What is the mission?

This is not about Russian jets, I feel that some members of the press are only now realising certain elements in that case (better late than never) and in addition, the second element towards the cauldron filled by the demons of idiocy will require a little more investigation (legal papers can be consuming, with an exam due on Monday that part must wait). What is interesting is the article by Keith Stuart called ‘Has video game reviewing become an impossible task?‘ (at http://www.theguardian.com/technology/2015/nov/25/video-game-reviewing-critics-industry). He starts with: “four of the year’s biggest releases – Fallout 4, Call of Duty: Black Ops 3, Star Wars: Battlefront and Rise of the Tomb Raider – three stars out of five. All are decent in a lot of ways, all have intriguing ideas and look beautiful – but each of them is lacking in fundamental areas“, of course with my passion in there (fallout 4) that 3 out of 5 is not an acceptable rating (perhaps I am slightly biased). Now by itself, Keith is very much allowed to give that rating. It is his view, his review and as such I will not become an anti-Keithereen, however I still disagree!

I will skip both Call of Duty and Star Wars battlefront. Apart of not having played them, I am not a fan of either title, which is a massive issue when reviewing games!

Yes, you can remain neutral, you can look at a title academic, but how many academics can truly explain to you a poem or a painting? These items must be heard and seen, reading about them is often not a workable solution. In this, you must rely on the names of reviewers who are enthusiastic on that type of game. Yes, we can get a good indication of any game, but the non-fanatic will more often than not miss things, if that person did not miss anything, we must allow for the notion that the article gets to be ‘coached’ by the game makers. This is not something we want to see, especially when we consider the results from Ubisoft these last two years.

In this paragraph I will illustrate what I mean by giving a view, which will be revealed at the end (no peaking readers! see if you can make out what it was).

When I look to my left I see a man in pink, well groomed standing between a couple naked. They are outside and I notice the bunnies, a cat, blackberries, with blooming trees and a little pond in the foreground. When I turn to the right, I see what is either a gangbang or an orgy. I cannot hear the music, but there are plenty of musicians and no one in that crowd has any clothes on, I see a lady holding what seems to be a wine can, I noticed her firm breasts. She does not look happy, I think she is the waitress and this is the outfit of the evening. The other guests are enjoying the company of each other and they seem to leave the lady alone. In the distance I notice a mill and a castle burning. Perhaps this is what they are celebrating? I cannot tell! In front of me there is another garden party, none seem to be dressed. The people are talking and eating fruit. I see it all form a distance, I am not invited to this party.

You might find the paragraph weird, but the explanation will follow at the end.

You see, I do not disagree with the Rise of the Tomb Raider review, I would have given the same, but only because of the graphics, which are sublime to say the least. The game is not unlike the previous game, too easy to play and to finish, not that large in the end and repetitive and scripted items are too common in this game. I would state that this game is, to some extent, nothing more than a next generation version of ‘Dragons Lair’. I felt massively happy that I did not pre-order this game. When the game gets priced down to $29, I will most likely get it, because the graphics are truly amazing, no doubt about that. You see Fallout 4 is definitely 4 stars. As a fan I would like to give it 5 stars, but there are flaws and there are a few glitches (which is utterly unavoidable with a game of this size).

Now we get to a few quotes that bothered me: “The reviewer would then play it for a few days, often to completion” the second quote is to the point: “There were occasions where reviewers were forced to assess an incomplete version of the game, in which case the publisher would send a list of known bugs and beg that you ignore them, because they’d all be sorted before release“, I have been there several times. I had no issue with that, yet in the old days QA was a lot better dealt with by software houses, whilst the game makers are pushed by their marketing department to push out as soon as possible and rely on patches. So Keith is correct here, in the old days there was a straightforward process. In those days the makers were in charge, not its marketing department. Then we get “Nowadays, publications determined to get a review out on day one will be asked to attend special events, where access to the review code is strictly controlled and monitored” They did exist in the old days too, but they were pretty rare. In several of those cases it involved a gold master for let’s say PlayStation and only a developers system could run that, so going there was pretty essential. I had a few of those visits to London where I went to Virgin Interactive Entertainment. Whilst on the way back I bumped into Richard Branson and shook his hand, apparently it was Noel Edmonds (from Noel’s House Party), so I had that little embarrassing moment to survive.

This brings us to the event where Keith hits the nail on the head: “These days, you’re not a consumer when you buy a new game, you’re an investor. That’s a weird psychological leap to make“, I agree and I do not totally agree with the setting there. When we take a beta game as an early adopter (like Elite Dangerous) I get it and that is fair. When we look at a $110 full game that is incomplete and lacking it becomes something else. We again get to Assassins Creed Unity, which should never have gotten the 80% ratings that many gave, especially with the lack of stability, the bugs, the glitches and a few other failings. Any reference to ‘new console’ should be ignored as Black Flag did not have those bugs (as far as I saw). Personally I believe that software houses are more and more blocking reviews when their release is flawed, the fact that in light of AC Unity there were stories about embargos and NDA’s, which only made things worse.

Yet Keith has more gems to offer in the article: “Since the very beginning, game reviews have operated in a confusing no man’s land between arts criticism and product assessment“, this is where I agree almost completely. In my view it is a merging of both, without the console you cannot play, without the insight of the art you cannot comprehend, both are required. The third element here is the topic, the theme or the environment. You must have a certain feel for it, because without the third part the game will not be adequately be dealt with, the review of a product the reviewer did not understand. I will try to explain it. In those days we had ‘Myst’, which now seems to be ‘the Talos Principle’. If you have no patience for puzzles and mind boggles, you will miss out on the game. In my days there was Myst, I played it to some extent and the graphics were beyond believe, but I never got some of the puzzles, which meant that you become an aimless ‘clicker’ on objects, hoping that something will react. That takes away from the experience as frustration will set in sooner rather than later.

