Grand Theft Auto IV: A Criticism of Criticism

By Shamus Posted Friday Aug 17, 2018

Filed under: Retrospectives 87 comments

Like I said last week, Grand Theft Auto IV is a deeply flawed game. And yet it also landed top marks from critics. How did this happen? How did such a hodgepodge experience wind up being lauded as one of the supposedly best games of all time? Sure, it has great technology. But the graphical technology was undercut by the drab visuals and the more robust gameplay systems were undercut by the straitjacket mission design. Shouldn’t those sorts of shortcomings be reflected in the critical reception?

At the end of my retrospective on Wolfenstein: The New Colossus, I suggested that the generous review scores were the result of a lackluster game suddenly finding itself in tune with the national zeitgeist, and the tight review schedule preventing deep analysis. I’d like to circle back to that article and explore this problem in a little more depth.

When it comes to the problem of obviously flawed games being awarded near-perfect scores, I think the most incisive take is the one Campster gave way back in 2011:


Link (YouTube)

As he says in his video:

So how did an open-world game with so much restraint on the player’s actions and an unresolved conflict between narrative and gameplay mechanics come to be the best-reviewed game of all time? Well, some might blame the fact that the game’s first showing to reviewers happened at one of those posh review events where journalists are invited to a fancy hotel and get to play the game in a controlled environment. Others might argue the gargantuan marketing budget with slick ads and a near omnipresence helped sell the idea that the game was one of the best games of all time. Still others might point to the more direct influence of money, especially in light of the rumors surrounding Gamespot and the firing of Jeff Gerstman over the Kane & Lynch review only a year earlier.

But if I’m being perfectly honest with myself, I think the game got the score it deserved given the metrics we as an audience have set for success. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Gamers love content and polish above all else. And Grand Theft Auto IV has both in spades.

The game is really slick, from its soundtrack selection and quality voice acting, to the high-fidelity rendering of an entire city. And honestly you can’t say that a videogame that features standup from two big-name comedians, 19 radio channels, minigames like bowling, pool, and darts, over 200 vehicles, and an entire open-world metropolis is light on content.

That’s a perfectly good explanation and I don’t feel any need to argue with it, but since we’re here let’s look a little deeper and see if we can’t find some other reasons why GTA IV perhaps scored so high.

Bayhem

You can tell the movie is exciting because of how blurry it is.
You can tell the movie is exciting because of how blurry it is.

Rockstar is clearly fond with the works of Michael Mann, Brian De Palma, Oliver Stone, Francis Ford Coppola, and Martin Scorsese. (Particularly the last one.) They don’t even make a secret of it. When you look at their influences and reference points you’ll end up with fairly predictable answers: Goodfellas, Heat, Casino, Miami Vice.

So it’s perhaps comically tragic that the filmmaker they most resemble is Michael Bay. Sure, their games focus on the Mann / Scorsese subject matter and cinematography, but when it comes to telling a story they have the same flaws as Mr. Bay:

  • Wacky slapstick potty humor, which leads to…
  • Tonal whiplash between self-serious scenes and wacky slapstick potty humor. The humor comes mostly from the…
  • Grating side characters. The large cast of irrelevant characters results in…
  • Tons of plot threads that go nowhere. This in turn leads to…
  • Horrendous pacing that loses track of the main plot threads for large sections of the story, which isn’t helped by the…
  • Inefficient, overly-verbose dialog, which is all the harder to sit through because of how often we end up with…
  • Scenes that don’t need to be in the game / movie. The director had this idea for a scene they wanted to shoot and so they just shoved it in wherever it would fit. (For example: Was the motorcycle chase at all important to the story? Did it advance the plot or tell us anything about our charactersIn a well-told story, you’re ideally always doing both of these.? No. But the director wanted a motorcycle chase, so they put one in for the same reason Michael Bay puts chase scenes in his movies. I’m not saying chase scenes are bad, I’m saying a pointless chase scene that doesn’t advance the plot or tell us about the characters is bad.

As people are eager to remind me when I dump on Michael Bay: Michael Bay movies are immensely popular. Yes, I have noticed.

Ugh. Look at the body roll on this small car. It's like we've got a half ton of concrete strapped to the roof.
Ugh. Look at the body roll on this small car. It's like we've got a half ton of concrete strapped to the roof.

The thing is, there are lots of good movies that are also popular. There are fun, tightly paced, well-edited, clever movies with witty dialog that are equally popular. It’s not that you need bad pacing to make the story work, it’s that there are plenty of people who don’t care either way. So what we end up with is an incoherent story that gets by on sheer technical prowess and raw sensory stimulation, and lots of people will show up for that regardless of the quality of the rest of the product.

This is even more true for open-world videogames because the audience experience can vary so wildly. Someone like me will sit down and play for hours every day until they beat the game. Other people just spend a few hours with the game on the weekends and skip half the cutscenes because they just want to go through the scripted missions. Tonal and thematic problems are a lot harder to notice when you’re so disengaged from the narrative. Moreover, some people really don’t care or even notice. They’re just looking for a couple of hours of cheap sensory stimulation.

I should make it clear that I’m not looking down on these people. I’m the same way with fighting games. I don’t care if the gameplay is balanced or the controls are tight. I just put the game on the lowest difficulty and button-mash my way through the content. That probably seems childish and obnoxious to people who take these games seriously on a mechanical level. I’m not looking down on the fans of gasoline explosions, I’m just acknowledging they exist. The world isn’t neatly divided into snobs vs. slobs, and many of us can be picky about one kind of entertainment and completely undiscriminating with another. This becomes important to the topic of review scores, because…

Review Scores Are Speculation, Not Appraisal

Disclosure: I've never even finished this game. This is the only mainline GTA title I haven't completed. This write-up was my third try, and I ended up getting bored and quitting like before. The furthest I've ever gotten is the bank robbery with Packie. I just have no desire to fight my way through a bank robbery I don't care about for money I don't need in service of a plot that's going nowhere in a world that's exhausting to look at.
Disclosure: I've never even finished this game. This is the only mainline GTA title I haven't completed. This write-up was my third try, and I ended up getting bored and quitting like before. The furthest I've ever gotten is the bank robbery with Packie. I just have no desire to fight my way through a bank robbery I don't care about for money I don't need in service of a plot that's going nowhere in a world that's exhausting to look at.

I’ve gotten to know quite a few game journos over the years, and despite the low pay, unstable employers, frequent travel, and tight deadlines, the most common source of stress and aggravation is the dreaded “community backlash”.

Rate a game too low, and you’re a biased hater. Rate it too high, and you’re a shill for the publishers. The audience has already decided what the correct score is, and they believe it’s your job to parrot their opinion back at them, enshrining their preferences as the “correct” viewpoint by way of a definitive concrete score. It’s a terrible system that brings out the worst of the internet.

Sure, the backlash might only come from a small percentage of the audience. But when “the audience” is tens of millions of people, even a small percentage can ruin your day and make a mess of your site. If a game sells ten million copies and just 0.01% of those people show up to your website to hate on your review, that’s still 1,000 haters. That’s a lot of negativity.

Do critics adjust their scores up or down to anticipate what the public will think, even if doing so means overlooking glaring problems within the work itself? Probably. But to certain extent, isn’t that their job? I dunno. It depends on who you ask.

