Criticizing Video Game Reviews

The Kinda Funny crew spent last week live-streaming from GDC (Game Developers Conference) and they had their former co-worker Vince Ingenito on the Gamescast. I’ve always liked Vince on IGN. I think he’s a fantastic writer and you can tell he has a wealth of knowledge about games. Recently he’s been taking some flak for his review of “Tom Clancy’s The Division”, which is very popular right now. Topic 2 of the Gamescast is all about criticizing game reviews, and why people react so strongly to negative reviews of games (or things in general) that they love.

I think that reviews are very important. Whenever I’m looking forward to a new movie, video game, TV show, or album, I almost always check out a review before I buy. And there are a lot of times where the outcome of a review is the deciding factor to whether or not I buy/watch/listen, especially in regards to movies and games. If I see that a movie or game has received a particularly low score (below 7 out of 10 is a red flag for me), I might pass on it entirely. If I’ve been looking forward to a movie or game for awhile, I usually decide to go for it and come to my own conclusions, but a low review score is disappointing. Batman v Superman is a great example of this right now—critics are hating it, but I’m definitely still going to see it.

The developers of video games know how important reviews are, but it’s not always about the review doing well. Just having your game reviewed gives it coverage, and companies know that some consumers who were interested before the review will still purchase the game to decide for themselves if it’s good or bad. I think the claim that big video game websites get paid off to give good scores is completely ridiculous.

I understand why people feel upset when something they love gets a bad review. I’ll admit that when I love a game, I like seeing reviews that share that love, and seeing comments from other fans that love the game too. There is something validating about other people sharing your opinion, and it’s nice when someone you respect (like a critic) shares your view. On the flip side, when a critic or group of people hate something that you think is awesome, it’s almost unfathomable—how could these people be so blind to the greatness that you experienced? But that doesn’t objectively mean that the critic is wrong. Everyone is entitled to their own opinion, and the great thing about reviews is that there are usually lots of them, so it’s easy to compare and decide for yourself who you think is right—I usually go with the opinion I trust or respect the most.

I’ve written a few reviews this year, and I plan on writing many video game reviews in the future. From what I’ve experienced, reviewing is not an easy job. I have a newfound respect for people that do it for a living, because there is a certain pressure and accountability to having your name on something and putting it out for the world to see. On a website like IGN, these critics play a game, write a review, send it to their editors, and then it becomes a sort of representative opinion of what the entire site thinks of the game, regardless of other staffers who think differently. Even though it’s just one person giving their opinion and picking a score, that score becomes representative of the company. That’s a  lot of pressure. But perhaps we as consumers should try to remember that a review is just the opinion of one person, and that the company they work for simply supports the opinion. It’s possible that not everyone agrees with the review, but instead everyone supports said person’s right to their opinion.

How much do reviews affect your decision to consume media? How does it make you feel when a reviewer knocks something you love? Let me know in the comments.

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What 5 Games Best Represent Video Games?

I’m taking on Topic 3 of the Gamescast this week: choose five essential games that best represent video games in general. This is a very tough question to answer and the guys struggled with defining it—is it about genres? Or do you show the history of games with your choices? Or do you pick five games based on modernity?

I liked Greg’s criteria best, which is putting together a video game sampler to give to someone who has never played a video game before. Greg’s idea with this is to show someone all the different experiences you can have with video games. The experiences are what I like best about games, and that is how I’m going to form my list.

1) Super Mario Bros. (NES)

I think a Mario game has to be on this list, and I think it might as well be one of the originals. This is one of those games that even if you’ve never played a video game before, you can jump into this one and have fun. The number one thing that video games should be is fun, or why else would anyone play them? Super Mario Bros. is a shining example of a game that is fun, and it definitely belongs on this list.

2) Uncharted 2: Among Thieves

I’m including an Uncharted game on my list because I think that it possesses a few qualities that represent video games today. Uncharted 2 is visually stunning and is a game worth showing people for that “wow” factor. It also tells a compelling story that rivals those of movies and books. Uncharted is an action movie in video game form and it really shows how far video games have come since the days of Mario.

3) Heavy Rain

When I got back into gaming a few years ago, Heavy Rain was one of the first games I was really curious about. It’s defined as an interactive drama adventure game, and I think it is worth including because it represents a genre I’ve grown to love. I also think that these types of games are very accessible because they appeal to movie and television lovers, and story lovers in general. It’s this powerful storytelling yet simple gameplay that I would want to show to people who are intimidated by playing games.

4) Final Fantasy 7

This is my list, and I have to include a Final Fantasy game. In my mind, the Final Fantasy series represents the JRPG (Japanese Role Playing Game) genre, and Final Fantasy 7 is a gateway game to the rest of the series and to JRPGs as well. Final Fantasy 7 is one of the reasons I fell in love with video games as a kid, and though it looks dated today, I think it’s an important game to show newcomers.

5) Grand Theft Auto V

I’ve never really played any Grand Theft Auto (GTA) games, and yet, I have to include this newest installment of the series on my list. I feel that the GTA series is a good representation of open-world games, where you can jump in and do anything you like. That’s really the only way I’ve played them—on the couch with friends, running around and raising hell. GTA V was one of the best selling games (if not the best) of the last few years, and I think its overall popularity and representation of an open-world experience merit its place on my list.

