VGC: The Review System is Broken and GTA Proves It
As many VGC forum-goers have been discussing with great exposition lately, there are many of us who feel as if the reviewing segment of our hobby has gone completely awry over the past few years. In my ever-so humble opinion, when it comes right down to it, I question whether it was any good from the outset.
Many of us grew up with gaming but unfortunately, in many ways, gaming hasn't grown up with us. We're still the purchasers of hackneyed trash and in most cases, we do it with a smile. I had an opening rant prepared on the review system for this editorial but after lengthy consideration, I will defer to Rob Reiner and his mockumentary classic, This is Spinal Tap.
Nigel Tufnel: The numbers all go to eleven. Look, right across the board, eleven, eleven, eleven and...
Marty DiBergi: Oh, I see. And most amps go up to ten?
Nigel Tufnel: Exactly.
Marty DiBergi: Does that mean it's louder? Is it any louder?
Nigel Tufnel: Well, it's one louder, isn't it? It's not ten. You see, most blokes, you know, will be playing at ten. You're on ten here, all the way up, all the way up, all the way up, you're on ten on your guitar. Where can you go from there? Where?
Marty DiBergi: I don't know.
Nigel Tufnel: Nowhere. Exactly. What we do is, if we need that extra push over the cliff, you know what we do?
Marty DiBergi: Put it up to eleven.
Nigel Tufnel: Eleven. Exactly. One louder.
Marty DiBergi: Why don't you just make ten louder and make ten be the top number and make that a little louder?
Nigel Tufnel: [pause] These go to eleven.
Like a 13-year old watching Neon Genesis Evangelion and calling it fine art while cursing Sunshine in the same breath, most video game reviewers seemingly hold contempt for the games they review. After all, if they were maturely reviewing games based on adulthood, why would juvenile ramblings be universally praised with adulation such as "Oscar-worthy dialogue" or "stunning storytelling" when they are written on a third grade comprehension level and show the cleverness of Dane Cook's standup routine?
Most of what we play in games would be laughed out of any other form of media, yet we lap it up and buy into not only that one game but also the inevitable sequels that will follow it. This doesn't bother me much, as all I have to do is look at modern cinema or the recording industry to see the same thing happening. There is a key difference, though; the professional critics of those industries rarely buy into the media hype behind their respective ad campaigns.
If anything, they challenge the hype and it causes a reverse effect on the ratings. In short, there appears to be some form of critical integrity throughout most competing entertainment media.
Games have matured in many ways over the years, most notably in the actual gameplay and immersive aspects of the newer games. The things I found amusing as a 16 year-old boy no longer hold my interest for more than a few minutes. Game reviewers, most being in their 20s or 30s, would be expected to share many of my views on movies, art, and music. Chances are, many of them do. Inexplicably, they take none of this experience and knowledge and apply it to their chosen field, video game journalism.
Video games have barely matured since the late 1980s and if anything, have actually taken several large steps backward during that time, playing up the violent nature of games in ever-increasing realistic settings without any intelligent reasoning or consequential repercussions for doing so. Video games have had a hard time progressing beyond the mindless action movie genre, constantly spewing forth the same clichéd environments and storylines.
Yet, for some reason, game reviewers are more than happy to don their Spider-Man Underoos for the thousandth time and praise the game without intelligent discourse on why it's so great or why they continue to provide such high rankings to terribly juvenile offerings.
Grand Theft Auto IV is only the latest game to roll through the Game Reviewer Hype Machine Drive Thru but it's more notable than most because as of this writing, it's sporting an absurdly high 99% on Metacritic and Gamerankings. For a game as bugged, childish, and most importantly, incredibly flawed as this title is, that's a real travesty and an injustice to the industry as a whole.
The animations make Wallace & Grommit look realistic, the framerate turns slideshow-esque at points, the dialogue is laughable, most of the humor is tired and immature, and overall, the game doesn't bring much new to the franchise. Is it a bad game? Hell no, it's actually quite good.
But to hear people throw around the term "Best Game Evah!!!1" when discussing this title is absurd. If I ruled the world - and I shouldn't... well, maybe - anyone who spouts this line would be forced to sit in front of a television and play a Tim Schafer game until their eyes bled and they contemplated taking their own life for being foolish enough to ignore one of the true visionaries of the industry for so long. Instead, we sit in a world where Tim Schafer can barely move 500,000 copies of a game and mediocrity is rewarded with millions of copies sold.
We should demand better than what we are currently shoveled by the market and the reviewers should reflect that in their scores. To cross media lines, look at Iron Man, the highly anticipated comic book movie from the man of Swingers fame, Jon Favreau. It's a damned fine movie and exudes good ol' fashioned fun with elements of action and humor mixed throughout. It was awarded a 78 from Metacritic.
Why? Because movie reviewers actually expect their medium to rise above and beyond before they award absurdly high scores, that's why. To compare and contrast the pacing and writing, Iron Man surpasses GTA IV in nearly every regard. It doesn't fall prey to the potty humor and downright terrible dialogue of GTA IV while Robert Downey Jr's quick wit perfectly hits the stride of what Tony Stark should be and makes everything in the movie work just a little bit better.
I wish the same thing could be said of Niko, a man who sounds scarily close to Ren from Ren & Stimpy whenever he raises his voice, which, much to my chagrin, happens constantly in later parts of the game. Yet, for some reason, Iron Man is the one getting the low score while GTA IV has puppies, kittens, and everything else cute thrown at its altar for sacrifice to the ridiculous hype surrounding the title. Really, it's a sad state of affairs.
Of course, I never write up an editorial without espousing my recommendations to the piece, so here are a few ideas I humbly submit the the reviewing committee at large on how to make me not want to scream every time I log onto IGN or read Game Informer/EGM:
-You're an adult, act like it. Start writing your reviews geared toward the ever-aging game audience and not pre-teens who are often thrilled at the idea of blowing up multiple things at once and little else.
-Reward innovation, punish retreads. Don't try to convince gamers that GTA is a highly innovative title when it's little more than GTA III with better graphics and physics, with a few bells and whistles added in for effect. Save those accolades for the games that actually bring something new to the industry, even if the developmental budget wasn't $14 trillion.
-For the Love of God, please refer to outside media whenever possible. There are piles of books and movies that show just how much untapped potential is hidden in the interactive software medium. Don't isolate video games and give a high rating based on the idea that "this doesn't suck quite as much as that game I played last week".
-Reviewers, you are the middle-men between developers and consumers. Hold your job to a higher standard and next time you give a "been there, done that" title like GTA IV a higher rating than an "indy" title like Patapon or Echochrome, stop for a moment, and then slap the shit out of yourself for perpetuating the idea that this industry will never be anything more than escapism for teenagers and manchildren. You've got some grey matter betwixt those ears, use it.
-Challenge the public and ditch your inane scoring system. Break the game into pieces, point out the good and the bad, and then let the reader decide. This will never happen apart from Rocketpig's Perfect World where I'm fed grapes by Allesandra Ambrosio all day and play strip Brain Training with Adriana Lima (haven't lost a match yet), but it's a solid idea none-the-less.
If even a few of these things happened, we would all be the better for it. And I could stop writing this stupid column. Good day.