The problem here is that game reviews are not like movie reviews. Movie reviews exist firmly in the realm of artistic criticism, while game reviews are often viewed more in terms of being consumer advice. Sure, people use movie reviews to guide purchasing decisions and some people consume game reviews for the artistic critique, but in the gaming realm the demand for clear and quantifiable purchasing advice is much stronger.

Partly this is due to general toxic fanboy cultureNote that this is “fanboy culture” not “gamer culture”. I think it’s important to draw a clear line between the two. Not everyone who disagrees with a review is a toxic hater. Usually they’re just someone with a different perspective., but it’s also caused by the steep price of games in terms of money and hours. A bad movie sets me back two hours and $10. A bad game sets me back $60 and can eat a lot of hours of my free time before I finally overcome the problems or give up on it. On top of this, AAA games are spread out over multiple editions. Movie tickets are a straightforward purchase, but when I’m buying the game I need to know if this is a great game and worthy of the $100 price tag for the collector’s edition, or if it’s merely a good game and worth $60 for the standard edition, or if it’s seriously flawed and I need to wait for a sale. There’s a lot of money on the line here, and so a big chunk of the audience is less interested in the fine details more more interested in practical matters: Is it stable, does it play well, is it full of jank, and is it going to waste my time?

A huge portion of the audience just doesn’t care about story, pacing, themes, tone, and art style, and they just want to know if the product will function. So they see game reviews as information to guide their decision-making and predict if they will like something. Can you imagine Roger Ebert doing that?

Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen is a horrible experience of unbearable length, briefly punctuated by three or four amusing moments. On the other hand it’s got fireball explosions and I know lots of people will pay to see those. The film didn’t break halfway through and require us to restart from the beginning. Most of it was in focus. The theater never caught fire. Five stars. ★★★★★

On one hand, I see the need for the consumer advice style reviews. This hobby is just too damn expensive and time-consuming to be reckless with our purchases. On the other hand, I think the “just the facts” style reviews do an incredible disservice to the medium, because it creates an environment where craft doesn’t matter. I’m a big believer in the idea that you don’t need five hours of cutscenes in your game, but if you do put those cutscenes in your game then you can’t claim the story “doesn’t matter”. If you jam a movie into a videogame, then I really do believe the quality of that movie should impact the final rating on the product.

THIS A METAPHOR FOR COMMUNITY FEEDBACK! I AM THE BEST AT SYMBOLISM!
THIS A METAPHOR FOR COMMUNITY FEEDBACK! I AM THE BEST AT SYMBOLISM!

So what is a reviewer supposed to do? Should they just accept that videogames don’t ever need to be more than a terrible movie with funLet’s just assume the gunplay is fun for the sake of argument. shooting galleries between the scenes? Or should they review a game based on how well it accomplishes what it sets out to do, even though this isn’t what the audience wants and would slam a lot of popular sound & fury flagship titles, which is a sure-fire way to generate a ton a hate mail and harassment?

There’s no good way to handle this. I think the messy system we have now is probably the least horrible of the available options.

I know I wouldn’t give Grand Theft Auto IV anything higher than a middling scoreAnd let’s not even get into the fact that scores are on some goofball curve where a “middling” score is 75 rather than 50., and I know exactly what kind of response I’d get out of the gaming public. If I had slapped this legendary best-seller with a score of (say) 52 back in 2008, then I’d still be getting hate mail today.

“He’s just a hater. He should go back to Animal Crossing.”

“Read his bullshit and tell me he wasn’t paid off by the Saints Row people.”

“This isn’t a review. It’s a plea for attention by an irrelevant nobody.”

“Look how old this guy is. No wonder he didn’t like the game. He probably didn’t even play it. At best he watched his kids play it.”

“Guy tries to make himself sound smart by dumping on the best game ever made. Fails.”

“Dude thinks he’s a movie critic. Spends all this time reviewing the STORY of a VIDEOGAME. It’s a GAME. Nobody cares about your precious story. Idiot.”

Most of those messages would have more profanity and less proofreading, but you get the idea.

Reviews Take Time

This is a good scene showing how bad Roman's life is. But then we get a dozen more scenes driving home that same point without making any progress and it becomes numbing.
This is a good scene showing how bad Roman's life is. But then we get a dozen more scenes driving home that same point without making any progress and it becomes numbing.

Even ignoring all of that, it’s not surprising how shallow initial reviews are. Even if you find you’re not enjoying a game, it takes time to drill down and figure out why. Aimless plots and thematic incoherence aren’t the kind of mistakes that leap out at you because they usually don’t have a singular visible origin. You might notice the jokes aren’t landing or that you’re not really emotionally invested as the story enters the climax, but it’s easy to chalk these sorts of things up to your own mood.

If you want to figure out why you smiled during Saints Row 2 and sat stone-faced through a similar class of humor in Grand Theft Auto, then you need to look back through the story and find out where the disconnect began. That’s really hard to do when you’re just given a few days to review a game this enormous. Heck, it’s hard to just finish a game this big in that timeframe, let alone complete the story, take in the side content, reflect, build a thesis, gather screenshots, and hammer out your thoughts in 2,000 words. In my reviews I have the freedom to play through a game multiple times, and I give the review weeks or even months of reflection. Mainstream game critics don’t have that luxury. Their review schedules don’t afford them time to pick apart issues like tonal inconsistency or internal dissonance.

I think this explains why the deeply flawed Grand Theft Auto IV got such high marks. In a strictly mechanical “consumer advice” style review, it’s the perfect game. Awesome graphics, lots of content, and great polishAside from the jank-ass PC port. There’s no way to excuse that getting a 90% no matter how you look at it.. Reviewers don’t get enough time to do a deep dive on the game in a holistic sense, and a huge part of the audience doesn’t want them to because they’re just looking for consumer advice and not artistic analysis. And even ignoring all that, low scores on popular games just earns you a bunch of stupid abuse from internet randos.

Thankfully, my site is mostly insulated from this sort of problem on account of me not handing out scores. When people send you hate mail, they’re usually arguing with the score, not the text. The kind of person who thinks it’s normal to mount personal attacks against critics with different opinions is not the kind of person who will hang around to read 2,000 (much less 120,000) words to find out if they need to send you hate mailAlthough I do get a tiny bit now and again..

In any case, I have no idea what sort of score I’d assign to something as monumentally popular and culturally important as Grand Theft Auto IV, but I know it wouldn’t be a 98. This game doesn’t leverage its best assets (the open world) and instead the overwhelming focus is placed on a story that fails more often than it succeeds.

That’s it for the franchise-level retrospective. Next week we’re going to begin picking at Grand Theft Auto V.

 

Footnotes:

[1] In a well-told story, you’re ideally always doing both of these.

[2] Note that this is “fanboy culture” not “gamer culture”. I think it’s important to draw a clear line between the two. Not everyone who disagrees with a review is a toxic hater. Usually they’re just someone with a different perspective.

[3] Let’s just assume the gunplay is fun for the sake of argument.

[4] And let’s not even get into the fact that scores are on some goofball curve where a “middling” score is 75 rather than 50.

[5] Aside from the jank-ass PC port. There’s no way to excuse that getting a 90% no matter how you look at it.

[6] Although I do get a tiny bit now and again.



