Let's talk about one of the best reviewed games of 2013: Bioshock: Infinite.
Actually for those who don't know, or have forgotten, let me give you some context on the hype and release of Bioshock: Infinite.
It was announced in 2010 with a reveal trailer that kind of blew all Bioshock fans away (or so I'm told) especially with the reveal that series creator Ken Levine was returning to serve as creative director and lead writer. This was the man who, not so long ago in 2007, showed us Rapture and delivered one of the greatest games of that generation of consoles.
Infinite was promising us a new turn for the series, with us no longer travelling deep below the surface but taking us into the city of the clouds known as Columbia and, with this new change in enviroment, came a whole host of new thematic ideas that would play out across the games narrative.
That was only the beginning of the hype train though.
With Infinite, the team at Irrational Games showed they had completely overhauled the clunky combat of the first game for a snappier, more accurate first-person-shooting model and introduced the sky-hooks, a means of both transportation and combat.
With more freedom of movement, meatier weapons, better combat, a new environment, a host of new powers and another complex narrative being promised, how could fans and critics not be pumped to try it out?
The game released a whole 3 years after its announcement and 5 years after development began and not only was it a resounding success commercially but it also received rave reviews from multiple outlets and even fan reviews were ridiculously positive.
Negative opinions of the game were shouted down by those enjoying the game and, primarily, talk of the game was extremely positive, practically glowing.
Nowadays however, talk about Bioshock: Infinite is less hyperbolic and more reserved.
(Please note that I am basing this off the opinion of a group of people from here on Destructoid. I have not edited or cut out anyone elses response, only cropped the responses I do have to make the images more comprehensible).
As time has gone on and the hype has died down, Infinite doesn't appear to be held as fondly as the critical acclaim would have you believe; that also doesn't mean it doesn't have fans.
I personally quite enjoy it, especially since it has far superior combat to that of the first game.
But upon closer inspection, the game doesn't seem to have that "magical" quality that seemed to surround it upon both its reveal and its release.
Hell, the game went through so many revisions that there is an entire video on YouTube where you can see a bunch of content and exchanges that are altered or removed entirely from the final game, which I advise any gamer to watch: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=muJYTeQlvC4
Cut content is nothing new, it happens in all video games, but the sheer amount of differences from the E3 reveal and early gameplay trailers to the launch trailers and final product is staggering and that fact, specifically in the current age of gaming culture, is not always a good thing to be remembered for.
As I said, not everyone thinks Bioshock: Infinite is a bad or mediocre game, but to some, they feel like the game was overly praised and that, in hindsight, the game is nowhere near as excellent as those original reviews would have you believe.
The critique of older gaming reviews is now easier to find since social media has expanded thus allowing more people to give their own views on certain topics, especially when it comes to discussing the review scores for games.
Which raises an interesting question, that being: Are review scores kind of arbitrary?
Destiny is a good game fundamentally, but it has very little substance to it with uninteresting characters, repetitive missions and a plot severely lacking in depth.
Its scored 7's on a lot of sites and sits at a 77 on Metacritic and, because of that, the developers at Bungie allegedly missed out on a bonus from Activision for not scoring high enough with reviewers.
That, apparently, is actual money lost just because some review scores were lower than anticipated, which is fairly commonplace according to users of other sites. So, if true, this would mean that even publishers give review scores a lot of weight which, in turn, kind of takes some meaning away from the rest of the words written in the review, completely ignoring the tone of the review overall.
(By the way, I don't normally shill Kotaku in any way, shape, or form, but their piece on Destiny is actually rather good and goes into the development with a touch more detail than I can afford it here. It must be noted though that neither Bungie or Activision made a statement on Koatku's article so the verification of their subject matter could not be 100% verified).
Review scores are funny things when you think about it.
Imagine you are a reviewer; you finish your lengthy review, read it, re-read it and maybe update it in case you forget things and then you have to try and decide what number to give it.
You have to assign a number to a game that, if you work for an established outlet, will be used to determine the "critical success" of a game and (just being honest here) will inevitably draw the attention away from the work you put into your review.
Numbered scores have been around for decades and don't appear to be going away anytime soon, yet as the years go by and more and more people find a platform to voice their opinions online, the weight and meaning of a numerical score seems to become less important and appear outdated in hindsight, while at the same time, they cause so much debate and anger in certain online social circles.
It's a very peculiar anomaly.
People loathe them yet at the same time others use them as a way to vindicate a games success.
Reading the reviews for Destiny without looking at the review scores is a peculiar experience actually, as they all read fairly positively and that there is sort of the problem: It shouldn't be peculiar.
The score for Destiny overshadows any meaningful discourse you could have about the game, but, much like with Bioshock: Infinite, time has passed and, as the more overzealous crowds of both Destiny-"defenders" and Destiny-"haters" moved on to other games a reasonable conversation and inspection of the game has taken place.
