Going Gold

Going Gold
Going Gold #4: These Go To 11

Christian Ward | 20 Aug 2008 21:00
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Gamers have an undeserved reputation for being cynical when, in fact, we'll lap anything up. The exact same sports game you've been playing for the last ten years, now with updated rosters? Sign me up! Downloadable content where I have to pay for stuff I used to get free? Here's my wallet, go nuts!

You can see this in our obsession with events - literally with big shows like E3 or TGS, or with event titles that mirror the launch of movie blockbusters. In recent years, escalating budgets have led gaming, just like the movies, to base itself increasingly around "tentpole" games: big-budget, heavily-marketed, surefire hits that can absorb the losses of the lesser titles that these behemoths steamroll over. Yet whereas summer tentpole movies are written off by movie critics as the meaningless fluff they almost always are, gaming's critics seem to take joy in riding along with the hype, and giving review scores as much to the marketing campaign as to the game.

The near-universal perfect scores for games like Halo 3 (Metacritic average of 94) and GTA IV (Metacritic average of, do my eyes deceive me, 98) are one obvious indication of this. In fact, for all our alleged cynicism, it seems that review scores just keep going up. I remember a day when a game used to have to innovate, dazzle the senses and play like the bastard lovechild of Mario and Sonic to get top scores in the prize publications, but these days it takes comparatively little to satiate both gamers and critics.

The year-old BioShock is one of the most egregious examples, a decent shooter with an intriguing story and a wonderful atmosphere that is brought up to the levels of The Iliad and Citizen Kane by over-eager critics. "The complexity and sophistication of BioShock...showed that gaming creatives have learnt every lesson cinema and TV have to offer," declared the otherwise sensible Rob Fahey in the Times , somehow forgetting the fact that cinema and TV creatives learnt long ago the importance of good final act.

It's no harm to be excited about big titles - BioShock is a fine game, as are Halo 3 and GTA IV, but to read the fawning praise for it on the 'net you would think they were the second coming of Christ, reincarnated as a young Elvis. Why are we giddily getting ever more excited about gaming, to the point where capable or enjoyable titles are elevated to the level of high art? Why are game scores spiraling out of control?

A quick look at two of the more respected journals of the industry, Edge and Famitsu, paints an interesting picture. These two publications, once legendary for the rarity of their perfect scores, have recently been handing out top marks like they're past their expiration date. Japan's gaming bible Famitsu began its Cross Review section in 1986, and twelve whole years passed before a title was deemed good enough to get a perfect score.

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