Spec Ops and why I reviewed something I didn’t finish

I got an email from a polite reader about how I wasn’t qualified to review a game without finishing the entire thing. Specifically, my Spec Ops: The Line review.  I didn’t even play long enough to experience the “twist”, and yet I gave it a harsh judgment.  Is that unfair?

Below is my reply, without the original email I was sent.  I think this is a fair question, and I know that plenty of readers would agree that you need to experience the full game in order to appreciate it, so it might be worth sharing my defense.


I got started writing my opinions in a community with some of the biggest assholes and trolls out there, so don’t worry about offending me, I’m way beyond that. I’m glad to defend what I write.

I reviewed Spec Ops: The Line because I had enough spent money and time in order to experience the core gameplay features, difficulty, pacing, and “game design”, and I reached a conclusion. It’s not like I pretended that I finished the story.  But by your logic nobody should be able to review World of Warcraft until they personally reach the “level cap”, do everything there is to do in the “end-game”, and see the credits.  At some point, you make a judgment about quality along the way.  If a game can’t hook me within the first six hours, it’s shitty no matter what it holds in store.

Even if the story twist is mindblowing to some people, I’m perfectly justified in evaluating how much that story twist is worth. To me, it’s worth almost nothing.  I don’t respect games designed badly, and a cheap gimmick at the end doesn’t do anything for me.  “Pulling out the rug” only works if you’re invested in the mindless killing to begin with, which intelligent people wouldn’t be.  Therefore, it’s a game that only stupid people can enjoy.

Knowing how the game ends, I still saw these problems:

  • No compulsion to move forward and experience more (bad design)
  • No investment in the characters or scenario (bad writing/concepts)
  • No interest in the Call of Duty formula or fanbase (irrelevant twist)

I understood everything I needed to understand to evaluate what mattered to me. I did research on the remaining parts, and was equally unimpressed.


 

To me it’s a lot like those who say I shouldn’t review a game unless I’m able to master its gameplay systems.  Only expert who can get a high score should be able to say whether Metal Gear Rising is a good game, because “understanding” the game is a prerequisite for “judging” a game, right?  And I don’t understand a game unless I master it!

One of the main pillars of my reviewing process is that I don’t allow publishers, developers, or the community around a game to control the discourse around it.  I don’t have to judge a game by its own standards, or anyone else’s.  My own standard is what matters to me, and my review is the explanation of why I feel the way I do.  It’s idiotic to pretend that there’s any “objective” or unbiased point of view, so it would be pretentious to act like I’m giving a “fair” score by some universal score card.

Thoughts on P.T.

Before I discuss P.T. — the “playable teaser” for the upcoming “Silent Hills” game Kojima and Guillermo Del Toro are making – just know that Forbes says that “P.T. is one of the cleverest marketing gimmicks in the history of video games.”  Of course I agree.

Judging  by the footage I’ve seen of the game, it looks extremely tense and creepy.  And, obviously, accomplished its mission of confusing/terrifying many unsuspecting players.

But I’ve repeatedly criticized games that sacrifice interactivity for the sake of graphics and mood, and specifically complained about “scary” games that restrict you to a flashlight and throw jump scares at you.  It’s lazy game design.  But I’m not ready to criticize P.T. just yet.

Continue reading

Kojima used my idea to promote “Silent Hills”

You’re welcome Kojima, I’m glad you pay attention!

The idea of releasing a demo/preview/promotional game which contains a big surprise reveal trailer after you beat it, is literally the exact strategy I suggested in my Ground Zeroes commentary back in March of this year:

A better strategy (and perhaps one KONAMI would never have indulged) might have been to keep The Phantom Pain a complete surprise until after you beat Ground Zeroes, at which point it unlocks a trailer that you can watch.

Judging by the delightful surprise that has spread across the internet, I feel pretty damn validated in my argument!  Because I also said this:

Forget the “Moby Dick Studios” bluff and the “Joakim Mogren” nonsense, and just let Metal Gear Solid V be an awesome surprise at the end of the seemingly straightforward extra epilogue mission to Peace Walker, designed for consoles and to show off the Fox Engine.  Hell, sell the thing for $10 so people can be blown away by how generous and appreciative Kojima Productions is.  Goodwill goes a long way.  Make sure every gamer worth his salt feels obligated to check out this amazing little game, with its amazing surprise ending, and its amazing new gameplay direction.  Get people on board, cast a wide net, and make your money with love from the community, not gouging those who try to support you most.

Could this “P.T.” game be any more similar to what I suggested?  If they had hyped up “Silent Hills” for a year ahead of time, and then released this “important story chapter” at retail for $20 with all sorts of little “extras” to drag out the playtime (like they did with Ground Zeroes,) nobody would be delighted about the game, because we’d be obsessing over crap like whether it’s a good value.  Instead, they took my advice and released an understated and generous little demonstration of what they can do, and included the big surprise trailer at the end.  “Brilliant”, as the British Twitch girl said.

If only they had done this with Ground Zeroes, people would be much less confused, much more intrigued by it, much more appreciative of their marketing, and nobody would be complaining about it being a “2 hour game”, or costing too much!  Bah…

Why developing for PC is better than mobile

This guy tried making a bunch of mobile games and found out (like many others) that it sucks, and now he wants to do PC game development.  It seems really obvious to me, but it’s nice to have somebody else confirm it from experience.

Here are some lessons he learned the hard way:

- Casual gamers don’t love games, they love distraction.  

- The average casual game app store player has NO brand loyalty.

- There are 100 winners and 999,900 losers in the App Store.

I’ve written about “Distractionware” before, when describing the problem facing Nintendo after the success of the Wii.  Fans of the Wii don’t care about the Wii U, or better quality.  Quality doesn’t matter to casual gamers.