I don’t wish to sound like an old man (I’m merely middle aged) but there’s been something very strange going on with reviews in the last five or so years; namely the ultimatum culture which has developed on the internet. Not so long ago, before the rise of social media, if you wanted to talk about something you had to meet at the park or the pub and discuss it. Now anyone can rant, rave or progress love for something in their lunch-break with only access to a smartphone required. Nothing new in this right? Well yeah, there’s been a million articles about the impact of social media on a whole raft of things but I’m not necessarily here to talk about that; I’m here to talk about reviews.
It’s probably fair to say that professional critics have never been less trusted than they are now…
It’s probably fair to say that professional critics have never been less trusted than they are now, so much so anyone giving Star Wars: The Last Jedi a great review “is a hack paid by Disney” or anyone not giving Justice League 4 or 5 stars is being “paid by Marvel”. The fact such an outlandish conspiracy theories aren’t just limited to a mad bloke living under a bridge who talks to his dead dogs is mystifying to me…but no, go on to YouTube and it’s full of these comments.
These days to some fans, unless a game or film gets top marks from critics it may as well get none…
There’s a moment in the fitfully entertaining Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby where he repeats his mantra “if you’re not first, you’re last!” and whilst this/or similar idiotic concepts might inspire some top athletes to break a world record, it is fair to say that Ricky Bobby should not be considered a good or valid role model.
How does this translate to the subject at hand though? Well I guess when you send people death threats because they give the latest Zelda game a 7.5/10, it’s clear that we have lost our collective way. These days to some fans, unless a game or film gets top marks from critics it may as well get none. The same extends to personal reviews; it’s now either maximum or minimum score, you can’t enjoy something but have reservations, or not like it and see it’s virtues, even though those are the rational things to do if we want to have constructive discussions.
…when you send people death threats because they give the latest Zelda game a 7.5/10, it’s clear that we have lost our collective way…
I would argue (and have before, see link) that although critics may be losing trust with some sects of the audience, we have never needed them more; the good ones mind, the ones that can sit and objectively (as possible) go through a game and explain what they did and did not like about it and articulate it properly. Even if the review disagrees with you it’s going to be much more informative than 99% of one line reviews from a YouTube commenter.
The bigger the franchise or profile of the release the more polarising the response will seemingly be; a good recent example of this is Mass Effect: Andromeda. If you had read any social media reviews of this game you would imagine that it doesn’t only look ugly and play badly but has no redeeming features and if untended eats all your food from your fridge, bangs your wife and sets your houses on fire.
The bigger the franchise or profile of the release the more polarising the response will seemingly be…
I have played Andromeda, in fact I’ve completed it; sank 40 hours into the fecker and an honestly say flawed as it is (and oh it is) it’s actually alright. I would go as far as to say that it does some things better than previous games, but any forward steps it makes are undone by a number of bad design decisions and narrative flaws. This is not to say that the flaws that peppered the game are forgivable or that those who made them shouldn’t be held to account, but 1/10 scores and death-threats…honestly?! Hand-on-heart it’s still a game which I would recommend Mass Effect fans actually play and I would happily give it a 6/10 or 3 Stars. To some that may be a bad score, to me that means it decent but flawed.
So whilst taking the piss out of Andromeda may be fun and in some cases deserved, writing it off completely is well…a bit lazy. Andromeda’s reception could possibly be explained by a number of factors, notably the previous games in the series and the negative fan reaction it drew. I have gone on record as saying whilst I though Mass Effect 3’s ending needed some work, the game as a whole is still a cut above many other titles and a good addition to the series. Some fans however will never forgive Bioware’s transgressions and it was likely that no matter what Andromeda did it was doomed to a thrashing. The fact it had a patchy release and lacked some polish only went and gave credence to every negative reaction the fourth game got. Was the amount of scorn poured on it proportionate? I’d argue not.
Was the amount of scorn poured on it proportionate? I’d argue not.
Take Star Wars Battlefront 2 as another example. I picked this up about a month or two after the backlash kicked off, due to a mix of completism, Star Wars love and morbid curiosity more than anything and I expected a bad game given the chatter. Truth is Battlefront 2 is actually a good game; one that addresses almost all of the complaints levelled at the first in terms of the amount of content and variety. It looks amazing, sounds great, has multiple game modes, an actual story campaign and at times it actually feels like a sequel to the old-school Battlefront that we all wanted. However Battlefront 2’s biggest crime is it’s well-documented dalliance with micro-transactions and overly complex player progression and to some this completely broke the game. Now after about a 24 hour play period on its various game modes I can say that although there are things I would change about it (star cards are still a waste of space for example), I would again happily recommend it and that’s more than I can say for Battlefront 1; a game which is more disappointing than a night of passion with me.
Truth is Battlefront 2 is actually a good game; one that addresses almost all of the complaints leveled at the first in terms of the amount of content and variety.
As pleasing as it may be to see a company like EA be pulled over the coals for its clumsy meddling with a potentially great title, this does not mean you should discount the rest of the product and what makes it actually work. Giving Battlefront 2 a 1/10 is a singular failure to recognise that things can be a combination of good or bad, and that you don’t have to be exclusively either. Now I totally get that you wouldn’t buy BF2 because of EA’s crappy practices out of principle but it is a huge shame. (Those of you with EA access, play the 10 hour trial…if you still don’t like it after, fair enough…same goes for Mass Effect Andromeda).
I guess that in an increasingly busy online community, getting your voice heard is becoming more difficult and by extension, having a hyperbolically bad or low score is one way to mark yourself out. Being contrarian is not necessarily a sin, and sometimes such a reaction is inevitable when a certain product is really loved or really hated by the majority but it still often comes across as fanboy protectionism/or trashing of a property, rather than rational debate. In a time when gamers and games as in industry are growing, yet are still struggling for mainstream artistic recognition and acceptance, acting like an unreasonable child who’s droppped their Cornetto into a dog turd because a game isn’t perfect is counterproductive to that. If gamers or games media in general ever wants to be taken seriously it’s rational debate we need.
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