Tuesday, October 25, 2011

My Take On Eurogamer's 'Controversial' Uncharted 3 Review


Eurogamer's 'controversial' review* of Uncharted 3 reminds me of why I love that site's reviews.

I also loved their fair and insightful criticism of Calling All Cars back in the day; how they sussed out the specific reasons for the lack of depth in our game. God, how I wish I had been able to articulate and even realize that flaw during  CAC's development! We coulda made some simple changes that would have resulted in a much better title!**

As for U3, I've yet to play the campaign mode, but I played the beta over the summer and really liked it; I enjoyed it more than 99% of human based shooters on the market.  And I'm sure I'll love the U3 campaign when I pick it up next week (just as I've loved the earlier Uncharted games).

BUT…

…Eurogamer's conclusion/criticism about games that are super heavy on the 'experience' at the expense of the 'play' (like they claim Uncharted 3 is and like- by my own admission- GOD OF WAR 1 is***) is wonderfully thought out and presented and the only reason it's been labeled 'controversial' has nothing to do with the review itself and everything to do with the sad state of game consumers who have been so effectively conditioned by a number of the gaming press/gaming PR machines  that these gamers leap to a title's defense-not that this gem of a game needs defending- without even being open to the reviewer's criticism (be it valid or not). That's tragic. What's even more tragic is I would argue the games medium itself has been damaged by this practice. Irrevocably? No. But it has taken its toll for sure. 

So there's that.

BUT…

Besides having some great insight, what's great about the Eurogamer review is that it manages to be both positive and critical at the same time (Garsh! Wonder of Wonders! How'd they do that?!?!) 

It doesn't bash U3 at all (for to do so would just be trolling for hits since it's clear there ain't a thing in U3 that is bash worthy) and it clearly sings the game's many wonderful praises and achievements.  But it does call out what some people consider a fundamental flaw in many of today's console titles where making 'cinematic experiences'**** seems to have become a more important goal than making games. And it's nice to see that level of criticism and insight in games journalism, especially with a game as hyped and anticipated (and as amazingly great) as Uncharted 3. How refreshing that a great, hyped, and soon-to-be much loved game can be praised while at the same time intelligently and non mean-spiritedly criticized for what a reviewer thinks (agree or not) are genuine issues. Wow, that's just like big boy writing! And I love it! :) 

David

*Amazing this review is the one being called 'controversial'. To me, the 10/10 review that either mentions the flaws of the game and still gives a perfect score OR the review that doesn't mention the flaws at all (an even worse crime, assuming the reviewer thought there WERE flaws) is the true controversial review.  Gamers that don't see this as a problem need to wake up to the PR machine cause the Matrix has you. 

** A lot of people think I bash Calling All Cars at every turn. I don't. I am actually and super proud of the team that made the game, I'm proud of my contributions, and I love playing Calling All Cars in split screen to this day. I just hate that it didn't succeed more and I place that blame squarely on my shoulders (and I've written about that before). I love the game we made but I think it needed more stickiness and more depth (not always the same thing although many will tell you it is), not to mention a more commercial theme. And I kick myself that I didn't push (myself or others) to address these issues. 

***A lot of people ask me if I'd ever make another GOD OF WAR (assuming that opportunity was offered) and I always say the same thing: if it were GOD OF WAR meets something like ZELDA (formula wise), then yes (aka Darksiders, right?)…But if it were GOD OF WAR using the current formula, I would not. For me- and this is just me PERSONALLY (I get and respect not everyone shares this same thinking)- directing GOD OF WAR made me realize that as a game designer (and certainly as game director) I want our games to serve the gods of GAMEPLAY first and foremost. My and then team's desire to tell a story/make a movie may or may not get to be fulfilled (depending on the game) but if we do tell a story, it will never come at the expense of the gameplay (the thing that makes our medium matter and special). Games can have story (and many should, such as God of War) and most games- even pure play games- should have strong world and IP. But working on God of War made it clear that- for me- if we have to cut a set piece or bit of spectacle because of our desire to put play first, then so be it. Ideally, the BEST games are those that do both.  

