Delayed Responsibility

I Shouldn't Be Gaming Right Now… But I Am!

VGJ and Writing: Write a Real Review Next Time

Posted by deckard47 on November 17, 2009

Because of Left 4 Dead 2, Dragon Age, and tonight, hopefully, Assassin’s Creed 2. While I can’t speak to the quality of that last game there, and you already know what I think of Dragon Age (about to start up the Orzammar quest, I think), I need to discuss Left 4 Dead 2, briefly.

It really is quite something. I love all of the new characters (I think). They all get to be funny, serious, angry, and scared in just the right amounts, and their humor works into the levels in a very characterful way. They seem like they belong in this game much more than our original band of four. Of course, they work so well together and with the levels because the levels are very well-made. I’ve only played Dead Center on Advanced (brutally hard), but we couldn’t get past the refueling scene. It was like those scenes in the original Left 4 Dead that ended in complete party death, with one key difference: it never felt cheap. When you died in Left 4 Dead, it’s because a Tank booted you off a roof or into deep water or something. In the Atrium, when you die, it’s because you let yourself get separated from your team, or you accidentally lost a gas tank (on the roof!), or something. It feels almost fair. Odd.

Since I’ve only played the first campaign (and have never beaten it), all I can say is this: I love this game. I love it more than the first one. It looks amazing (the burning hotel rooms are both disorienting and beautiful), the new weapons and abilities are perfectly implemented, and the new Infected are hilarious and dangerous. There was a discussion recently on the Twitters about possible games of the year. I would not have included Left 4 Dead 2 on that list yesterday. Now, I don’t see how I could not put it on the list. I will be playing it tonight. See you there.

[Edit: Just came across Kotaku review of Left 4 Dead 2. Really?:]

Left 4 Dead 2 really feels like the game that the original should have been. Even though it was delivered with an astonishing (read: somewhat concerning) turn around time, it ultimately doesn’t feel as rushed as the first, offering—with the exception of a still-missing capable single-player component—a solid multiplayer suite that doesn’t skimp on modes, maps or options.”

Well. Then there’s that. I’m not sure where to start. “Somewhat concerning.” What the hell does that mean? When has the speed with which a game was made ever been legitimately concerning (aside from the babbling surrounding L4D2). Maybe he means concerning to some. If there was anything to be “concerned” about, it was the pricing (and I think this game is worth a hell of a lot more than $60, but I understand the price argument), not the speed with which the game was made. Also, why do you care about single player that “isn’t there?” This isn’t a single player game, plain and simple. I wonder how long it will take the Left 4 Dead series to ditch SP. Maybe they never will. But it is almost totally unimportant to the experience. It’s a pale shadow of what the game can be. For those without the internet, this is a bad thing. But this is a MP game. It’s like the Battlefield games. He’s unhappy that the game is not something else. It’s like me running around Assassin’s Creed  2 and wondering why I can’t have some competitive assassination action now, dammit. That would be another game entirely.

This is the most bizarre trend in the “enthusiast” and professional gaming press. It’s one thing to want a game to be better at what it does (and yes, SP Left 4 Dead 2 is obviously not great), or to want a game to be more radical or ground breaking in its approach to new game systems or methods of play. But to damn it for being a MP game that has less-than great SP? It’s a mindless critique. I don’t understand it. It’s like hating a book (let’s say, Lioness Rampant, for all of us Alanna fans out there. C’mon you lot!) because it’s a fantasy book instead of a murder mystery. Go read a damn murder mystery. It’s a baseless, meaningless critique, and it’s just another sign that I shouldn’t read Kotaku on Tuesdays (or any other day) if I want to see forward-thinking, mature reviews. I’m not even talking about “critiques” or articles or other haughtily self-labeled clever blogging, or any kind of theory-related discussion. I’m talking about reviews.

I understand that it’s a review, but I think it’s a really bad call to give those hilarious L4D2 “rush job” accusations any more credence than is professionally necessary, just because a lot of people did. Address it, debunk it, and move on. Don’t darkly hint at it throughout your review. Among the gaming press there’s still this pervasive, unintelligible notion that a review must be “objective.” No. What does that even mean. You are not objective. No one is. You never were and never will be. When you say objective, you often mean “what a lot of people who I think represent the dominant societal discourse are saying.” Stop talking about it.