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87 thoughts on “Grand Theft Auto IV: A Criticism of Criticism

  1. Al__S says:

    One of the odd bits is that the tonal issues (and much of the busywork issues) are less or not at all present in the expansion packs. I did complete GTA IV, but I much, much more fun in the expansions.

    1. ElMucho says:

      GTA4 took me so long to finish. I never understood why until I read these retrospectives.

      I vividly remember doing the final showdown and not having any idea what was happening. I just wanted it all to end.

    2. Geebs says:

      I’ve actually spent a fair amount of time wondering about the “tonal dissonance” thing in GTA and why, on the whole, it doesn’t bother me as much as it seems to bother other people. I think the reason I don’t have trouble reconciling the lead character’s angst with all of the bazooka-wielding murder and pedestrian-flattening is simply that I just don’t happen to play the games that way. Consequently all of the stuff the protagonist does in my playthroughs is much more in character,

      On the ther hand the most recent GTA I’ve actually finished was San Andreas. My issue with GTA IV was that the driving was no fun.

      1. I have a similar experience with most of the Elder Scrolls and (to a lesser extent) Fallout games because I never bother with stealing things in those games. Literally the ONLY time I ever steal ANYTHING is if I’m given a quest specifically to steal something, and they usually make those thefts so laughably easy and consequence-free that there’s a whole section of the gameplay I simply never see.

        It also means that there’s an entire class of problems and bugs and wildly broken craziness that I never experience, since the whole theft-detection/guard chase AI is some of the trickiest and thus most completely borked up in the game. I’m not going to notice that the guards are psychic because the only time I get picked up for crimes is when I accidentally stole an apple while I was trying to talk to someone who moved at the last second.

        That, and I never really get to the “I have now completely broken the entire economy forever” stage, either. It still kinda weirds me out just how larcenous other players get while I’m over here with various “realism” mods making sure that my character is eating a balanced diet and not getting bored with 1000 cheese wheels.

  2. Jabberwok says:

    Unfortunately for me, artistic analysis and consumer advice are effectively the same thing. I can’t enjoy a product that (I feel) fails in the first category. But you’re absolutely right that many gamers won’t even notice. I was horrified by watching the way my friend played Skyrim. Skipping all dialogue, charging every enemy with two swords and hacking away till they died, and that was it. At that pace, they would never notice any of the things that bothered me about the game, yet I can’t really claim they were playing it wrong.

    What does bug me, though, is if a developer (or filmmaker) might cite a consumer’s lack of interest as an excuse to deliver something mediocre. I would rather have no story than a bad story. I wouldn’t hate Michael Bay as much if he just made 2-hour long car chases. The terrible writing stuck in between only serves to ruin everything else.

    1. Echo Tango says:

      When I buy games, I often go on Steam to look at a handful of reviews from customers. A few low-rated ones, to see why they hated the game, and a few highly-rated ones, to see why people liked it. It’s not perfect, but I think it’s better than the typical problems in big-name reviews sites, that Shamus is talking about. If the complaints are about things I care about (like a poor story, or a glitchy engine, or whatever), or if the praise is all shallow or things I don’t care about, I know not to purchase the game. Likewise, complaints about thing that I don’t mind, and praise about things I do care about (art, aesthetic, story), are indicators to purchase. :)

      1. Jabberwok says:

        Yeah, I do the same. I’ve never used media review scores to make a decision on a game. Steam and GOG ratings, I do use, though I’m starting to look more into the reasons behind a low score on Steam. And scrolling down to the individual reviews often gives a good picture of that.

      2. blue_painted says:

        It’s not just me then! I do that on all sorts of reviews, Amazon, eBay etc. because I find the middle-point reviews a bit, well, middling …

        On the other hand, if something has ONLY middling reviews, then I can expect it to be middling all round.

    2. Jennifer Snow says:

      Lack of interest is *never* an excuse to deliver something mediocre. Most companies go out of their way to make sure that their niche features are polished to a jewel shine because how are you ever going to GET people interested in it if, in the few moments that they pay attention to it, their attention is NOT REWARDED?!

      If it’s worth putting in at all, then it should be as good as you can make it. If your players aren’t interested enough in the feature for you to spend time making it awesome, you should CUT the FEATURE.

  3. DB says:

    Are you going to talk about the DLC for GTAIV? The Lost and the Damned is a better game with the same assets. I feel the polish isn’t quite there with the Ballad of Gay Tony but I have friends who rate it highly.

    1. Pyrrhic Gades says:

      The DLC for GTA IV and Grand Theft Auto 5 just can’t compare to the original GTA IV.

      It’s just not a proper Grand Theft Auto game without the ability to go bowling with your cousin (Come on, I can’t be the only one that finds the bowling the best part of GTA IV). That’s why GTA 5 did so poorly in reviews in comparison.

      1. Jabberwok says:

        I did it once and then was bored of it. Felt like I was wasting time. Almost as much as watching TV in a video game. GTA 4 was certainly full of distractions….

  4. Daemian Lucifer says:

    Aside from the jank-ass PC port. There’s no way to excuse that getting a 90% no matter how you look at it.

    Well,the pc market was dying* at the time,so thats an excuse for ignoring all the issues with the port.

    *Thats not what I think though,but it was what people were saying at the time.

    1. Karma The Alligator says:

      Well,the pc market was dying* at the time,so thats an excuse for ignoring all the issues with the port.

      Why and how? Were they trying to finish off PC gaming for good? I know that if my dealings with GTA 4 had been the only thing I knew about games on PC, I’d have gone to a console and never looked back.

      1. Matt Downie says:

        I’d almost forgotten that the PC games market used to be dying.

        Quote from a randomly found article searching for that phrase:
        Interviewer: “I wanted to ask you about one of the hot topics in PC gaming at the moment, which is piracy. I speak to many developers who say that the PC games market is dying…”
        Interviewee: “…We’ve seen developers moving to the console and I think that’s a good decision, I can see why they’re doing that. PC gaming is not dead at all. The PC market has been for the last couple of years very World of Warcraft driven, as well as Sims driven, but I think in the future there will be a lot more titles that will get more players back to the PC again.”

        That article was from 2008, the same year GTA4 was released. So it checks out.

        1. Fizban says:

          Personally I’d expect it was the same “wishful” thinking they keep trying to push by claiming “single player games are dead.” People never stopped wanting games on the PC, but many publishers would have loved to cut it out of the equation for not making all the money. Then Steam and indie games flooded the market and “saved” PC gaming by making it so obvious people were ready to buy buy buy that the publishers dropped the bs and kept publishing for PC.

  5. Asdasd says:

    This is a Big Issue in gaming so I applaud the bravery with which you take it on, Shamus. I think you’ve done a very good job covering all bases, especially identifying the duality that gaming has as both a medium with artistic potential, like literature or cinema, and a hobby or past time, more akin to something like mountain biking, with a high price of entry to the consumer.

    Would it be better if critics handled these two things separately? A consumer review and an artistic review, separately scored, with the latter preferably coming later after a week or two so that everyone has a chance to experience the story for themselves unspoiled? I don’t know how the economics of such an approach could be managed. Games sites depends on clicks for financial survival, and compete with each other for said clicks, so everything has to go up as soon as humanly possible. The games media we deserve is the one that we pay for.