But what is really interesting/telling, is that as much hype and fan love as the cinematic experiences get, it's the game-y games that sell and sell and sell. Look at Guitar Hero, MW3, Angry Birds, Farmville, Mario, Madden, Wii sports, and on and on and on.  Hell, even GTA sells to MOST folks because they just like to fuck around in the world (the game part). I think hardcore FANS of games love seeing our medium push (successfully or not- YMMV) into the medium of film and utilize techniques from that medium (sometimes surpassing film, as it seems U3 does via the cargo plane sequence alone- Michael Bay simply DREAMS of such a cool scenario!) And I think these fans dig this stuff because it shows off the tech we love (and paid a lot of cash for), it gives us the stunning art our eyeballs crave and the energy/adrenaline our guts respond to, and perhaps (not for all but certainly for some) because it presents what is- to me- a false hope/desire (and a very real display of desperation) that AT LAST our geeky habit is now COOL and RELEVANT and MAINSTREAM! End of the day tho, look at the top of the charts: the GAME STUFF sells buckets when it's themed right and executed well. The EXPERIENCE STUFF sells well too but not near as much as the GAMEY stuff and the EXPERIENCE STUFF costs a hell of a lot more to make in most cases.

****I use the word 'experience' in 'cinematic experience' as shorthand cause ya'll know what I mean. Ironic tho since the whole point the Eurogamer review makes is that the player's actual INTERACTIVE EXPERIENCE is many times relegated to second class status in order to present the player with a more controlled VIEWING experience. 

18 comments:

Juncti said...

Very well put. Always like how you can not only look on others work critically for better and worse, but also look back at your own projects with the same eye.

I'm sure sometimes there can be negative feedback for speaking what's on your mind, but it's a refreshing point of view seeing someone in the games industry that can look at things objectively both as a developer and a fan.

It's what separates people like you, and your blog, from the others and why I've been a reader (and watcher when you do the videos) for a long time.

Keep up the good work.

Ivke said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Ryan said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Ryan said...

I completely agree and i wish more developers shared your views and more reviewers were like that eurogamer's guy...

Well said.

Kilrahi said...

Holy hell that's a lot of asterisks! Somebody was trying to minimize the risk of a shit storm.

Very well written and thought out. I agree with you (clearly though, I'm playing games ten years old and more and it ain't 'cause of stories). Twisted Metal is a good example of a gameplay focused game.

Ivan said...

And one more thing: it's cool to see you defending your views on game design (mine are very similar) while watching all those folks not getting it. Keep doing that, it's worth it.

There are many people that want exactly what you're talking about from games (stuff about mechanics etc.) and there's even more of those who want that, but don't even know it. They just want to enjoy PLAYING a game, but are not able to describe what's missing in many of today's games. So keep doing what you're doing and know that there IS an audience for that. It's actually much wider than it might look, people are just not "educated" enough to express it. Or they just can't be bothered.

Thanx and keep up the good work.

RedDragan said...

David, I strongly suggest you read a blog post I wrote on N4G. It is the only blog post I have ever written and will likely be the only blog post I will ever read.

And what Eurogamer has just done is precisely what the blog post relates to, in fact, you will notice that I had even mentioned Eurogamer itself.

My info comes from the traditional media itself so it is quite concerning that you have effectively done your bit to hold the gaming industry back.

http://n4g.com/user/blogpost/reddragan/518763

Kraaft said...

You make some excellent points, David. However, what bothered me is the consistencies of the exact same reviewer.

I, also, believe that the information in the review is far more important than the score itself. However, in an industry that is heavily affected by review scores with a 10 point scale of which half is hardly even used, I believe reviewers also have to be responsible about being consistent with their scores.

Take a look at the exact same reviewer who did UC3 at Eurogamer... You should see what he gave 10's to... or that he also gave a game like Brink an 8/10 with FAR more criticism than UC3 in the write up.

That inconsistency really irks me. I'm surprised it doesn't bother you, unless, of course, you simply hadn't thought about it. In that case, take a look at the author's review history!

Mike G said...

I agree that the Eurogamer review should not be controversial, and far less so than, say, GameTrailers's, who heavily criticized the game and still gave it a 9.5. You've been on the "gameplay first" ideal for a while recently, and I'm glad (you've made some of my favorite games). But in some cases, gameplay simply doesn't matter.

I recently played and finished Xenogears for the first time. It's a PSOne RPG which built up a cult following for its discussion of Freud, Jung, and Gnostic Theology. It was intelligently written and well translated. It doesn't try to be a movie to legitimize the medium; it uses artwork, music, and angles which are intrinsic to GAMES. The way the scenes are presented are funny, intense, and some times heart breaking. But the gameplay was objectively bad. The dungeons aren't as well designed, the customization is nowhere near as deep, the battles aren't nearly as fluid, and puzzles aren't as intuitive as the other, more popular RPGs from its era.

But because of how powerful the scenes are, games like Xenogears will ALWAYS be more memorable and more meaningful experiences than games such as Gears of War, which perfect their genre's gameplay, bring a couple innovations, and even point towards where the industry is heading.