A review should prove that you are a thinking, opinionated individual who feels a certain way about a certain game. You might discuss common discourses on the game, but only so much as they a) relate to your argument, and b) are relevant to the public discourses surrounding the game. Even then, you don’t need to address anything, for any reason. Address it because it is relevant to your argument or because to not address it would be misleading to your readers. Give it the weight and time it deserves, not the weight other people give it. So mention the price/development time thing. Tell people it’s a pointless argument, and they can either pay money for the game or legitimately (but foolishly!) refuse to pay a seemingly “too high” of a price. See what I did there? I voiced an opinion! I do it in my reviews all of the time! I have never melted into a puddle lamenting my beautiful wickedness as a result of such opinionated reviewing.No one does. In fact, it makes their reviewing fun and worthwhile. It makes me respect that author. If someone discussed the L4D2 time/pricing issue voiced their own opinion about it, I would listen. I would respect them for thinking a certain way about something else and then informing me of their thought process. Repeating what (par of) the Internet says does not = having an opinion.

Go buy Left 4 Dead 2. It’s an amazing game, and I need more PC player to play with, Simon and Co. are on the damn 360.


7 Responses to “VGJ and Writing: Write a Real Review Next Time”

  1. Alex said

    “No. What does that even mean. You are not objective. No one is. You never were and never will be.”

    Dude THANK YOU. Everyone looks at games from their own perspective, and there’s no one “true” “objective” way of looking at it. And IMO that’s what makes reviews worth reading (it’s why I read tons of them, often on games I’ve already played, just to see what other people think).

    This issue came up just a little while ago with brinstar’s blog, where a commenter flounced out because her Uncharted 2 review was “biased.” It’s just ridiculous (and rather ironic in this case since overall the review was quite positive). This is not a difficult concept to grasp! Then again we had Congress members insisting that white men are by nature “objective” while Latinas are “biased” during the Sotomayor hearings. Argh!

    What I liked about reviewing UC2 for GameCritics was that, initially I was worried my editor would ask me to cut back on some of the gender analysis, but when I submitted my first draft he actually asked me to elaborate on it. They get the whole perspective thing over there, which is great.

    • deckard47 said

      I’m glad your comments aren’t being weirdly blocked anymore.

      I feel the same way about reviews. I try to read as many as possible, even ones I know I’ll disagree with/not like/think are dumb. It’s interesting to see what lots of people think about something I plan on spending so much time with. It’s why I love finding reviews of older games, reviews I never read, and reading them.

      I somehow missed the thing with brinstar’s UC 2 review. I read it, but didn’t check comments, I guess. It’s especially odd to think about his kind of reaction when compared to how people react to other reviews about other medias.

  2. So there’s this thing in Kant’s Critique of Judgment about art and objectivity. Kant is really into there being an objective “nature” out there and a process of “pure” reason by which you can grasp its rules simply by thinking about it long and hard enough. Of course, that’s ridiculous, but it’s his next point that’s interesting.

    He recognizes that there is something about art that makes it seem “like nature” while also understanding that it isn’t. He starts describing art much like I would games: it’s a system of novel rules that can’t be judged based on the rules we know from nature. Thus, there isn’t an objective way to reason about a work of art.

    So he suggests two things: reflexive judgment, which treats art as something novel that can’t be analyzed based on prior art, and intersubjectivity. Intersubjectivity is how he gets around the problem of going around moping, whining that everyone is an island. He suggests that one can still make near-categorical assessments of a work so long as one recognizes their socio-cultural context. Basically he says, “people in groups all think and judge relatively alike, so it’s possible to at least give the near-definitive analysis of a work of art for a particular group of people.”

    So the idea there would be that Brinstar’s and Alex’s UC2 reviews approach something kind of *like* objectivity *for a feminist theorist*. Everyone who roughly shares their points of view would be able to read those reviews and go, “Yep, they got it.” That’s what you want: people whose thoughts and feelings you respect to be able to read your work and agree.

    • deckard47 said

      I’m pretty sure I think that way (especially about the inability to objectively judge art), but I also think that it’s quite possible to write something you know “your” set will appreciate. Even if you all disagree with me about various things, I know that we are at least having the same conversation when we argue. This isn’t always the case.

  3. Which, I forgot to mention, is basically a highfalutin version of what you said: these white dudes who believe in objectivity simply speak intersubjectively for a super huge group of other white dudes.

    • deckard47 said

      Exactly! The only reason I ever feel special is because the group I happen to sympathize with is somewhat smaller than the “objective” mainstream.

      Of course, I’m right about everything I say, obviously. I’m just subjectively right about it 🙂

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