    The other thing I think that causes tension between the audience and the critics is that this problem of games’ duality is rarely acknowledged. If we all spent more time thinking about what a tricky business it is to review a game I think comment sections would conflagrate much less on the regular.

    Relatedly, games critics (and critics of all stripes) are writers by trade, and thus naturally tend to be confident in their voice and mastery of their craft. I often feel this results in articles written with a level of projected authority that borders on the provocative, which belies our shared understanding that a review is only one person’s opinion.

    Backlash under these circumstances seems inevitable, even though I know even the most mild and even handed review would attract vitriol from the fanboys if it didn’t validate their ardour (and a review littered with “to me”s and “in my opinion”s would be a fun read for nobody).

    I have to admit that even reading this thoughtful piece, I found myself chafing a little at the extent to which Shamus was laying into GTA4’s storytelling, even though I agreed with all of his broader points and respected his right to an opinion on it. In other words, there can be other hidden categories of dissenting opinion in the snob/slob equation, such as people who DO care about story in a game whose story you hate, but disagree with your assessment of its merits.

    1. Jabberwok says:

      We already seem to have both consumer and artistic reviews, though often coming from different sources. And the former seem to have much greater exposure. But even the big players have their share of retrospectives. Though I would guess the quality varies wildly, since those sites are ultimately still a volume business. With that in mind, we may have to accept that more thoughtful artistic criticism is going to come from alternate sources. In fact, I think Bob Case had a good video on the subject.

      It is hard to completely separate the two, of course. But you may be right about the air of authority that is sometimes projected. I would love to see major sites ditching their scoring systems completely, and perhaps having reviewers focus on a style that highlights their personal experience with the game. Those tend to be the most useful articles to me, anyway. And more fun to read.

      1. Asdasd says:

        Yes, absolutely – thoughtful artistic criticism is definitely something I want, and I often rely on the likes of errant signal, mrbtongue and of course Shamus to provide it. These folks are all patreon funded, which surely isn’t a coincidence.

        Before discovering these resources, I was reliant on the more thoughtful sites among the games media, such as RPS and Eurogamer. They’ve always (or at least since, like, the turn of the decade) made room in their reviews for a healthy dose of artistic consideration – and perhaps an unhealthy one. At times I’ve been frustrated by their reluctance to engage with the consumerist aspects of games, which they sometimes outright neglect in their enthusiastic pursuit of narratives and themes. But the balance is always going to be tricky to strike.

        1. Geebs says:

          RPS did at least have some entertaining writing, but I don’t think I can name another publication that was so enamoured with games I just can’t stand. I basically can’t buy anything they recommend.

          Case in point: Far Cry 3. I think they gave it a Game of the Year; I bought it off that recommendation and good god it’s a horrible, self-satisfied, intellectually stunted grind. The gunplay wasn’t even as fun as Far Cry 2.

          They were also super into the endings of Mass Effect 3 and Bioshock Infinite if I remember correctly.

          1. Jabberwok says:

            Huh. Did they just praise the endings to be contrary? Those are easily my two least favorite endings in all of video games, with ME3 taking the cake by a wide margin. I’d say the consensus is pretty accurate in that case.

            I haven’t read a lot of RPS, but when I did I often felt that the author didn’t seem to have the background in the medium that they should. I’d get the vibe that they were about ten years younger than me, and hadn’t bothered to play any games that came out more than 5 years ago. On the other hand, I usually like what the Crate & Crowbar podcasters have to say, and I think one or two of them worked for RPS. But I don’t seek out the good articles. The problem is that Steam news feeds seem to link to a lot of shite, which often happens to be from RPS.

            1. BlueHorus says:

              I thought Bioshock Infinite got good reviews all round, including the ending? I don’t remember hearing about a controversy similar to ME3 or Deus Ex: HR.

              I’d like to hear that Infinite’s ending got some flak – I didn’t like it either – but I guess I missed it?

    2. Vinsomer says:

      I think it’s partly on us, the gamer. At least we have to be willing to meet critics half way.

      Ultimately, I don’t think we have the right expectations of reviews. We just have to accept that there will be popular games which review well that we don’t like, there will be times when critics’ tastes differ from ours, there will be times when we waste time and money on games we hate, and there will be times when a review simply can’t do what we want it to do.

      And the less dingbats who expect reviews to validate their opinions, rather than expound upon the reviewer’s, the better.

      Really, I can’t help but think that review scores hurt more than they help. Because review scores create a granular numerical value in a field where numerical values are perhaps the least relevant way to present information. It also leads to tit-for-tat discussions and encourages people to skip the actual content of reviews.

      And this is exasperated by the problem of the score curve. Some reviewers try in vain to rebalance the scale by making 5/10 or equivalent ‘average’. Other just roll with the ‘7/10 is average’ score the industry just decided on long ago. So we have a situation where reviewers are giving scores where the value of each score varies by a hell of a lot by publication, reviewer, and even time.

      An example, Jim Sterling’s BOTW review which saw his site DDOSed, hack attempts and death threats. Anyone who actually read that review would have seen several arguments in favour, and people who know his style know 7/10 is a good score from him. But the average fanboy from wherever doesn’t know that.

      And the argument that reviewers are attempting to be authoritative despite 1. being authorities and 2. the expectations for reviewers to undercut their own opinion by constantly reminding us of their own subjectivity, and by extension fallibility, has never, ever been a fair or honest argument. When have you ever heard someone say ‘I agree completely with you, but you need to say ‘I think’ more because it’s just your opinion’?

  6. Raion says:

    When I first played it I absolutely loved it, well… except the phone calls to hang out. And the bad accents. And the mission structure not evolving from the PS2 days.
    The moment to moment though, the mechanical part of playing it, I loved it.
    But it was my introduction to the new generation of hardware, so I was likely blinded by the sheer technological sophistication of it, and as time passed, I grew to dislike it more and more.
    Thinking back on it… I bought the 360 with GTA IV, Grid, Fallout 3 and Mass Effect, which I all enjoyed at the time.
    Nowadays, I only hold Mass Effect in any esteem, and even that one, in spite of it’s merits as a game.

    1. BlueHorus says:

      Hah. I loved Fallout 3 when it came out, played it for ages.
      Then, a few years later, I’d played Fallout: New Vegas to death and thought ‘hey, FO3 was good, let’s re-install that.’

      And boy, was playing that game a different experience after seeing how New Vegas did it.

      Tastes move on, I guess.

  7. Grudgeal says:

    I’ve gotten to know quite a few game journos over the years, and despite the low pay, unstable employers, frequent travel, and tight deadlines, the most common source of stress and aggravation is the dreaded “community backlash”.

    Heh. I write (on occasion) reviews for series on a fan website so obscure down in internet-town it barely qualifies as a ‘website’, and even I get stressed out when, once in a blue moon, I see someone deigns to leave a comment on one of them because there’s nothing that gets me sadder than 1.00 ratings with a single line of “you are bias” or “you are suck”.

    I can’t even imagine doing that stuff for a living.

    1. Alan says:

      It never ends. A few years ago I replayed the entire King’s Quest series and wrote up some reviews on my insignificant vanity site. Naturally it drew people who felt the need to complain that I was essentially a young whipper snapper who didn’t understand the period and was expecting unreasonable things. (That I originally played the games when they came out, and could site other companies doing the same sort of thing, but better, apparently didn’t matter.)