I don't think devs should imitate film to gain legitimacy, but I think along the way we've stumbled upon a medium that, on its own, can be just as powerful as films when it comes to telling stories. Gameplay is what games do best, but there's also storytelling techniques which are only found in this medium, and we should try to pursue that just as much.

Benschachar said...

Uh...no, the reason its controversial is because cinematic experiences are not bad IN AND OF THEMSELVES. Think of it like this, we expect a certain level of objectivity from reviewers, for example: say reviewer A hates platforming in an FPS, if he encounters platforming but it's well done enough that he isn't stuck at that point due to crappy design or mechanics the game shouldn't be penalized because it did something the reviewer hates, since it was done well. By lowering UC3's score for having something the reviewer doesn't like even though it's done well breaks the unwritten rule for serious video game reviewers.

AwesomeNicky said...

I tend to agree with this stance, and I think that for the industry to get to where you want it to, you need to find a more suitable way to integrate a game's story in the gameplay experience. Now it feels like games are mostly trying to be films, when it actually needs to find it's own identity instead.
I remember you speaking about this at the Bonus Round at PAX, and Geoff Keighly and his cohorts just seemed to roll their eyes at you, as if saying "he's nuts!" when in fact, you gave the most thoughtful and important argument in the whole discussion, and more people should pay attention to that!

Matt said...

If you want outsider criticism during game development then you should start a new job title at your company called Critic or "Creative Consultant," if that's like a critic. You can't expect to fix a game after the critic has given his review. He waits to give his negative opinion -- which he rarely has in the first place -- after the game is released, or during release, and you can't really fix things with a patch.

I could easily criticize all games and make them better, but I never really understood the point of movie critics or film and book and video game critics. I preferred GameFan in the early 90s because they gave so many rave reviews and I felt like they noticed the positive things in games that the more mealy-mouthed, mediocre, lukewarm guys, who point out the pluses and the minuses evenly, never did. Like people at Gamepro, EGM, Next Generation, etc.

Matt said...

Of course, anyone who's working for you isn't going to tell you the truth either. But game websites like Kotaku, Game Informer, etc are paid by the game companies.

I think your game Twisted Metal will be good. You best just stop making it now because people will complain that you spent too much time making it and called it overworked or overproduced. They'll point out that it's ridiculous to spend three years making a game about Matchbox cars running around in the dark shooting missiles at each other. I mean, look at Dead Nation, as a zombie overhead shooter. There's more than one. But Dead Nation has higher quality than most zombie overhead shooters, just as your Twisted Metal series is probably better than Vatlva on the Sega Saturn. However people still like to play Zombie Apcalypse, another overhead shooter, or they play Dead Frontier in their web browser, or something. There's 7000 zombie games and most people don't care if they're perfect or artistic. People who like games about cars shooting at each other also don't care about art that much. They probably enjoy wrestling a lot or shooting bottle rockets out of their ass in the backyard or listening to heavy metal and rap.

If you use rap music in your game, you should use Da Brat because I thought she was even hotter than Khia and some others.

but that's from like 1994.

Matt said...

Also I'm aware that you don't accept game ideas and that this creates legal problems.

I don't care about shit like that. I mean I routinely give death threats to all sorts of people. One time I was investigated for threatening Bush and then later I was investigated for joking about killing Obama.

Matt said...

And I've thought about killing David Jaffe a lot too or Steven Spielberg. A lot of people. So I don't care if my ideas are used in a game or not used. If anything, by writing them out like this knowing that he can't legally use them, it helps protect the idea for myself so that it stays mine.

BJ Vynz said...

Well I just know that everyone I know as a gamer couldn't really care less what score a game receives, because alot of times scores are really stupid.

Review content might be important, but when it comes down to things like "the game didn't have a deep story" I think it's a load of bull, because a game doesn't need a deep story, nor do RPG's have to be huge open world games. Simply put, there are things to take seriously in reviews, and things that don't meant squat, other than being the author's opinion.

I might have gotten off track here, lol, but anyway I understand your point of view there, makes sense.

Matt said...

Nice documentary about video games:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w0ERL20lr1U

PBS

lance said...

I think the problem with the review was that he was reviewing the concept and design, not the execution of that companies design. I fully admit and agree that there are parts of the series that are more interactive than game, but the execution of those parts are excellent.

No one who plays uncharted expects some kind of open world sandbox game, and if it was... I don't think I would play it. I want the cinematic experience... It's what makes the game...

There are thousands of fps rip offs of one another and they all get 8/10 for some ungodly reason. None of those reviews are based on the concept. Yet, because of the insane expectations of this game following its predecessor, questions of design decisions affect the review, and possibly cost the franchise new players.