Monday, March 28, 2016

When video game critics and I disagree

Every year, literally thousands of new video games are published. Even if we discard completely sub-par amateur trash, we are still talking about several hundreds of video games every year that could potentially be very enjoyable to play. It is, of course, impossible to play them all, not to talk about it being really expensive. There are only so many games one has the physical time to play.

So how to choose which games to buy and play? This is where the job of video game critics comes into play. If a game gets widespread critical acclaim, there's a good chance that it will be really enjoyable. If it gets negative reviews, there's a good chance that the game is genuinely bad and unenjoyable.

A good chance. But only that.

And that's sometimes the problem. Sometimes I buy a game expecting it to be really great because it has received such universal acclaim, only to find out that it's so boring or so insufferable that I can't even finish it. Sometimes such games even make me stop playing them in record time. (As I have commented many times in previous blog posts, I hate leaving games unfinished. I often even grind through unenjoyable games just to get them finished, because I hate so much leaving them unfinished. A game has to be really, really bad for me to give up. It happens relatively rarely.)

As an example, Bastion is a critically acclaimed game, with very positive reviews both from critics and the general gaming public. I could play it for two hours before I had to stop. Another example is Shovel Knight. The same story repeats, but this time I could only play for 65 minutes. Especially the latter was so frustrating that I couldn't bother to play it. (And it's not a question of it being "retro", or 2D, or difficult. I like difficult 2D platformer games when they are well made. For example, I loved Ori and the Blind Forest, as well as Aquaria, Xeodrifter and Teslagrad.)

Sometimes it happens in the other direction. As an example, I just love the game Beyond: Two Souls for the PS4. When I started playing it, it was so engaging that I played about 8 hours in one sitting. I seldom do that. While the game mechanics are in some aspects a bit needlessly limited, that's only a very small problem in an otherwise excellent game.

Yet this game has received quite mixed reviews, with some reviewers being very critical of it. For example, quoting Wikipedia:
IGN gaming website criticised the game for offering a gaming experience too passive and unrewarding and a plot too muddy and unfocused. Joystiq criticised the game's lack of solid character interaction and its unbelievable, unintentionally silly plot. Destructoid criticised the game's thin character presentation and frequent narrative dead ends, as well as its lack of meaningful interactivity. Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw of Zero Punctuation was heavily critical of the game, focusing on the overuse of quick time events, the underuse of the game's central stealth mechanics, and the inconsistent tone and atmosphere.
In November 2014, David Cage discussed the future of video games and referred to the generally negative reviews Beyond received from hardcore gamers.
Needless to say, I completely disagree with those negative reviews. If I had made my purchase decision (or, in this case, the decision not to purchase) based on these reviews, I would have missed one of the best games I have ever played. And that would have been a real shame.

This is a real dilemma. How would I know if I would enjoy, or not enjoy, a certain game? I can mostly rely only on reviews, but sometimes I find out that I completely disagree with them. This both makes me buy games that I don't enjoy, and probably makes me miss games that I would enjoy a lot.

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