      Fanboys are awful.

      1. Karma The Alligator says:

        Haters are just as bad.

        I remember writing a Steam review for Disgaea 1 back when it came out (after playing it for a few hours, of course). At the time, many people (I don’t have a number, maybe they were just very vocal) had issues with some of the graphic options. I never had any of those problems, and wrote so in my review (while still mentioning that some people had issues), but I was still “attacked” for defending an “awful port”.

  8. Ander says:

    Tumblr’s askagamedev says that what they look for in a game review is an answer to the question, “Who would enjoy this game?” This consumerist focus lends itself surprisingly well to artistic analysis of games with artistic merit. If you like the sound of this game after the review spends paragraphs on story and setting,you might like the game itself. Still, it’s hard to bring up this aspects in games that lack it without being insulting, e.g. “Shoot Boy 2 is a tonal mess, but if you don’t care about character development and just want KILL then you should enjoy it.”

  9. Pakxos says:

    I have enjoyed reading through the blog. Thank you for making these long-form articles

  10. nirutha says:

    I think you may be somewhat misled by your personal tastes. I don’t dispute any of your criticisms in general. But for me, GTA4 is the kind of game where the positives outweigh the negatives. Even more than that: You can’t get the positives anywhere else, so the game is special to you. Despite it’s many objective flaws.

    Mass Effect 1 may be a similar case for you, Shamus.

    1. Ander says:

      “You can’t get the positives anywhere else”
      That has helped me understand fans’ love of multiple things, especially the Elder Scrolls games.

      1. King Marth says:

        Funny quirk of human psychology at play there, even abusive attention is considered better than being ignored.

  11. BlueHorus says:

    Rate a game too low, and you’re a biased hater. Rate it too high, and you’re a shill for the publishers. The audience has already decided what the correct score is, and they believe it’s your job to parrot their opinion back at them, enshrining their preferences as the “correct” viewpoint

    Time for a relevant Critical Miss comic!
    (Well, that and I just like genital-related puns.)

    One of the reasons I still watch Yahtzee Croshaw’s reviews is that he’s (I assume due to popularity/a stable paycheck) in a position where he can ignore the people acting butthurt and just give his opinion – concisely, intelligently, and neatly packaged into a 5-minute video with some jokes.
    It’s clearly and honestly ‘What Yahtzee though of this game and why, take it or leave it’.
    And of course, almost every review has/had a comment saying ‘they’re not real reviews, just watch for the humor’, your bog-standard accusations of bias or ‘not getting it’.

    For another reviewer, less well known…I can see why they’d worry about being completely honest.

    1. Ander says:

      Reviewers with a lot of personality can be helpful, assuming you learn the biases and personality

  12. Content Consumer says:

    the demand for clar

    This sentence is not very clar. :)

    1. Karma The Alligator says:

      Seems crystal clar to me.

      1. Daemian Lucifer says:

        Clar as deay

        1. Ander says:

          You hecklers need to clar out of here.

  13. MadTinkerer says:

    “He’s just a hater. He should go back to Animal Crossing.”

    Animal Crossing New Leaf has objectively better multiplayer than GTA online. Just ask my Mom, she’ll tell you.

    1. Wiseman says:

      How do we get in touch with your mum?

      1. Sartharina says:

        … this comment’s begging for a “Yo momma” joke, but I can’t decide which one.

        1. BlueHorus says:

          I thought exactly the same thing, but couldn’t find a way to make it fit.

          …Which, incidentally, is what your mother said. ;D

  14. Karma The Alligator says:

    One thing I learnt years ago was to not expect too much from reviews (nevermind scores, I stopped taking scores seriously about 25 years ago), because I have my own tastes and even if something looks good on paper, I might not like it in the end (and I’ve proven to myself many times that I liked something most people hated, or hated something really popular).

    Now, the only thing I’d read/watch would be like what Total Biscuit did: his Port Reports, giving an idea of how the game plays on PC, what the options are, and so on.

  15. Nick Powell says:

    The kind of person who thinks it’s normal to mount personal attacks against critics with different opinions is not the kind of person who will hang around to read 2,000 (much less 120,000) words

    This is kind of irrelevant, but have you ever considered running a script to add up all the words you’ve published on this site? It must be in the tens of millions by now

    1. eaglewingz says:

      This post from last year suggests ~200,000 words per year. So 3 million give or take?

      1. Nick Powell says:

        Well that’s a lot of words. Thanks

  16. Thomas says:

    Retrospectives make a lot more sense than reviews. Even in films. As long as people like you and Raycevik are making these long form series, we have ways to examine games after the initial rush has worn down.

  17. Redrock says:

    To me, that eternal problem with game reviews is a good illustration of why games aren’t (just) art. Oh, they certainly are that, but art is just a part of the package. Games are also a service and a product. Film critics don’t have to write about key bindings or graphical options or fps drops or the usability of inventory screens. It’s not an unsolvable problem, though. It’s just that scores aren’t all that useful. A short summary saying “You’ll like this if you like this and that” is way, way more useful as consumer advice and also allows the critic to write about story, gameplay and mechanics to the extent that’s relevant in each particular case. And while one can always argue that some people care about the story more than others, most of the time you can gauge the importance of, say, story based on your understanding of what the game was trying to do.

    For a more recent example, Dead Cells doesn’t really do story – it has those little dismissive fourth-wall-breaking titbits and little else, but this approach fits its roguelite structure. An open-world AAA game, however, really, really needs a good story, characters and setting. Well, mostly characters. You can have good characters with a mediocre story, like Horizon.

  18. Leonardo says:

    Just wanted to say that while I agree with the sentiment, I thought Brucie was a big outlier in a host of shitty characters, and indeed one of the most memorable characters I can think of in any game.

    1. Asdasd says:

      Brucie was (apparently, I’ve never seen official confirmation) inspired by the character of FPS Doug, one of the great parodies of gamer culture from the early mass-internet age.

  19. Jason says:

    IV is the only one I haven’t finished either. I got it about a year after it came out on Steam on sale and it barely ran on my computer even though it ran everything else just fine. I tried to play it a few times, but just couldn’t. I also had issues with Games for Windows Live at the time.
    Eventually I got a new computer, and enough upgrades that it would play decently. It never ran great though. Hell, I think Crysis run better.
    I tried to play it for a while, but just couldn’t get into it. I don’t know if I ever made it to the motorcycle mission or not.
    Maybe I’ll go back and play it more, but probably not.

  20. Well, our schools work on the same scoring system sooo…

    *shrug*

  21. Steve C says:

    let’s not even get into the fact that scores are on some goofball curve where a “middling” score is 75 rather than 50.

    I want to get into that. I used to think that, ya, review scores are too high and in a narrow range. Except review scores align very closely with academic grades. Video game review scores are reasonable once the % score is converted to a letter grade.

    When I was in school, a 75% was a “B”, 72% was a “B-” and a 77% was a “B+”. 50% would be a very bad fail and outside a letter grade. I needed an minimum average of B+ in my major and B- in my minor to not get kicked out of school. I knew someone who needed an “A+” average (94%) to maintain her scholarships. She was the smartest person out of ~1000 and even she could not maintain those scholarships. Putting her at no more than 93.9%.

