Do reviews really matter to you? I mean, at this stage in the life of video games, with SO MANY GAMES TO CHOOSE FROM, and so many good games coming out every month appealing to a variety of tastes, how much do review scores matter to you when you buy a game? And I’m not just talking about a new game, I’m talking old ones too, ones you’ve missed where you’re like “Ah, it’s in the Humble Bundle for $5 so I guess I’ll try it” or “This costs less than my non-fat, no whip caramel macchiato.  I may as well give it a shot”. 

So, do you care about reviews when entertainment is so abundant and cheap?

Thursday, 1:32 pm – Ricky

Oh Diehard, everyone’s favourite Christmas movie.

I definitely follow review scores for games. While I disagree with using Metacritic to reward or punish employees by tying it to their bonus, I do think there’s value in an aggregated set of reviews for a single piece of content. To Gavin’s point, the value you assign to that aggregated score is probably going to be influenced by external factors – basically, any preconceived feelings or opinions you have about the game.

Witcher 3 still consumes my life. I’m making good progress and enjoy every minute I play, and boy do those minutes melt away quickly – one of those “I looked up and it was an hour later!” type games. I love my backlog right now – Fallout 4, Assassin’s Creed Syndicate, and soon, Rainbow Six Siege – so I’m looking forward to wrapping up what will undoubtedly be crowned my game of the year, but I’m not really looking to pick anything up in the current Steam sale or retail Black Friday deals. I’d love to hop in to Just Cause 3 and Metal Gear Solid 5 one day, but I’m in no rush to procure either game.

Hey, the longer you wait, the cheaper it gets, right? Only took me 32 years to figure that out…

Monday, 3:24 pm – Gavin

I care about reviews insofar as I care about having a metric by which the quality of a game is measured. Simply put, my gaming time is limited, and very few franchises/developers/publishers have earned the privilege of me buying them sight-unseen, so I need to be judicious about what I purchase.  How do I filter?  In the absence of a better tool, I have to default to reviews.  Not necessarily the conventional x/10 review, but something assessing the quality of a game is important to me.

The problems with reviews are multiple.  Firstly, it’s impossible to have a purely objective review about games, which themselves are subjective.  Entertainment value is purely subjective and uniquely individualized – the things that I like won’t necessarily be the same as the the things that you like.  That leads into the problems with finding reviewers that I like.  Not personally, of course, but whose opinions roughly match mine.  I know from previous history that I typically agree with 1up and Eurogamer in their reviews, but that Gamespot and IGN have ranked some things too highly for my taste.  Does that mean that I discard Gamespot and IGN wholesale?  Of course not.  That would be ridiculous.  But it does mean that I can’t depend on one review.  However, I don’t want to spend forever looking for reviews that match mine because I have a life, so what’s a man to do?

The second problem with reviews is the scale.  In a world where 10/10 doesn’t mean perfect and that 7/10 often means abysmal failure, there’s very little margin for error in getting an accurate review.  I have no solution for this because, again, it’s all subjective and qualitative.  It’s easy to get mired in the details, that a game rated 8.8/10 is (ostensibly) just purely better than a game rated 8.6/10, when in real life, such a distinction is useless.  The fact that Die Hard isn’t the #1 rated movie on IMDB tells me that everyone’s opinions are broken and incorrect.

Perhaps I value reviews only when they validate my existing opinions and prejudices.  But I’m just so risk-averse in gaming that it’s hard not to be swayed by them.  Yoshi’s New Island on the 3DS got pretty poor reviews, even though I was quite excited for it to come out.  And here I am, not owning it.  Yoshi’s Woolly World got great reviews, and now it’s sitting on my desk at home.

I suppose reviews are valuable to tell you if the game that you’re anxiously looking forward to is mechanically or systemically broken.  Beyond that, they are simply guiding tools for your heart.  Valuable, but not the be-all end-all.

This weekend, I started Ghost Recon: Future Soldier, another acquisition from the Tom Clancy Humble Bundle. I’m getting through it, slowly but surely. I’m about halfway through now. I can tell what it’s going for, and it occasionally works, but often doesn’t. It’s tactical stealth action with engagement systems similar to Splinter Cell (obviously), but occasionally the game will just throw enemies at you on high alert even though you didn’t do anything to alert them.

In the realm of tactical stealth action games, Conviction is so much further ahead of Future Soldier that it’s not even fair. It does have some interesting moments. It’s all real-time, so commanding your allies to attack specific targets can actually be fairly engaging. The problem is that the story is so completely bland and the characters are faceless drones, so I don’t feel much compulsion to actually see what happens next. Enemy interactions don’t feel meaningful because they go down with two shots and your weapons are hilariously overpowered. However, when you up the difficulty, it goes from 0 to 100 too quickly. There doesn’t seem to be much in the way of balance.

I appreciate attempts to update the Ghost Recon franchise, because the original just wouldn’t fly with enough people these days. I swear you needed a damn degree to play that game. As it stands, I’d rather play Future Soldier than the original Ghost Recon. It’s just that it’s a mostly technically competent game that has zero soul, and if I’m going to play a modern Ubisoft tactical stealth action game, there’s no universe where that title isn’t either Blacklist or Conviction. It was designed with multiplayer in mind. Perhaps this game would be more interesting with more people

The problem is that mission variety in Future Soldier is nil, but they still tried it. Stealthily approach [location], achieve objective, extract from [location]. Or, stealthily approach [location], then [pitched battle], then [continue]. There seems to be no way to NOT set off the alarms in some areas, which reeks of poor planning. You have this optical camouflage that engages when you crouch, and it reduces the distance at which enemies can spot you, but that means that you have to move more slowly, and the camo disappears when you fire a weapon. That’s cool! But in reality, you have to move through choke points with multiple enemies and they can see you when you get up close, so you have to take them out from a distance. But when you do, the other enemies spot the dead bodies.

As an idea, Future Soldier works to blend RTS with stealth-FPS. The actual physical mechanics of the game seem to work fine – snapping from cover to cover works well, grenades go where you want them to go, etc. But that’s just a small piece of the puzzle. The overall soul of the game is missing; there’s nothing to explore and nothing to see. There’s no reason to ever pick anything except what the computer recommends for you in terms of gear. There’s no reason not to just command your squad to kill everyone you come across, which rarely creates tactical challenges. The game locks certain hardware behind gates, only allowing you to use it during specific missions, which is frustrating because some of the equipment is very useful and fun.

So, the game is on its last strike. I will play the game until a mission no longer entertains me, at which point I turn it off, uninstall it forever and never play it again. I hope to keep going with it, because the ingredients are there. Unfortunately, the game just hasn’t clicked with me.

Monday, 3:14 pm – Ricky

Late! I’m late! Later.