I've noticed a bit of an internet scuffle breaking out over Simon Parkin's 8/10 review of Uncharted 3 for Eurogamer. "Uncharted 3 is the most exciting game in the world," he writes, "but only until you deviate from the script."
Parkin's criticisms focus mainly on his opinion that the Uncharted games are overly cinema-focused and remove player-control too often. That as well-made as they are, the experience suffers for it. It's a criticism I've heard before, but Simon articulates it clearly and his review is damned well-written to boot.
But after the review went up, the Eurogamer comments section lit up like a christmas tree, and somehow the review became something of a point of contention. I'm not sure I'd go so far as to call it controversial (hence all the scare-quotes I've seen today around the word), but it's certainly been a topic for discussion.
Giant Bomb's Patrick Klepek wrote a well put-together op-ed this morning:
I'd rather read a thousand words about why someone didn't like Uncharted 3, so long as the author's building a proper case, rather than trolling fans. In Parkin's review, he outlines a grand critique against the Uncharted series as a whole, written through the lens of its latest release, and makes a credible argument for why Uncharted's highest highs naturally create unavoidable lows. It's a feeling that's been with me since the beginning of Drake's journey, but especially so in Uncharted 2, when players may miss the directorial cue from the game, such as a timed jump, and have to repeat it over and over again.
This raises the question (once more) of the "point" of game reviews. Are they buying guides for fans? Are they standalone criticism? Do writers and readers have any mutual ground? Klepek points out that the disconnect between writers and their audience isn't unique to games:
The technical term for the phenomenon is confirmation bias, where individuals seek out information favouring their already established opinion. Confirmation bias is a massive problem in today's politics, as evidenced by the existence of deliberately liberal and conservative leaning networks like Fox News and MSNBC, and there's reason to believe today's highly personalised marketing by the video game industry has trained an audience to seek intense validation for their expensive purchases.
Twisted Metal maestro David Jaffe weighed in on the issue on his own blog, saying that "Eurogamer's 'controversial' review of Uncharted 3 reminds me of why I love that site's reviews." Here's Jaffe:
Eurogamer's conclusion/criticism about games that are super heavy on the 'experience' at the expense of the 'play' (like they claim Uncharted 3 is and like- by my own admission- GOD OF WAR 1 is***) is wonderfully thought out and presented and the only reason it's been labelled 'controversial' has nothing to do with the review itself and everything to do with the sad state of game consumers who have been so effectively conditioned by a number of the gaming press/gaming PR machines that these gamers leap to a title's defense-not that this gem of a game needs defending- without even being open to the reviewer's criticism (be it valid or not). That's tragic. What's even more tragic is I would argue the games medium itself has been damaged by this practice. Irrevocably? No. But it has taken its toll for sure.
Personally, I think that we need more reviews like Simon's—well-written, well-argued opinions that I might not agree with, but which take the time to articulate something about I may not have noticed. I haven't played Uncharted 3 yet, but many times, I've read criticism of games that I love, criticisms that have led me to acknowledge flaws that I hadn't previously noticed. Those flaws don't diminish my enjoyment of the game; if anything, they enhanced my understanding of it. In fact, this very thing happened to me with Uncharted 2, with a similar argument that Simon made about Uncharted 3. And of course, other times I've read thoughtful writing about a game that I didn't like and decided to give the game a second shot as a result (and been glad I did).
It's one thing to needlessly troll readers with deliberately contrarian arguments and criticism. But it's another thing entirely to cleanly articulate and support an honest opinion, whether or not people find it agreeable. That's the sort of work that critics should strive to do.
Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception Review [Eurogamer]