    What that means is that everyone in that university had an overall grade somewhere in that ~20% range between 70-77% on the bottom and 94% at the top. Which is the same ~20% range that review scores operate in.

    1. Kathryn says:

      Yeah, that’s exactly why they do it that way. Odyssey of the Mind, a competition for K-12 (and younger, and college), also has a similar rule, where they want the average score on each element to be 70% of the range. So if it’s scored 1-10, average score on that element across all teams should be 7, and if it’s scored 1-20, average should be 14, etc. This is because that’s the range seen in schools. No one wants to hurt kids’ feelings with lower scores.

      But here’s the problem with that approach, at least for OotM: That means you are using over two-thirds of the range to distinguish between the below-average teams and only less than a third to distinguish between above-average teams. Besides the lack of precision in the final result, which is important when the top two teams may very well be separated by a mere quarter of a point out of 200 possible points (I used to work scoreroom at OotM tourneys and have seen that scenario more than once), it is sending exactly the wrong message to the kids. You are telling the kids that it is more than twice as important to define the exact degree to which they suck than it is to define how awesome they are. What kind of message is THAT??

      (There’s a reason I just worked in the scoreroom and didn’t do judging.

      OK, there are several reasons. But that’s the big one.)

      1. Karma The Alligator says:

        I know it’s been a while since I was in school, and we were using a different system, but I distinctly remember getting all the range from 0 to 20 out of 20. Are kids feelings that hurt by having bad grades?

    2. Cybron says:

      I think this is pretty well known. You can see further evidence in the way people react to 2.5 or 3 stars out of 5 vs a 50/100. At least, you can until metacritic takes that and converts that to a numeric/100 rating, causing angry fanboy locusts to descend.

    3. Vinsomer says:

      The funny thing is I actually think comparisons to academic grades is something that speaks to a greater problem with the score curve in gaming.

      Now, in academics you need to prove yourself to a certain, specified level in order to be worthy of certification. For example, if you are a doctor and you only score a 50%, congratulations, you’re going to rack up a bodycount that will put serial killers to shame. Given that even the best doctors can sometime do nothing to save someone’s life, having a doctor who is only right half the time is disastrous. You can say the same for, say, an engineer who is only right half the time. Even in the liberal arts, someone who scores 50% in Eng Lit deserves a 3rd class degree because only being able to form a decent argument half of the time is pretty bad. Even in liberal arts, there are specific rubrics and mark schemes to ensure that only students who meet a certain level pass.

      Now, when you compare it to gaming, that’s where we see a lot of problems. 2+2=4, and it always will, so if you put that on a maths paper you get a mark. However, in gaming everything is subjective. For example, a simple point made is favour of many games: ‘It’s got good gameplay’. What does ‘good’ gameplay even mean? If one person likes FPS games, then a turn based RPG might not have ‘good’ gameplay for him, and if another likes strategy games then a FPS might not have ‘good’ gameplay for him, and who is to say whose standards are ‘correct’? A game like, say, Telltale’s games might, to some, have good gameplay. It”s contextual, often tense and filled with choices. But to some who wanted a more action-based game, the gameplay is little more than a collection of QTEs tacked on to essentially a visual novel. Again, whose standards are right? It’s not that people shouldn’t have opinions, it’s that we should realise both the value of other viewpoints and the limitations of our own, at least before we go affixing scores to games as though they were measures of correctness.

      Does that mean people can’t have opinions on games that they don’t traditionally like? There is no formula for perfect gameplay, or perfect story, or whatever. Even if we all generally accept that a game has ‘good’ gameplay, it’s still on the people making that argument to, well, make the argument.

      But I do think a lot of people who clamour for ‘objective’ reviews do think that, yes, there is ‘good’, or rather correct gameplay, or correct storytelling. You see it more in how popular criticism of narrative media focuses so heavily on plot holes, something Shamus has written about himself. And this is bad because they are not, and never will be objective. They’re just ignoring the subjectivity of their own opinions, attempting to write their opinions into facts, and ignoring/denying different viewpoints the same level of legitimacy they give to their own. And you see it in almost every comment section btl of any discussion on a game’s merits.

      Basically, scores in academia are absolute. But scores in a critical field like gaming reviews are (or should be) relative. But I don’t think everyone sees it as that.

      1. Syal says:

        Basically, scores in academia are absolute.

        Only some of them. Artistic fields are still quite open to interpretation. For instance; I took an English class that allowed you to rewrite papers to try for higher scores. One of my rewrites came back with “This is objectively worse than the first version, but I think I underrated the first one so I’m raising your grade.”

        1. Vinsomer says:

          Yes, it can get weird in Lit classes, but ultimately there is a mark scheme and rubric that is very detailed in what goes where. You can get something remarked, but for the most part (assuming markers are competent) a good essay won’t get bad grades and a bad one won’t get good grades.

          It gets tricky, but there are certain requirements all ‘good’ essays must reach, concrete ones such as multiple quotations and cited sources, correct formatting and SPAG, and more subjective but still pretty straight forward ones like a well-structured argument, and contributing to the critical field.

          When compared to game reviews, the latter has so few guidelines on what anything is, so it really is a bit of a crapshoot, especially with ‘wildcard’ reviewers.

    4. King Marth says:

      A game truly worth less than 50% would be so technically damaged that it is incapable of actually starting. Two Brothers on Steam (not Brothers: a Tale of Two Sons, the obscure pixely one) falls into this category, it got a mention from Extra Credits with a disclaimer that it had technical issues but it really is something else.

      The real issue is when these games start getting 80% scores.

      1. Daemian Lucifer says:

        But then there are games like ride to hell,which does work,from start to finish.Its not damaged in any way.But is so atrocious that it rightfully deserves its <50%.If that were to be reserved only for broken games,even such a pile of shit like ride to hell would get something like 51%.

      2. Karma The Alligator says:

        Where would you put Big Rigs: Over the Road Racing, then? It starts, it’s playable, so for you it should still get above 50%?

    5. Asdasd says:

      If I were starting my own games site and had to chose the scoring system, I think I’d be tempted to use a five point scale.

      A ten point scale, as noted, has a lot of wasted numbers. You have three flavours of ‘good’, two of ‘average’, and five flavours of ‘worthless’. Surely we can do better than that.

      If you go more granular, I think you’re really bordering on arrogance. You’re telling me that your critical insight is so honed as to know the difference between the 77 you just gave a game and a 76 or a 78? Come on.

      A five point scale is a bit of a fudge, but I think it has benefits in that each value communicates something distinct and useful, while being fuzzy enough to deter some of the grousing that more granular systems make inevitable. Five and one star scores tell the reader ‘everybody should go out of their way to play this game’ and ‘nobody should go out of their way to play this game’, respectively. Four and two star scores suggest ‘this is a game with a lot of good and a few flaws’ and ‘this is a game with many flaws and a little good’.

      The three star score isn’t ‘equal parts flawed and good’ – it translates to a 60% – but while we haven’t therefore solved the positivity bias of the 10-point scale, we have at least dragged it in the right direction. A slight positivity bias is to be expected in the industry anyway, because a) it is after all an enthusiast press, born out of a love of the medium rather than some dispassionate duty to observe it, b) straying too far from the current model is to invite a whole load of blowback on your poor reviewers, and c) giving truly average games a truly average score is going to sour your relations with publisher PRs extremely quickly.