Omissions

This list definitely doesn’t represent some major genres today, and that’s because I wanted to focus on the experiences that games provide. With that said, I think you could plug in an FPS (first-person shooter) like Call of Duty or Halo, because these are important franchises to the FPS genre.

I also think the sports game genre deserves to be represented but it would be too difficult to choose any one sport to put on my list. I think Madden, Fifa, MLB, NBA and NHL could all be recommended to sports gamers, it just depends on their favourite sport. These franchises all do a great job of representing their sport and providing a video game experience for sports fans.

MOBAs (Multiplayer Online Battle Arena) and MMOs (Massively Multiplayer Online) are played by millions of people and definitely merit mention in terms of what games are today. I personally don’t play these types of games, so I couldn’t tell you what is best. I would suggest League of Legends as the top MOBA, and World of Warcraft as perhaps the most important representation of MMO’s.

Finally, I’d like to give a nod to fighting games and racing games, as these represent a niche-competitive genre of gaming. I think a Street Fighter game is a good representation of fighting games, and Gran Turismo for racing games. Although, I think the Nintendo counterparts of Smash Bros. and Mario Kart are appealing options to consider as well.

So that’s my list and explanation of things I did not include. Let me know in the comments what five games you would choose to represent video games. I think it’s also interesting to hear how you approach this question when selecting your games, so let me know your thought process  as well.

 

The Most Overlooked Games

For topic 3 of the Kinda Funny Gamescast this week, the guys discussed some games they thought got overlooked or didn’t get enough attention. I haven’t played very many games this year, but I’ll take this opportunity to hype up some games I love that I think people should check out. Some games I’m including are pretty well known within the PlayStation community, but the casual gamer might not know ’em, and I feel like talking about ’em. I also plan on reviewing some of these games in full someday, so I’ll try to keep my explanations brief.

To the Moon/A Bird Story

So this is actually two games—To the Moon is an indie adventure RPG that came out in 2011, and A Bird Story is an indie adventure short that came out in 2014, and is set in the same universe as To the Moon. They are made by indie developer Freebird Games and they can be played on PC or Mac. I’ve combined them because I essentially have the same things to say about them, and I hope that anyone interested will play both.

To the Moon tells a fantastic, emotional story: two doctors attempt to fulfill the wish of a dying man by altering his memories, so that he may experience something he didn’t actually do in his life—go to the moon.

The game looks beautiful, the dialogue is really funny at times, and the soundtrack is phenomenal. Plus, it only takes about four hours to play, so it’s a great pick for those wanting something short and sweet.

A Bird Story is only about an hour long, but it’s worth playing for those who enjoy To the Moon—same beautiful graphics, and another great soundtrack.

Spec Ops: The Line

At first blush this game seems like any other third-person shooter—you play as an american soldier, accompanied by two others, as you fight your way through a war-torn Dubai. Super generic on the surface, right? Well, as you go about the regular business of shooting down anything in your way, events in the game start making you question your actions and decisions, and the experience is actually a commentary on war-time shooters.. Kinda meta. Released in 2012 for the PS3, Xbox 360, PC, and Mac

inFamous

This is one of the games that most PlayStation gamers know, but I’ve talked to some friends who are casual gamers and they had never heard of it. So I figured I’d talk it up a bit to those who aren’t in the know. inFamous is an action-adventure game where you play as a bike courier who wakes up with superpowers after an explosion levels the city. Through your actions you discover what happened, how you got the powers, and you determine the fate of the city. Released in 2009, inFamous is a PS3 exclusive, and it has been successful enough to warrant two sequels.

As a kid I was a very casual gamer, and for the most part I just played sports games. I credit inFamous with showing me that the world of video games had so much more to offer than touchdowns and goals. The gameplay is fun and addicting, the story is told with these cool graphic novel-style cut scenes, and the morality system gives you two different ways to play. I’m definitely a late-bloomer when it comes to gaming, but thanks to inFamous I am no longer partially blind to the wonderful world of video games.

That Dragon, Cancer

I’ve mentioned this game a few times over the last couple weeks, and that’s because I can’t get it out of my head. And I haven’t even played it. Instead I watched a Let’s Play on YouTube and I was blown away—so much so that I still intend on playing it. I don’t want to give anything away so I’ll just say this: it tells the story of a young cancer patient from the perspective of his parents. A brutally honest, emotional story, that needs to be experienced (which feels weird for me to say given the heavy subject matter, but seriously, play this game). Just released on Jan. 12, 2016 for PC and Mac.

Emily Is Away

This is another short experience, about one hour in length, and it’s basically just a nostalgia trip. Journey back to the days of MSN Messenger (or in this case AIM) as you converse with a character named Emily. The story is interesting and will be relatable for many. It’s a cool little trip. Another newer release as well—Nov. 20, 2015 for PC and Mac. Oh, and it’s free to play, so no excuses.

Life Is Strange

Life is Strange is an episodic adventure game told in five parts. It’s centered around a teenage girl named Max, who discovers she has the power to rewind time. Another great story here, where the choices you make effect the outcomes in the game. If you enjoy the Telltale games, this one’s for you. Originally released in January 2015 on digital platforms, it is now available as a physical copy, and it’s playable on PS3/PS4, Xbox One/Xbox 360, and PC.

If  you have played any of these games, let me know your thoughts in the comments. And definitely give me some video game recommendations, because I intend to play quite a few games this summer.