The next part is a little less agreeable. “Reviews would compartmentalise each game into its constituent parts – graphics, sound, playability – with each often separately rated in ever more complex conclusion boxes. This approach reached its logical conclusion with the 1980s magazine ACE, which reviewed games out of 1000, and provided a “predicted interest curve”, which attempted to map out the longevity of the game – like the lifecycle of a vacuum cleaner“, I disagree here. Yes Keith seems to state his view decently, but he forgets a little part here. When we see Rise of the Tomb Raider, we see a 30Gb game on a Blu-ray, yet the very first one Tomb Raider on PlayStation (one), offered 300% more gaming, challenges and puzzles on a disk no more than a CD (600Mb), when you know that you will be playing this for MONTHS longevity becomes a factor. And in those days there was no internet with cheats and walkthroughs, you actually had to get through the game by yourself, or with friends giving you clues (many false ones). In those days Lara was truly exploring stuff and as a result so were you. I still remember those final bosses and how one if the very first secrets in level one was one that I did not solve until much later. The massive increase of graphical quality should also not be ignored, that part has been continued, but as the games are now almost utterly flawless, the size of the game seems to be a mere fraction of that what was.

Yet, this is not a given, you see, RPG’s only became bigger, much bigger. Fallout 3 and Fallout 4 show this (as does Skyrim and a few others). I personally believe that the games are not more complex to review, for the most the makers are now too scared on any level of quality critique. So as Fallout 4 got 3 stars from Keith, the makers will have seen this game as a clear 5 stars (I remain at 4 stars), which is at the heart of the issue as well. Marketing fears the reviewer because they lose control at this point, which gets me to Ubisoft and their embargo and NDA. I have only faced one NDA ever, that was from Adobe and they had the valid reason as I got access to the product several months before release. So basically I could prepare the review and much closer to the release date (I believe roughly a month before the official release). I got the final product to write about and upgrade my initial article. That is a valid part. Game makers have for a larger extent lost the visionary part that the old makers had, which is also part of this situation. It is not just the reviewer, it is the product! Keith does go there! He quotes: “But unlike books or movies, games are now evolving platforms, open to updates and improvements“, again I disagree. The game in its core foundation should be the reviewed product. ‘The last of Us’ is an amazing achievement all by itself, ‘Left Behind’ is just an additional element which is totally worth the extra cash. The relaunch of Tomb Raider for all its graphical brilliance was not. There is another side to the quote of Keith and it does matter. When we see Skyrim his words do definitely hold meaning, but in another way. You see Skyrim was a complete product, people played it and then they improved upon it. Even today, 4 years after release that game is still being improved upon. Console players like myself miss out and for all the options I am jealous not having a decent gaming PC. That is seen in https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OCU862nVpJ0. Here we see some of the most incredible graphics. 4 years after release that game can be replayed and the amazement of graphical brilliance will overwhelm you. So here we also see longevity in another way. Bethesda created a game that allows people to enjoy the RPG world for a lot longer than we bargained for and as such we will anticipate an almost equal evolution and the first mods are already available. This takes care of the RPG, but I will not increase the score for that reason because it would not be fair to the other game styles. The issue is that Fallout 4 is massive, even as I relaunched the game, find places I missed the first time because I turned right instead of walking on the same road. Houses that are not on the map, places with some lovely items for my survival. More important, Fallout 4 is nothing like the previous version. In the previous version repairs was important, now guns will not break, but evolving weapons into something a lot more powerful (believe me, you will need that). The game has elemental differences which makes for an evolved game, which makes it partially a new game. My old tactics did not work as well as I expected which was awesome! Evolving new tactics is part of the fun. I heard that there is even an option to get through a big part of the game without killing the animals, how is that for a challenge? Yes, Fallout 4 is my baby so I give it a higher rating, not the highest as I am a realist. Yet my version does not invalidate Keith’s view.

Keith ends his article on strong curve: “All art forms are subject to erosion, but with games, that impermanence is now built in like a self-destruct mechanism. As a consequence, reviewing games is like reviewing a relationship: you only know what you have in that moment, and even then, nothing is certain or solid. Both the author and the reader need to understand that now“, it is a good view to have, but is it relevant? The impermanence is only founded on multiplayer issues. The solo part of a game remains a reality for a long time. Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots can still be played and as long as the PS3 is around the game remains playable. Keith is right, Mass Effect 3 multiplayer will at some point stop, but with Destiny it is all multiplayer, so like World of Warcraft, the game will evolve, the servers will evolve and we will end up with an upgraded version, this does not invalidate the previous review, it would only validate the newest review. I also agree that reviewers need to adapt, but in all this I disagree with the title, reviewing a game is not an impossible task. It just requires the right editor with a good set of balls and mentoring skills, because the best reviewers tend to be younger and they lack journalistic skills. Now for the conclusion, I promised to talk about the ‘description’. I was looking at The Garden of Earthly Delights by Hieronymus Bosch. I shows that I am not an art critic and I left out a few details too (on purpose here), yet what items would I have forgotten? That is the part that matters, that is why a level of passion for certain games are required. I will never review GTA because I personally do not like that game, it needs to be reviewed by a fan of that play style with a firm foundation of realistic reviewing. In all this do not forget that you do not have to agree with me and that Keith is from his point of view not wrong, I just think he was not correct, which is not the same. My view evolved from reviewing games all the way back to the VIC-20, the beginning of the 8-bit era, a lifetime ago.

And it is merely my view on the matter.


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