Review scores are a defining trait of the video game industry. Different publications and reviewers each have their own criteria for ranking games. The most common are numeric scores on a scale of 1-5, 1-10, or even 1-100, or a grade school equivalent like F through A. Less common systems include the “buy, buy on sale, rent, pass” to better approximate the game’s experience. Rock Paper Shotgun’s “Wot I Think” series doesn’t use a scoring system at all.
They’re also a prime target for the Internet’s pervasive pessimism. Debates over the veracity of a game’s score are just as prevalent as any discussion of the game itself, if not more so. Unfortunately, some of this is warranted. Review scores and aggregators like Metacritic have real effects on the industry. Back in 2015, Obsidian’s Chris Avellone dropped the bomb that the developers of Fallout: New Vegas would have received a bonus if the game received an 85 or higher score on Metacritic. It didn’t. The original tweet has since been deleted, but it is archived in this Kotaku article by Jason Schreier
The video game industry is plagued with problems like this, but review scores aren’t the problem as much as publisher abuse and misuse of external parties like Metacritic. In general, review scores are fine. It bugs me to see so many complaints leveraged toward reviewers for bad reasons. It’s well meaning (I think) but the full context is ignored.
Continue reading Hating Review Scores Is Silly
2017 was a strange year in gaming for me. It was one of the industry’s strongest years, up there with the likes of 1998, 2004 and 2007. Nintendo dominated both halves of the year with the stellar success of the Switch and powerhouse releases in The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild and Super Mario Odyssey. While I haven’t played them myself, the amount of buzz surrounding Nier: Automata, Horizon Zero Dawn and indie darlings like Firewatch and What Remains of Edith Finch demonstrate that 2017 is one of the most prestigious, well-rounded years in gaming, with both AAA and indie studios releasing amazing titles.
I spent a lot of this year continuing different challenge runs of different games. FOXHOUND/no tranquilizer runs continues to be the best way to play Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain and Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater. I recently restarted Breath of the Wild with a few self-imposed rules like no food and no fast travel. These runs breathe fresh air into old games and reveal truths about their design. I’m still amazed there are as many missions in MGSV that can be accomplished under No Traces.
Swing dancing, which I started in March, consumed most of my year. Writing poetry and reading has also crept back into my free time. Both are welcome, but it did impact my gaming. That said, I somehow managed to play 11 games for the first time this year. It gives me just enough to do my yearly list. Here are the rules.
- In the case of a non-multiplayer-only game, I must have played its single player experience to completion. This does not require a 100% of all that the game has to offer. Instead, a completion of its main quest, story or campaign will suffice.
- In the case of a multiplayer game, I must describe how I played it. Whether cooperative or competitive multiplayer, I will detail whether I played with friends, matchmaking, or online or local multiplayer.
- I must have accomplished the above rules in 2017. The games on this list are not all 2017 releases. It is a list of what I played this year.
Rule 1 disqualifies some games I began this year like Stardew Valley. As always, spoiler warning for below. I don’t know if there will be spoilers. But tread carefully.
Continue reading Top 10 Games of 2017
The most refreshing thing about The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is that it trusts the player.
As games grew into the mainstream, they began to make more concessions for accessibility. This isn’t inherently a bad thing. More people playing games is almost always a good thing. However, games shouldn’t make concessions that compromise what they’re about. Anyone can pick up Devil May Cry. Anyone can beat it if they put the effort in. But Devil May Cry doesn’t compromise. When it did, it didn’t go over well.
More than anything else, Breath of the Wild is a game about exploration, so it’s refreshing that Breath of the Wild doesn’t make unnecessary compromises to sacrifice that focus. In fact, the entire game is structured from the ground up in order to better facilitate exploration in the truest sense.
Continue reading Player Empowerment in Breath of the Wild
MAJOR SPOILERS FOR THE MASS EFFECT FRANCHISE BELOW, SPECIFICALLY MASS EFFECT 1, 2 AND 3.
In “Missed Potential,” I plan to talk about parts of games that don’t live up to their potential. I’ll try to break down why I think they’re incoherent or weak and discuss some possible ways they could be better. I’ll do my best to consider all possible effects of any changes but, as one person and not a team of designers, I’m sure I won’t think of everything. In particular, I’ll focus on things that aren’t in tune with the core themes or systems of the discussed game.
While this particular piece is a little blunt, I don’t plan to tear apart games. As always, I try to focus on bettering the medium that we all enjoy so much. This is about examining weaknesses in order to better the next project as a creator, or to better understand it as a consumer.
Continue reading Missed Potential: Mass Effect 2
The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time fell into my hands after I played it at a friend’s house when I was a child. In a few minutes, I found the Kokiri Sword, something they had been unable to do despite owning and playing the game several times. They handed it to me, since I was “smart enough for it.”
My grandma owned a Nintendo 64, so I played Ocarina of Time at her house. Her and I grew close through it. I remember many late nights, both of us in the CRT’s glow as we worked our way through the temples. I wouldn’t have solved many of the puzzles without her help.
Continue reading A Breath of Fresh Air
For Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater, Hideo Kojima, series creator and director, decided to step out of the series’ trademark urban infiltration environments in exchange for a Russian jungle that doesn’t exist. Tselinoyarsk, with its swamps, high mountains and dense jungles is quite the departure from Shadow Moses Island and the Big Shell of the two previous games.
Camouflage became the new focus of stealth. Line of sight was still important, but guards had increased detection ranges. They saw farther and heard better. Their hurried hustle became lazy walks. Stealth became a game of lying in the grass and sneaking by as slow as possible instead of trying to dart behind cones of vision displayed on the Soliton Radar of the previous games.
Kojima Productions decided to take full advantage of the game’s jungle setting and added in some extra features to really sell the locale home. Operation: Snake Eater takes place over several days and that means that Naked Snake needs to feed himself. Enter a wildlife and hunting system.
MGS3 isn’t just a stealth game. It’s a survival game, one man versus an army and the unforgiving world around him. Everything in MGS3 has an effect on Naked Snake’s resources. It’s a fight not only to survive the Russian guards but also the player’s ever dwindling resources.
Continue reading Surviving Tselinoyarsk: Degradation in Metal Gear Solid 3
MAJOR SPOILERS FOR METAL GEAR SOLID V: THE PHANTOM PAIN AND METAL GEAR SOLID 2: SONS OF LIBERTY BELOW.
Let’s talk about review scores, formal analysis and cut content in video games.
Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain is composed of two chapters. The first, “Revenge,” focuses on Skull Face and enacting vengeance for what happened to the original Mother Base in MGSV: Ground Zeroes. The second chapter, “Race,” focuses more on the language parasites with an outbreak on Mother Base that leads to Mission 43, “Shining Lights, Even in Death.”
Continue reading On Cut Content and a Phantom Pain