Saturday, February 28, 2015

Why I said no to numbers!

                When I was younger I thought that scoring games using a numeric table is the way to go, as it could be easy to separate the scoring by categories like: graphics, story, gameplay, feeling, sound and multiplayer (if it is the case). The average from all the categories will result in the game’s final score.
But with time I realized that this system was far from being perfect and in reality it was misshaping the games into better or worse (usually better when it comes to AAA titles). So when I started this blog, at first, I didn’t want to use any scoring, but as I thought this through and listened to the suggestions I received from some of my blog readers I started using a pros and cons system for my reviews.
Before I would start explaining why I think pros and cons is a superior way to rate a game, I want to talk a bit more why the numbers, which should never lie, are not telling the truth in this matter.
Splitting the maximum score a video game can get into a number of categories and scoring each of them individually accordingly with the game’s performance in that respective area to then make a total score out of it sounds great, in reality things are more complex than that. The genres of games should be treated differently as some things might be more important for a genre than the others.
From the time this industry was growing each genre focused to improve in different aspects, the end result being a game with some features greater than others. The players got used with this inequality as no game can be perfect (I wonder why so many games get 10/10 from professional journalists), but it can be extremely good in its respective field. A good comparison can be made between classic RPGs (not action RPGs) and shooters or action games. Those who wanted advanced technology with better graphics and physics know that shooters and action games usually deliver these features to a great extent. The players who wanted storytelling, dialogues and a complex character progression always turned to RPGs. A fan of standard RPGs doesn’t usually expect mind blowing graphics, but does want a captivating story full of mystery and choices with an impact in the evolution of the game (I don’t say RPGs should look terrible!). Based on this it is safe to say that for an RPG the graphics shouldn’t be evaluated in the same way as those of an FPS, but the story should be more important (a mix of the two is a real challenge) and this leads to a selective way of scoring video game. The complexity of this goes so far that it could take me pages full of walls of text to describe the way I look at a scoring system including every particularity for each type of game and the subjective opinion of those who play them.
So I will give one example as it is pretty explanatory.
                Metacritic is, apparently, the new standard for video games performance with developers having terms in their contracts including this website. When I look at the scores I see incredibly high ratings and knowing how many issues those games had and still have it bothers me as I feel that we are lied to.
For example:
                Before I start talking about this example, I have to say that I consider this game the most overrated video game of all times and I might be biased when I talk about it, even so it doesn’t mean that what I’m saying about it might not be true.
                The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim is an open world action RPG released in 2011 on aPC, Xbox 360 and PS3. It has a Metascore of 94/100 as an average from 34 critics’ reviews. Breaking down this game in categories and analyzing them, things might not look so good.
Skyrim is an open world game with a 1st person/3rd person camera that puts an accent on immersion through exploration and what should be visually stunning areas. For the year 2011 Skyrim looks quite poor (The Witcher 2 puts it to shame), some of the textures have horribly low resolution and even after the release of HD textures pack, it is still not up to 2011 PC standards. The game doesn’t have DX11 support and the optimization was terrible with high CPU usage in some areas for no apparent reason. Many players might argue that Skyrim looks amazing, they should keep in mind that good looking landscapes don’t necessarily mean good graphics and the quality of graphics stands in the technology used.
                Skyrim is an action RPG and for this genre the story, dialogues and character progression are important, yet this game follows the same pattern as the previous titles in the series (which weren’t that great either when it comes to story), but dumbs down everything. There is little to no impact visible from the player’s actions in the world and no matter the order in which things are solved, the end result is always the same.
The gameplay is a huge factor in any game, since it is tied to the complexity of the game and its fun factor. This game gets repetitive at the speed of light, completing the first dungeon in the game is like seeing most the dungeons in the game since they all have the same pattern. Skyrim’s combat is dull and unappealing, based only on directed swings, block and spells casting. The UI for PC is exactly the same as the one on the consoles and it lacks in functionality with moments when the mouse cursor doesn’t even work properly. All these things put together affect the gamepaly and enjoyment quite a lot (at least they did for me). Some would say that the game is saved by the mods, but when this game was launched and got the scores from journalists, it didn’t have any mods, not to mention that mods are not part of the original game and should not be treated as a big part of a review.
While Skyrim does well on sound effects and the feeling of exploration and has mods support which can help a lot with replayabilty and the problems of the game, the scoring it gets can’t be justified. How much should this game lose for the gameplay problems, the outdated graphics and the questionable story? I don’t even have to do some calculation to realize how major those features are to such a game and how they should affect the score in a negative way.
Yet the numbers of Metacritic make Skyrim one of the best video game of all times, but what about all the problems mentioned above, are those problems worth only -0.6 of its final score? A similar argument can be made for Bioshock Infinite and many other games, but I picked this one because it is easier to point out things. If the math and numbers shouldn’t lie, where is the problem?
Do critics overlook things or the scoring system doesn’t actually make justice in many cases? Reviews should have the subjective input of the writer, but to what extent?
                I don’t have a proper answer to this question (I might have, but it is not that pleasant), but I do have what I can call a solution to the problem itself: let’s not take for granted the scores for games and actually read and watch videos about them to make an informed purchase.
                When it comes to my reviews I follow a pattern that I developed since my article about Company of Heroes 2 and I use it even today with some minor improvements. I’m not saying that I’m a good writer or critique, just that the way I choose not to give a score to video games because it can be misleading, but rather present the pros and cons of the reviewed game.
                 The way I write my reviews is specifically designed to serve the system I use for scoring games. Each one of my reviews starts with an introduction that is related to the game, either by talking about the franchise, genre, universe or various other things. The continuation is the introduction to the game, where I talk a little about the release, the studio that made it and sometimes details about development and after this the real review starts with: story, gameplay, multiplayer (if it is the case), graphics, sound and the ending for the article with my overall impression (always in this order).  While this might be predictable and makes it harder to have the article written cursively while following a set order, it does work perfectly with the pros and cons that are always at the bottom of the review.
It is like a TLDR segment that underlines the good and the bad of every title. If someone wants to know more, they can always go to that portion of the article and usually find details in abundance
The subjective way we look at games, makes the overall experience of a video game different from one individual to another. Only you, as the player, know what you want most from a game and what is important for you and what you can overlook. So looking at a short version of what might be good or bad into a game can help someone make an impression if they are interested in that particular game leading to more research about what they found.
                The score might end up being a lie, for many reasons, and nobody wants to buy a game that they do not enjoy. But enjoying something doesn’t necessarily mean that it is good.
As an ending note I would like to say something that is repeatedly said to most of the gamers I had contact with: It is nothing wrong to have fun in a bad game, but it is something wrong to say that a bad game is good.

Almost perfect!


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