Note: This was written for my personal blog, so it's intentionally not too inside-baseball. Also, I'm not claiming my reasoning is bulletproof — this is just something I wanted to get off my chest while it was raw in my mind.
I’ve been trying to put my finger on what’s been bugging me about a great deal of games criticism lately, and I think I’ve identified it: many critics put too much emphasis on novelty. I’m fresh from listening to Giant Bomb’s game of the year deliberation podcasts, and listening to well-regarded games like Mass Effect 3, Dishonored, Diablo III, Borderlands 2, Halo 4, Max Payne 3, and Assassin’s Creed 3 be dismissed in favour of games like FTL, Papo & Yo, ZombiU, Syndicate, Spaceteam and Asura’s Wrath — and to some extent even veritable classics like Journey and The Walking Dead — left a bad taste in my mouth.
I’ll be the first to concede that telling people their opinions are wrong is usually a fool’s game, but at the same time, I have a hard time taking seriously any critic who thinks Papo & Yo, ZombiU, or Asura’s Wrath are objectively better games than Mass Effect 3.
While I lack first-hand experience with Papo & Yo and ZombiU, I recently played Asura’s Wrath, and liked it way more than I expected to. I also recently finished Mass Effect 3, and could produce a laundry list of complaints. But let’s be serious here: the best parts of Asura’s Wrath are novelties: cute button prompts, ridiculous set pieces, and some cool fourth wall breaking (at the end of the “real” DLC ending). On a mechanical level, you’re pressing buttons when prompted, playing through some less-than-stellar third-person action sequences, and engaging in some clusterfucky on-rails shooting.
Mass Effect 3 is flawed: the DLC is a bit gross, I didn’t like being forced to play multiplayer, the ending was kind of dumb, some of the story arcs get wrapped up way too conveniently, and there are some ridiculous story beats (Kai Leng offended me more than anything else in the narrative). It’s also mechanically solid; looks amazing; has a much more dynamic, significant, and eventful story than Mass Effect 2; and generally improves on the critically-lauded second instalment in most respects. While I hate to bring Metacritic into the discussion, Mass Effect 3 is sitting at 93/100 — it’s by almost every account a great game.
I’m very glad that there are games out there pushing the medium in new directions, but when undue emphasis is placed on patting developers on the back for creating novel and/or “important” (and in fairness, good) games, I have to question the objectivity of critics. This is especially exasperating when the offending critics fixate on fairly minor flaws in the aforementioned iterative games while glossing over glaring issues in their darlings. I understand that many critics have played so many games that solid iteration can bore, operate in a bit of a bubble, want to give struggling indie developers recognition, and have their own totally-legitimate preferences — I don’t begrudge them for any of that, and nobody’s a machine.
If this were just a case of my disagreeing with a the quirky preferences of a critic, I wouldn’t be particularly annoyed, but listening to, in particular, Patrick Klepek gleefully shit on Mass Effect 3 (and even Assassin’s Creed 3, a flawed but well-reviewed game) while extolling the virtues (and totally ignoring the flaws) of Spaceteam, Papo & Yo, Slender and Asura’s Wrath, I can’t help but feel like there’s a severe lack of perspective.