      (I suspect this might be the real reason that 7 = average became the industry standard: as a sop to the people who determine where advertising budgets will be spent.)

      Better still, just don’t assign scores at all. Oblige people to read your actual thoughts on the game instead of imagining them based on the number they skipped to. But metacritic is a huge driver of traffic to reviews, and the unscored articles go right at the bottom of the page. So in truth I don’t know whether you could afford to ever do that.

    6. Sabrdance (MatthewH) says:

      As an academic, I can confirm that it takes work to get below a 50% in my class. I mean, on a multiple choice exam, just random guessing will get you a 25%, and just turning in the paper in English with proper cites is worth 20% of the paper. If you absorbed any of the course material at all, you should be able to hit 50, and a minimum of effort is required to ding 60% (a D). Very few people tend to get earned Fs. Most Fs are for not attending, not taking the exams, and not turning in the paper.

      Among those who do the work, the curve is fairly smooth from just missing a D to A, with the mode around a high C or low B. And the entire course (with a long tail) has an average of 75%, standard deviation a little above 15%. And that’s with the unnormed data -which I don’t norm for the altogether good reason that the data aren’t normal.

      So I too have never got the complaint about most AAA games falling in the 70-100 range. D-range games don’t get made by AAA companies unless something goes horribly wrong.

      Which is to say, that reviewer scores are censored. We don’t see games worse than 60% because half of them never get made, and the half that do, don’t work. Among the games that work and that make it to a mass market -it’s not surprising that they are 70+ games.

    7. Lanthanide says:

      Other people above have replied, but none of them have quite made the point I’m about to make.

      Firstly I’d say a middling score is ~65, not 75.

      Secondly, and my main point, especially for AAA games, but also just ‘A’ games (ie, funded by a known publisher and receives some level of advertising; not a game that just pops up on steam one day), if they’re going to get a low score, like less than 60%, they’re generally just not released.

      The publisher / developer either chooses to delay release to give themselves more time to fix up the bugs and improve the controls/gameplay/graphics/sound/whatever, or they’re simply killed at some point during development and canned.

      So naturally for everything that makes it through all of those hurdles is going to have some minimum level of quality, and people perceive that quality to be around the 60% mark for a game that is mostly playable and offers some level of fun on occasion.

      One counter argument against this perspective, however, is that we seem to get more 2-5/10 movies than we do games that score less than 50%, when movies should have the same sort of cost pressure / early death that games do.

      My only response for that is that studio movies again seem to generally get minimum scores of around 6/10, and the movies in the 2-5 range tend to be independent or small productions, which I assume are more driven by an individual or small group of people who want to make a movie and don’t particularly care if it’s crap because it’s there vision, whereas in gaming there are more people involved who can step in and shut a game down if it’s crap? Also perhaps with movies there’s more of a sunk cost – it’s not until the movie has mostly completed filming and the director is going to edit it that it might become clear that they’ve produced a pile of turds, but by that point they’ve already spent 80% of the budget anyway so it’s better to keep going and release what they have to try and recoup some money on it?

    8. Blackbird71 says:

      A “B” was 75%? What did your school do with the 80%-89% range?!? When I was in school, 75% was a solid “C”.

  22. baud says:

    Regarding review score, I remember one gaming publication where, in addition to the final score, which was out of 20, there was additionnal score regarding aspects of the game: story, graphics, gameplay & sound, which helped explain a little the final score.

    Also regarding the PC score, I remember, a website covering both PC and console, when reviewing games ported to PC from console, just taking the console review and perhaps adding a small PC paragraph and calling it a day, usually without touching the final score. So the 90% score for PC could be coming from publications who just copied the review they had made for the console game, without modification.

    Still it’s good to see that I’m not alone in not enjoying this game.

    1. Daimbert says:

      That format pretty much used to be the standard for most sites, although it may have faded a bit now. For example, most Gamefaqs reviews used that approach. I wrote for a small, friend-run and now defunct site at one point and that was the standard approach and my friend had written web code to sum up and average all of the categories. When I did it myself on my own blog, I used to say that the final score was an overall summary of what I thought of the game and so not just an average of each category. Of course, when that died out I eventually went to simply posting “Thoughts” because, hey, I wasn’t doing formal reviews and there were always things I wanted to say that weren’t really relevant to a scored review.

  23. evileeyore says:

    “toxic fanboy culture”… “fanboy”… FANBOY?!?!

    As though there is no such thing as a toxic fangirl culture?

    10/10 would hate on again. ;)

  24. Daimbert says:

    I don’t agree that movie reviews and game reviews are all that different. You have strict consumer reviews for movies — generally, what you see in the newspaper’s reviews section that people peruse to see which movie they would like to see this weekend — and more artistic reviews like you’d see at SF Debris, for example. You really shouldn’t use Chuck’s reviews to decide if you want to buy a movie or not — or, at least, not as a primary and consistent source for that — just like someone shouldn’t use your analyses to decide if they should buy a game. Both CAN convince you to buy or not buy a game, but that’s not where you should start if you’re trying to make a decision.

    And I think that the discussions of technical issues are a red herring here. Sure, movie reviews don’t normally talk about technical issues and aspects, but that’s just because there AREN’T generally such concerns there. The movie is going to play all the way through, unlike games which have more technical issues that need to be mentioned. And yet, movie reviews have had to talk about things like how bad a shaky camera is and so how likely it is to cause motion sickness in people, how well a film was filmed in 3-D, if they have a lot of flashing lights that might induce seizures, and so on. And when we get into reviews of DVDs, we see a LOT more technical details mentioned, including things like menus, remastering, encoding, and so on and so forth. So technical details are mentioned as far as they are relevant in all of those sorts of reviews; they just aren’t as relevant for theater movies as they are for other things, like games or DVDs.

    And I don’t think the problem is a “Just the facts” sort of approach, because we’ve already had debates over whether you can even GIVE that kind of objective review for games, with a lot of game journalists denying that it’s possible. I find that a lot of game reviews end up being more of a personal perspective of the reviewer than something that is trying to detail supposed “facts” about the game objectively. There’s room for the personal perspective of the reviewer, of course, but too often that perspective gets substituted for an objective or even inter-subjective perspective as if that’s sufficient. A good movie reviewer can go into a movie and tell you, in general, what each type of audience that might want to watch that movie is going to get out of it if they go to see it, even if they aren’t in that specific audience themselves. That seems to be far more rare for game reviewers; either they tend to only review games in the genres they like to take blind stabs at what the intended audience might like. Part of this knowledge, of course, comes from experience and in fact doing that for a lot of games and watching reactions and finding out what other audiences seem to care about, but it also comes from understanding that that is what you’re trying to do, which I think game journalism has rejected in a large way.

    Remember, though, that games are a less mature medium than movies and game journalism/criticism is ALSO less mature. You can’t really review a game just like you would a book or a movie, although there are similarities, so there’s a feeling out process to figure out what the best way to do that is. It’s just unfortunate that that is happening in an era where negative reactions are so easy to publicize to the world so anyone who steps wrong can be immediately swamped with them, justified or no.

