To be honest I think there is a problem when a reviewer evaluates whether a product is good or not purely on it's own merits as a game when there are other issues involved.
This is so wrong it physically hurts to quote it. I mean, just look at that sentence. Jesus.
There's a common misconception that "the fans" have a coherent, singular voice. They do not. There is a common misconception that change is bad. It is not. There is a common misconception that vocal minorities speak for the entire fanbase. They do not. There is a common misconception that reviewers should have to kowtow to the needs of a highly select group of fans who consider themselves the "core audience." They should not.
A review who capitulates to the whims of a special interest group is shit as his or her job, no matter what label that interest group might choose.
DmC's radical departure from previous games should factor into reviews, but to approach change as an inherently negative force is not only mind-numbingly stupid, it's damaging to the medium as a whole. That line of thinking is what leads to sequels churned out on a yearly basis, characters that never grow or learn and the money-hungry stagnation of the AAA sector of the industry.
Edit: And oh sweet baby Jesus on a bicycle made of dicks, people are quoting Metacritic as if it's a source rather than a breeding ground for morons looking to vent their anger. Try subtracting every review of 0 from that score (and don't come at me with the whole subjectivity argument; the fact DmC works is enough to put it above several titles, meaning a score of absolute zero is ludicrous) and you might have something that resembles a coherent public opinion.
I disagree with you in the strongest possible way.
Your correct so far as that the gaming community does not speak with a single voice, but there is still both a definite majority voice, as well as that of the core fan base when it comes to established products. It's the core fans, regardless of what you might think of their obsessions, that support a product and have made it what it is, without them a franchise would not exist for branding to even be an issue. Their opinion is pretty much the most important one when it comes to a franchise since they are your foundation.
In general right now, a big part of the problem comes down to who companies decide to listen to. In general if people tell them "we don't like this, this is what we want" they get ignored even if they represent an overwhelming majority, while developers tend to listen to the "Ra-Ra" brigade. Don't like what they're hearing? They dismiss it as a vocal majority, declare the comments "toxic", and cease to care.
The thing to understand is that someone has to care quite a bit in order to actually login to game forums and sound off, especially to do it regularly. If the majority of your community winds up becoming hostile and stays there it's a good sign that this is how the majority of the fans feel, not the results of a vocal minority. After all if they were a minority you'd see far more positive traffic than you typically wind up getting. You'd hear praise from the community outweighing the negativity over your product throughout the entire online gamer cosm.... and truthfully, there are many games that show this to be true by generally having far more favorable discourse than negative discourse accross both their own forums and the gaming community itself. Valve for example gets it's criticisms but is viewed very favorably in pretty much every forum you run into. Bioware used to be in that catagory until they slotted off their core fans to the point where the negative outweighted the positive, excepting professional sources.
When it comes to metacritic you have to understand that the reason why you generally get these "0" ratings and even campaigns to crash game scores, that a lot of it is done to counter professional "reviews" (note the quotes, I won't point any specific fingers though for obvious reasons), and of course company shills (some of whom have been caught in cases like Bioware). Someone actually getting up off their butt long enough to do something like this has meaning in of itself, and when it happens in massive numbers, especially over the internet where coordinating ANYTHING tends to be an exercise in sisyphisian futility, that says a lot. If enough people show up to pan your game, assigning unreasonably low scores to counter unreasonably high ones, that it actually has an overall effect, that in of itself is a message.
I will say that I agree with you on the stagnation of the industry in a general sense, BUT we're not really talking about that. We're talking about franchises. The idea of having a series and building up a core audience is specifically to produce more of the same. A label becomes associated with specific kinds of content, and continues as long as there is a demand for it.
If a gaming company wants to try something new, then it should create an entirely new IP, not taking an existing IP, slapping it's name and some of it's conventions onto a new product, and then claim it is that IP. That's the fundemental problem here. This is being presented as a "Devil May Cry" game when it is NOT a "Devil May Cry" game other than slapping some names and labels onto it. It's a counterfeit product for all intents and purposes, and should be treated like one in reviews because of that label.
If someone created a similar game to DMC with the changes they wanted, it would be fair to review it on it's own merits as a game from there on out, as long as they called it something differant as it's own IP. In the case of something like DMC, it should ultimatly rate a '0' and be dismissed from any further consideration when it carries a franchise label but is clearly not a part of that franchise.
I agree industry stagnation is a problem, but this kind of approach to trying to "solve" the problem just makes things worse. If it succeeds the best that you can hope for is to create a horrible morass of stench like they turned the "Sonic" games into by continueing to use the label for all of these "updated" titles, it got to the point where even most pro-critics can't take Sonic seriously anymore.
At the end of the day if a Franchise is failing, the right thing to do is let it die, and revive it (as itself) much later perhaps, you don't change the fundementals of the characters, storyline, gameplay style, and then slap the label on it and say "it's the same thing". Even if you produce a good game that succeeds, you are going to manage to divide your fan base.
Thus the solution to industry stagnation in my mind is again... to create new things.
I'll also say that people want the familiar. I used comics as an analogy to this and why comic changes in their main universe are never permanant, and radical sidelines/alternaverses are published alongside, as opposed to instead of, the real thing (with a few notable exceptions like the Amalgam Universe stunt). You might do radical things within a storyline for a while, but at the end of the day The Hulk goes back to being Green, The Fantastic Four operate as The Fantastic Four instead of "The Future Foundation", and Spider-Man puts on his classic duds again instead of his funky black and white (or white and black) costume or "Iron Spider" armor. When they do a "Reboot" they put it into it's own universe and release it alongside the real thing, such as "The Ultimates". Even DC understands that no matter how many "Infinite Crisis" events they run at the end of the day everything goes back to the original status quo and personalities with fairly minor changes (a few exceptions to this exist, like everything however).
There is nothing wrong with that incidently, and games can indeed remain more or less the same while still evolving. You can create deeper gameplay along the same line. Nobody cares if you add more weapons, moves, and tricks to Dante's arsenal, or have him kicking butt in differant locales with an expanding rogues gallery. They do not however want to see Dante and his entire world changed, with him turning into an Emo all the time, and donning subdued dress. If they wanted that and felt it would sell, they should have simply created a new beat 'em up franchise using similar mechanics (sort of like we saw with Bayonetta) and left Devil May Cry alone.