Thursday, October 10, 2013

Criticism in Previews

Recently I published a hands on impression of Assassin's Creed IV on Vooks (with a more in-depth preview just uploaded to TGND, which I admittedly did de-snark a bit). It was short because it was going to be combined with other peoples' like how we did our PAX AU  games impressions (heck, I think my ACIV impressions were longer than the impressions I wrote for the other games), so I focused on my key point- that I was one of the people who found ACIII unbearably awful, and that ACIV appears to be the exact same. I backed this up, saying that combat is as brain dead as it was in ACIII (it played the exact same) and that it's unfocused and incohesive, just like ACIII was, with assassinations that aren't really assassinations at all, and mid-battle 'minigames' that decide to pause the action and break the flow of the game. I do actually describe what happened in the demo, I just added why I disliked all of it! Apparently people weren't happy with this! The article got a few negative comments (which apparently never happens on Vooks), and I had a few aggressive subtweets directed at me which I laughed off. Now, this wasn't a crazy Internet outrage, we're a smaller Australian site, but people spoke to me about the review nonetheless. Supposedly I have a bias against the Assassin's Creed series (based off me saying I wish the series would go back to its pre-ACIII levels of quality, even saying I loved the games back then. Go figure!) and my article wasn't objective enough. Well to be frank- no shit it wasn't objective!

Samantha Allen made a point on this better than I ever could, with her 'objective review' of Dragon's Crown. An objective piece would, yes, tell you about a game, but without a judgement on whether it works or not, you're not any closer to working out whether a game is worth buying or not. In Duke Nukem Forever, you shoot enemies with guns. In Battlefield 3, you shoot enemies with guns. There's two 100% correct and objective descriptions of two different games. Without subjectivity that makes both games appear the same. If I can't be subjective and say "Duke Nukem Forever's controls are clunky and the enemies are uninteresting" or "Battlefield 3 is interesting because exciting things happen as part of the emergent gameplay" then you can't assess whether a game is worthwhile or not. "But Duke Nukem Forever is objectively bad!" you say! No, actually, it isn't. Objective means totally free of any bias, choice or emotion. It's humanly possible for someone to think it's a good game! Bringing words like good, bad, fun, boring into a piece immediately makes it subjective because you're making a judgement, consciously or not. Objectively, the boarding minigame in Assassin's Creed IV makes the other enemy ships disappear and the forts stop attacking you. Subjectively, this breaks the illusion of an open world and is stupid. Objectively, countering an enemy's attack in ACIV allows you to instantly kill an enemy and chain these kills into others. Subjectively, this is so damn easy it's not funny and makes combat pointless. Yes, my preview contains objective and subjective elements. No, I shouldn't have to have a disclaimer next to every opinionated statement. Previews should make judgements, as should reviews! Did I get a bit overexcited at points? Yes, I admit, my writing and speech is often hyperbolic. Did I need to call ACIII a turd? Probably not, but it sure did get my distaste of the game across in one word! A lot of people didn't enjoy ACIII- it was a very flawed game, and the returning elements present in ACIV had not been fixed, so in making these connections people know exactly what to expect of ACIV!  If you enjoyed ACIII then good for you! You may enjoy ACIV! There's plenty of positive previews out there for you to read! That's the problem I have with previews- they're ALWAYS positive.

Many previews I read just try so hard to not make any judgement. So often do I see countless positive previews from outlets on a game, only for them to come out and give the game a negative review. Sometimes they're different writers, yes, but rarely will you see much negativity in previews. This isn't due to malicious reasons, it's merely because writers will be more lenient because it's an early build, or the publisher will handpick a section of the game where flaws aren't as evident. But I feel that holding back on criticism is being dishonest to your audience. A while back Laura Parker copped a lot of flak for raising concerns about the Tomb Raider reboot in her preview of the game. A lot of commenters said for her to wait until the game is out before making judgements. One question- WHAT DO YOU THINK THE POINT OF A PREVIEW IS!? You're given a segment of a game to play pre-release for you to assess. There's no point in saying "Hey guys, I played a demo of _____ and I'd rather shove my hand in a blender than play a full game of it, but you should buy it anyway because it was just a demo and I'm sure the real thing will be fine." How many people download a demo, hate it, and then base off of that demo their decision to buy the game at full price or not? When you watch a movie trailer, do you make a judgement on whether you think you'll enjoy the movie based off the trailer? Of course! Can that judgement be wrong? Yeah it can! I'll happily eat my words if I play the full game of ACIV and love it! I don't want any game to be bad! Who would? The more good games there are to play the better! But based off what I played it doesn't seem to have improved from ACIII and thought people would want an honest opinion on the game's quality. I think the problem wasn't that my preview wasn't objective,  it was that my preview wasn't what people wanted to hear (and people don't know what objective actually means, but that's a whole other matter). "I loved ACIII!" you say. I'm happy for you! I didn't! I'm as entitled to that opinion as you are to yours! If it were a review I'd give my honest opinion as well, and people would still disagree with me. People will always disagree with you, the world would suck if we were all the same. I see no reason not to be critical of a game in a preview- if base gameplay elements are bad this close to release then they'll probably remain so, and if not, my judgements were still justified based off the preview!

Going back to the Duke Nukem example, imagine if you saw an 'objective' preview that just describes what you do in the game and thought "Hey, I like games where you shoot enemies with guns, let's buy that game!" Chances are you would be very disappointed. Chances are you would be annoyed at the previewer for not pointing out any of the game's flaws. I'm trying to help you guys here by making a judgement of a game before you spend your money on it! If I gave an objective overview of the demo despite knowing it was flawed, which you bought the game because of, and then you found that the game wasn't very good, then I've done you a disservice- I could have prevented that! But hey, I could have been positive and people may not have liked it, and people may like it despite the fact that I didn't- that's how opinions work! My dissatisfaction with the game shouldn't affect yours. Buy the game if you want, you're allowed to! I wasn't happy with what I played, so I won't. Let's just agree to disagree.


  1. I like that you shared your thoughts. You tend to off on rants about AC3 but good. It shows that you are passionate about it. If someone just went and said "this game has an assassin with pirate fights and you have these weapons" and didn't mention boring gameplay or if there were any glitches that would be a disservice. So keep at it and if people don't want to know that a game might not be as enjoyable as they think then that's up to them. I like engaging combat and gameplay and sequences that aren't paused by a mini game but that's just me.

    As with 3 I'll check this one out if it's on sale on steam or PS+ or something.

  2. Keep up with the good reviews/previews man! You're gonna get people that disagree with you a lot. It happens. I wrote an article called 'Nintendo just rehases the same ideas' and of course wrote against that subject.
    Fwew. I did not expect that article to see as many views as it did. People from all over the internet were giving me their two cents. About how Nintendo always knows how to innovate or how Nintendo just can't seem to do anything new. There weren't any people joining the discussion who were in the middle ground, but that makes sense doesn't it? The people who are going to take the time to write about what they think are passionate about that subject. One way or another.