steam sales, where i just want a quick opinion from one or two publications.

Posted by OmniscientCajun

Two well-reasoned and effectively structured arguments tackling an issue stemming from industry sameness and sequel fatigue, this is great, interesting writing.

Very much looking forward to the upcoming installments and more pieces like this/them.

Posted by Attackosaur

Great article. Thanks. I'd love more of this kinda thing. Really like hearing these kinds of discussions.

Posted by Nekroskop

This still doesn't make Dragon Age 2 a good game.

Edited by Ares42

Didn't really agree with Patrick back when he wrote the UC2 piece, and still don't agree with him. I think my biggest issue is that he for some reason seems to assume that people don't need reviews for games. As a consumer I definitely depend a lot on how a game is recieved by the press. Sure there is a small list every year that I'll buy no matter what, but looking back at 2011 there are plenty of games I bought or didn't buy because of reviews. Even a game like MW3 was still on the table until I had read reviews about it.
 
Patrick just seems to be all caught up in the internet firestorms and has completely forgotten how it was to buy games before previews and reviews were a dime a dozen.

Posted by Berserker976

I would definitely like to see more articles like this. It was a very interesting start to a discussion I can't wait to read more of.

Posted by AlmostSwedish

MOAR!

Posted by viking

Wonderful article... but it lacks Patrick in a press hat. Definately needs more press hat.

Posted by Sunjammer

Uncharted 2 executed better than Uncharted 3. Uncharted 2 was a complete joy throughout, while I keep having to take breaks from U3. It's just not as good.

Posted by leebmx

An interesting read. I think the fascination with scoring in this industry comes from our idea of games as things to be judged technologically as well as artistically. Technology seems to be something objective, that it is possible to score and I think this is why game reviews have had the tendency to split into differing sections like graphics, sound, gameplay etc. You would never review a film like this because all the techniques that are used to compose it, although possible to judge in isolation are considered as parts of a piece of art we judge as a whole.

Games are also a developing artform, especially as concerns the technology which drives what is possible with the form, as this starts to plateau, as it is now with this long console cycle, we will start to see game reviewing mature alongside. In ten years time we will no doubt still have overall scores, but will have lost some of their relevance and I think the days of scores for separate categories are numbered.

Posted by NoobSauceG7

This was very enjoyable Patrick and Manveer! Keep it up!

Edited by Jumanji

THE SUBTEXT OF MANVEER'S ARTICLE:

Mass Effect 3 is going to be a "press A to continue" railfest. RPGs don't sell the numbers we need. We don't make games, we make money. Suck it up, plebs.

EDIT: Their points aren't complex and they could have cut 90% of their words without compromising their arguments.

Posted by Pat

Nice piece, Patrick. Keep it up.

Posted by Supertom11

I love this line. "I do not judge a pie poorly because it is not cake."

I think far too often reviewers approach AAA titles with extremely high expectations, as in the case of Uncharted, and when those expectations are not met they splatter their reviews with disappointment. Other times reviewers go in with no expectations, as in the case of COD, which is why we've gotten 5 star after 5 star for years when the games have really done nothing to move the genre forward.

On another note I really hate the argument that we should get rid of review scores. It's the simplest form of expressing how you feel about something. Nearly everything we use today will have some sort of rating out there. If a restaurant is Zagat rated I know that it's probably a pretty good place to eat. If I read a blog where John Smith really like the joint, that means absolutely nothing to me. I typically only read reviews if I am familiar with the writer and I actually care about their opinion.

Posted by leebmx

@Aelric said:

You see, Patrick? THIS is why, in the end, I like you. You bring something very valuable to Giant Bomb. Fuck the haters in the end, you are a damn good newsman and interviewer, just a bit camera-dumb, no offense (i.e. Nolan North oddball insult.)

In the end, I got a few problems with your personality, but anywhere else, I'd not know your personality. I am glad you are here.

What a wonderfully backhanded compliment :)

Edited by Coreymw

I enjoy developer insight, so this style of news interests me. Please keep them coming.

I'm of the opinion that a game should be reviewed solely on it's merits alone. There should be no comparing it to a predecessor or any game in the same genre. Whether a game is linear or open world, mention it and express how you feel about it in the context of the game, (ie "There are lots of beautiful buildings over there, were it not for the linear path set forth by the game I might be able to reach them".). I think a review should be as objective as possible, someones personal feelings on game mechanics or story telling should be left for editorial pieces.

Posted by Draugen

Patrick, I desperately want more pieces like this. This is exactly the kind of thing gaming web sites don't do enough of. I'm tapping my veins for part 2.

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Posted by Tamaster92

More stories/pieces like this please! I think what attracts me to giant bomb over any other site is that while you guys have fun you know that it has to be taken seriously too, the recent announced voxgames looks to be something similar, if I want a page long review saying this is what's good this is what's bad I have millions of options, but so little sites actually provide thoughtful deep coverage. People need to wake up and realise they are in a billion dollar industry that has some real problems and the only way to act on them is to call it out. Thanks for the always great reads Patrick.

Posted by Marcius

I do want more pieces like this.

Posted by Wurmbollie

Do want MOAR