More recently, we have seen the release of Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild and it was met with near-universal acclaim by critics and fans and, much like other critically acclaimed games, those who are wishing to have a meaningful discourse about the game are not going to be able to for some time and will have to wait, much like they did with The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword... And The Last of Us... And Halo 2... And The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim.
Again and again, positive buzz and Metacritic scores seem to overshadow actual meaningful conversation and discussion about a game, resulting in shit-flinging on both sides.
That isn't to say I think that we should do away with review scores, I just think that, for some reason, people have this warped notion of what constitutes as good and bad and collectively lose their shit when a critic gives a score they don't agree with.
The Toxicity of Product Loyalty
I cannot wait until I get my hands on Persona 5. It is, easily, my most anticipated title of the year and hopefully it lives up to my lofty expectations.
I am also prepared for seeing some critics find it to be "okay" or "average" because it is bound to happen.
Nowadays, people have this idea that, because they own a product, they have to stay loyal to it, when really, no such thought should logically occur.
To quote Tyler Durden: "The things you own, end up owning you" and, to be honest, he wasn't wrong.
The prominence of the "console wars" and more noticeably the importance of exclusives this generation has created a sub-culture of gaming where fans of one franchise/console or another deem it appropriate to defend "their side" no matter the cost and, due to this, assign far too much weight to a review score while not focusing on the context.
Polygon got so much flak for their The Last of Us review, while Jim Sterling had his site attacked for daring to give Breath of the Wild a 7.
Modern Warfare 3 getting a 9 on Destructoid, IGN giving Doom a 7... These are all some of the bigger ones that stand out to me.
People who are fans of something, feel like they should defend the product for getting a lower score, depending on their own viewpoint of course, yet completely forget that it is not their review, nor should they really pay heed to a number at the bottom of a lengthy review that explains, in detail, what the reviewer really thought of the game.
On the other side, you have people who aren't a fan of something and proceed to try their best to rip apart people's opinions for daring to like something more than they did.
I do kind of understand where these fanatics are coming from though, at least from a psychological standpoint.
Nobody wants to be told that thier expensive product is shit because then, it might make you think that you've wasted your money. Nobody enjoys wasting money and, in order to prevent such a feeling, an insecurity over a purchase can lead to unwavering defence of your product, or the constant ripping down of someone elses.
These people might have existed for years, especially during the Sega vs Nintendo years, but now, with platforms like IGN, Destructoid, Polygon and Gamespot to voice their opinions on, they are simply being noticed more and more.
Money is not easily wasted and I feel like a lot of this defence stems from the idea that they need to feel vindicated in their purchase.
I have seen (and I'm sure others have too) reviewers be called disgusting and derogatory things for daring to give a review that is an outlier of the popular opinon, attackers taking the stance that, because others have thought a game was great/awful, then this reviewer should have thought the same and it almost always stems from a misplaced sense of loyalty to a game or console.
All this over a product that you bought; a product that is meant to entertain you.
There is no real "quick fix" here, because those who get bent out of shape over review scores (or criticism of their favourite product in general) seem to lack a little bit of self-reflection so they certainly won't be stopping heir tirades any time soon.
Then, we have to remember that review scores are an easy way for sites to sum up their feelings of a game in a bite-sized and effecient way, a way that is incredibly popular on the internet nowadays, since the sad truth of the matter is that less words = more views.
This type of logic is unfortunate, especially when you consider how much context is lost when ignoring everything else and simply focusing on the review.
Go to any comment section of a "contrary" review and you will see plenty of comments left by people who obviously didn't read the review, adding no context or rationale to their own path of logic.
And yet, when looking through Metacritic, context is in the fine print, numbered scores dominate the screen and it is these numbered scores that will also dominate the minds of people who read the reviews and, eventually over many years, look back in hindsight as they create various opinions on whether the hype/hate for a game was necessary.
So debating review scores isn't exactly an easy thing, they are standardised in the review industry for a reason yet are such a cause for contention nowadays and, more than likely, will only get worse reactions over the coming years.
I find that those who continuously get annoyed at review scores not matching their own opinions need to realise that, overall: In the grand scheme of things, a review score really is nothing to get worked up over, whether it's higher or lower than what you expected.
The most important thing to remember is this: People can have a problem with the game you enjoy.
Not everyone has to give your game a perfect score because, contrasting opinions (well-informed contrasting opinions I might add, since someone being contrary for the sake of it is just as bad as someone defending a game blindly) can lead to very interesting conversations and can only lead to an opening of your point of view.
Except for when it comes to Okami.
Okami should really be the one game that is reviewed absolutely perfectly yet, for some reason, it isn't.
I looked up the Metacritic score for Okami while researching stuff for this piece and some outlets gave it a 7.. How... Why... Do you have no soul?
They gave it a 7...