  25. Dreadjaws says:

    This doesn’t explain why Final Fantasy XIII is so damn popular. Unlike Wolfenstein II, it didn’t come at a time where its subject was relevant, and unlike Michael Bay movies, it suffers from an excess seriousness. It does have the rest of the ingredients, though: awful characters, pointless scenes and plot threads, terrible pacing, preposterous dialogue…

    Besides all that it suffers from something that in Bay is almost unique to the Transformers movies, which is incomprehensible monster design and action scenes so busy that’s hard to tell what’s happening on screen.

    From the side of gameplay it suffers from a complete lack of freedom in character progression (though masked enough that if you’re a complete idiot you might think you’re actually given freedom), story progression so linear coupled with combat so ridiculously easy that the game can be played without looking at the screen for extensive periods of time and a beyond ridiculous weapon customization system.

    Even in games I dislike I usually can see what people like about them. Not this game. To this day I don’t understand what people see in it. I’m almost convinced Square-Enix made an entirely different game with the same name and sold it to me as a prank.

    1. Fizban says:

      I thought FF13 was universally reviled though? This is possibly the first time I’ve ever heard it described otherwise. Good reminder though, I should throw that on the heap of “things people hate which I should try so I can see what all the fuss is about.”

      1. Kathryn says:

        It is universally reviled, except for me – and I typically don’t say anything because I don’t want to get flamed or called stupid or told that I am enjoying games wrong.

        I will say that it takes a while for the game to get fun – the first couple of hours are just piloting through cutscenes and pressing X in combat. But when you finally get access to all the “roles” you use in combat, the combat becomes very fun – figuring out the most efficient way to defeat an enemy requires smart use of your roles, and combat is fast-paced and strategic. I would play X with XIII-style combat in a heartbeat if I could. Don’t get me wrong, I like X, but I prefer running strategy to running tactics.

        The challenge of five-starring all the Cie’th stones in late game/postgame is a great example. If you just wanted to *beat* those enemies, sure, you could go in with a basic setup and take them down. (Most of them, anyway. There are several that are quite difficult.) But if you want to beat them quickly and efficiently and get that five-star rating, that will require preparation and strategy. It’s like solving a puzzle. I have gone back to XIII several times specifically because I like finding new/better ways to set up for battles to defeat enemies more quickly, and I still have room for improvement.

        Maybe I’m just stupid and everyone else immediately optimized their equipment and roles and never looked back *shrug* I can’t think of a single enemy after the first couple hours that I could fight without looking at the screen.

      2. Dreadjaws says:

        Have you seen reviews for this game? They’re almost universally positive. And not just positive, in the 8-9/10 rank at least.

      3. Karma The Alligator says:

        Nope, 13 has a good following, it’s nowhere near universally reviled. I mean, it’s fine not to like something, but the amount of bandwagon hate 13 gets seems ridiculous.

        It’s also due to FF fans having expectations from previous FF games and 13 not meeting them (as if every FF game wasn’t different from the previous ones. Guess 13 was too different).

  26. “Dude thinks he’s a movie critic. Spends all this time reviewing the STORY of a VIDEOGAME. It’s a GAME. Nobody cares about your precious story. Idiot.”

    That one I really don’t understand. In my mind any game hat has a story or a plot should have it’s story reviewed. If a game has no story or plot then there is no such thing to review.
    Myself I love storytelling in games (and player freedom to be good or evil or in-between).

    I also found the Saint’s Row games kinda “meh” and really think GTA is better. Interestingly enough both franchises has a linear character arc, and the player can’t really change/color that. So we I still enjoy the story I’m not sure.

    1. Daimbert says:

      I think it’s less that story doesn’t matter at all and more the idea that story isn’t critical to how fun a game is to play. Oftentimes a story gets added merely to add something for you to shoot for as opposed to simply a high score, or something to get you to the next scene without it all seeming random. So focusing on the story — especially if you ding a game too hard because its story doesn’t measure up — can seem like attacking the game for its afterthought and missing out on what the game was really trying to provide. This is especially bad if you ding a game for not having any kind of story when similar games have added better ones, since the genre might not really require it and that might not be what you want from your game. So, for example, comparing the story from World Heroes to Persona 4 Arena and complaining that World Heroes didn’t create a good story which makes it inferior to Arena despite the fact that World Heroes had no intention of making that deep a story and that fighting games generally don’t need or want that deep a story. Doing that would really seem like you missing the point.

      Shamus is generally pretty good at not simply criticizing games for not having a deep story when they weren’t trying, but instead either saying that if you’re going for a blockbuster story then it had better be good — especially if you take up lots of time that could be spent playing the game to present the story in cutscenes — or that for simpler stories they still have to make sense. But, yeah, someone who comes to a game for the gameplay is likely to be annoyed by a review that focuses too much on the lackluster story that was always SUPPOSED to be lackluster.

      1. Sad thing though is that most devs probably do not want to make lackluster stories (but they have to follow “the suits” orders).

        1. BlueHorus says:

          Or they had a good story, but ‘notes’ from management hacked a coherent, interesting concept into garbage*. Or there was disagreement in the staff about the story, and compromises had to be made.
          And that’s before the time/money/manpower constraints…
          The more I hear about working in certain industries**, the more I understand how missteps and dud decisions that seem really obvious come about.
          And how avoiding them isn’t actually all that easy.

          * ‘We think this character would be better as a hot girl, perhaps a love interest wearing a leather catsuit. And maybe the the player has to rescue her at somepoint when she gets kidnapped! Yeah, that’s good, put a ‘rescue the hot chick’ mission in.
          …now where were those company assets?’

          **This and the film industry are the obvious ones.

          1. Syal says:

            Not sure if your example of garbage being Ann from Persona 5 is intentional or not.

            1. BlueHorus says:

              Not intentional at all; I’ve never ever played a Persona game. I just went with the most generic ‘female character’ tropes that I could think of.
              Does this Ann also have big tits?

              Though it does make me curious: I’d I’d gone with the generic ‘child’ archetype…
              (helpless, follows the player around, wears a school uniform, subject of an escort quest, has a ‘MacGuffin’ quality*, usually female)
              …would that also fit a character from the Persona games?

              *usually due to their special DNA/magic blood/uncontrollable magic power/being the daughter of someone important, etc.

              1. Syal says:

                Well, the protag is the only major Macguffin character, and turn-based RPGs don’t really do escort quests. I think it’d be pushing it to say Persona games have that character, but “helpless school-uniform kid who follows you into trouble” is a standard introduction for new team members. (They’re usually only helpless for half a stage.)

                Does this Ann also have big tits?

                Well obviously.

      2. Ander says:

        I like the fighting game analogy

  27. Fizban says:

    The kind of person I could see saying that line is the kind of person that hates reading or stories in general. There are assuredly some people who do draw a sharp line between “stories” and “games,” but that’s probably an exceedingly small amount compared to the number that shun stories or reading as a whole. Not that the latter is probably all that big either, but as always it only takes a few who just hate this thing that a bunch of other people like to taint the pool.

  28. Sean says:

    More or less liking the new theme. As for iOS Safari, hover text is displayed under the image by default (which I like), but footnotes are still popping up over the main text, and can’t be dismissed without tapping on another footnote (which I hate).

    There appears to be some odd behavior where my keyboard (default iOS) becomes unresponsive for about 10 seconds after typing several words, or setting the cursor somewhere else in the text, or backspacing a few times. Happens in the input fields below the comment box also.

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