Objectivity doesn’t exist when reviewing video games, or any medium of art for that matter. Sure there are things about said medium that collectively we can agree on and be “objective,” especially in terms of graphical fidelity, and some elements of gameplay, but even so, these broader terms aren’t safe from individual preference and subjectivity. I for one am actually an example of this. As much as I appreciated Uncharted 4’s technological feat when it came to its realistic graphics, I get more excited when seeing the trailer for Ni No Kuni 2, as that beautiful Studio Ghibli-esque art style just makes me giddy. And I’d take the art style of games like that and Okami over the realism of Uncharted any day of the week.
Now if I was a professional game critic at a professional game website writing professional game reviews, and I was reviewing a game like Horizon Zero Dawn, and I were to talk extensively about the visuals, sure I would commend the game on how it looks, but I wouldn’t be raving about it the way I would a game like Okami. And that would be something completely crazy to just brush off as for many people, Horizon is the best looking Video Game ever. And though I understand people saying that, I don’t know if I necessarily agree with it.
And that’s exactly what subjectivity is.
Now, this is all very Captain Obvious and what not but it got me thinking: Should we trust a critics review if they have polarizing, obscure, and possibly even peculiar tastes in Video Games? I was watching a bunch of random videos today at work and I stumbled upon one of Jim Fucking Sterling’s old Jimquisitions from the Escapist where he talks about how Dynasty Warriors is one of his favourite series. Now, I’ve been following Jim for quite some time, and usually when it comes to reviews, he’s the only one I blindly trust. But I’ve played the Dynasty Warrior games and…well…okay let’s be honest they’re quite shit. I mean, really.
Now everybody has that one game or that one series that they adore for God knows what reason. I’m not exempt from that, as I adore Doki Doki Universe. Don’t know what that is? Don’t worry, doesn’t matter, you don’t need to. I mean, you DO. Because Doki Doki Universe is fucking amazing, but it’s fine. I also loved the Pirates of The Caribbean: At World’s End game…For the Wii. Okay that one I can take a bit more shit for.
And Jim’s not the only one. A couple of the biggest former Editors at IGN, Colin Moriarty & Greg Miller have some very interesting choices in games when they list their top 10 games of all time. Greg put Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker as his favourite game of all time, while having Uncharted 3 be his 3rd and Luminess at 6. Now I actually agree with Greg in that Peace Walker for me is the best MGS game, and Uncharted 3 is easily the best out of the original trilogy on the PS3. But most people vehemently disagree with those statements. And Colin put a very odd game in the name of ActRaiser – A side scrolling, city-building simulator – that came out on the SNES, and is odd in both its presentation and gameplay to say the least, in his top 10 as well. Colin has also stated numerous times that he believes that NES games are leaps and bounds better on a gameplay level than anything that’s out today. And again, though I understand that to an extent, and many times say the same thing for the SNES games, it’s not the most popular stance to have.
But does that mean that all of a sudden these journalists’ reviews all of a sudden don’t matter? Or that we should take their score less seriously than others? Of course not.
But it does mean one thing: You need to stop relying on Metacritic, Open Critic, and all the other “critics”, and instead of focusing on a damn score, focus on the words. Not only that, focus on WHO is reviewing the game. Understand who is writing it, what else they have reviewed, and who they write for.
Now, because I’ve done my research, I understand why Jim Sterling gives a certain score to a certain game. Because I feel that I understand his taste and take on games. I understand why he gave Nier: Automata a 9.5, and why he gave Breath of The Wild a 7. I now know that when a linear, narrative driven, action/adventure game comes out, Greg Miller is going to be far more excited about it and give it more leeway in making mistakes. Same goes for Colin when it comes to Indie Side Scrollers.
Everyone loves different shit, and are into different, weird things. And that goes from video games, to porn. And critics and reviewers aren’t exempt from that, because they’re people too. This whole culture and heavy reliance on aggregated scores needs to stop.
If you disagree on a review, look further into it, not only with what the writer is saying, but who the writer is as a gamer.
As a person who has no interest in the multiplayer FPS genre, if I were asked tomorrow to do a review on whatever next Call of Titanfield is, I could try to be as objective as possible; but at the end of the day, I’m just going to wish I was playing Doki Doki Universe.
Every writer has their opinions and quirks. And having these quirks is what makes reviews different and interesting. But if you simply judge them based on a score, or brush them off based on their tastes, then you’re not giving them, or yourself, a chance. A chance to both tell, and see, a different perspective. Let’s do better in understanding reviews and writers, rather than focusing on this overblown Metacritic Reliance Culture.