Thursday, July 22, 2010

Metacritic and the 360: Over and Under Rated Games

If you don't know about Metacritic, it's a review site for several different forms of media (movies, video games, etc.) that goes about business a little differently than most sites. Specifically, they compile ratings from around the web and average them into one score. The idea is that this process is more "fair", as the individual biases of any one reviewer are blunted by combining them with the whole.

I like Metacritic (at least more than any specific review site), but I still find myself at odds with their ratings from time to time. Obviously some of that is personal preference (my own biases if you will), but other times I think that the concept of Metacritic is hampered by inherent issues with critical review in general. In other words, if one critic is overrating a video game, it seems to be more likely that many others are doing the same. Once a few major sites tout a new game as the "GREATEST THING EVER", the rest are hesitant to give it too low of a score for fear of being too different.

Below I'm going to list the 5 most overrated and 5 most underrated games on Metacritic. These are, obviously, just my opinion. I'm also sticking to games that I've actually played, so likely some hidden gems will be missing from my list.


1. Grand Theft Auto IV
Metacritic score - 98 (these are out of 100)
Sample Review - "It's amazing that a sequel that keeps the core gameplay concepts of its prior incarnations can do so much to change itself into something new. Cabs are awesome, as is the cellphones capabilities. But perhaps the biggest innovation is the notion that you can create a game that's as valid a piece of art as any book or movie. Is this our "Citizen Kane" moment?" (TeamXbox)
My Comments - Let the controversy commence! GTA4 is the #1 overall 360 game on Metacritic, and a pretty beloved title in some circles. The sample review is pretty typical of how this game was received, and beautifully illustrates the failings of the review process. A few major review sites declared that GTA4 was a brilliant work of art, and the rest were terrified to say anything negative about the game for fear that it would seem like they don't "get it". The worst part is that this "Citizen Kane" nonsense (GTA4 has also been compared to The Godfather and various Tarantino works, amongst others) is straight out of the Gamer's Apologetics Handbook. "See, see! Video games can be art! They can be right up there with great works of other media types! VALIDATE MEEEEEEE!"

That's all well and good, but should our efforts to win the "Games as Art" war blind us to GTA4's many failings? I say no. It's a game with an involving story (though one that breaks down in several places) and a highly detailed environment. It's a pretty good game. But the camera and targeting system are both shoddy, and the core gameplay is EXACTLY THE SAME as the last several iterations of GTA. This is the same game that convinced me that Rockstar hates gamers. That's our #1 title? Not a chance...

2. Halo 3
Metacritic score - 94
Sample Review - "Halo 3 may not be as innovative as its predecessors or have the best graphics on the Xbox 360, but it’s an outstanding game and a fitting end to what’s been a fantastic trilogy." (Thunderbolt)
My Comments - More controversy...awesome! Bear in mind that the guy who did the above review still gave Halo 3 a perfect score, despite some decidedly tepid comments. It gives the impression that Halo is getting a lifetime achievement award here rather than being judged on its own merits. In any case, Halo 3 is a lightning rod for both praise and criticism, so I'll simply say that I played this game in online co-op with two friends who practically worshipped the first two games in the series, and they were DISGUSTED with the campaign. Too short, too repetitive, terrible ending...their complaints were legion. I thought it was a polished but uninspired shooter with a famous name. And for all the Halo fanboys who are quick to defend it by saying that only the multiplayer modes are important, save your breath. If the game has a shitty campaign mode, then it isn't worthy of a perfect rating. Is that so hard to understand?

3. Resident Evil 5
Metacritic score - 85
Sample Review - "The gorgeous graphics, the superb sound, the great (if sometimes twitchy) AI of your partner and the jaw-dropping gameplay take everything that was brilliant about Resident Evil 4 and ramp it up to the next level, making for one of the best gaming experiences ever!" (AceGamez)
My Comments - This is just straight up bullshit. RE5 is inferior to RE4 in practically every respect. It has a nonsensical story, an unlikeable protagonist, a broken inventory system, abysmal AI that makes your partner a constant nuisance, and enough quick-time events to make me grind my teeth. Plus the people who made it are either racists or idiots. While a score of 85 might not seem that high, bear in mind that it puts RE5 ahead of games like Borderlands, Viva Pinata, and Civilization Revolution, to name a few.

4. Crackdown
Metacritic score - 83
Sample Review - "Games like Crackdown are the cornerstone the 360's passionate user community is built upon, and why the 360 is developing an increasingly deserved reputation for being the next-gen console of choice." (Worth Playing)
My Comments - I have no idea if the 360 is the next generation console of choice, but they're definitely right that this game has a passionate user base. I've personally never understood the appeal of this game. It's insanely repetitive, and the graphical style could be charitably called mediocre. I know people who were practically frothing at the mouth for the second installment of Crackdown...were they excited or disappointed to discover that it's just more of the same?

5. Eternal Sonata
Metacritic score - 79
Sample Review - "While the balance issues are irritating, to say the least, Eternal Sonata's artistic appeal more than makes up for what the gameplay is lacking. With an excellent story, interesting characters, impressive music, and quite frankly the most beautiful graphics ever produced in a video game, Eternal Sonata is without question the first must-play RPG of the new console generation." (RPGamer)
My comments - This game's rating is skewed by a few people (such as the above reviewer) that heaped ridiculous amounts of praise on it thanks to the (admittedly) impressive graphics. What they don't sufficiently emphasize is that the game is an aggravating chore to play thanks to the repetitive combat system and lengthy, pointless cutscenes. This is the worst RPG I've played to date on the 360, so how it ranks evenly with titles like Tales of Vesperia, Blue Dragon, and Lost Odyssey (a strong candidate for the underrated list) is beyond me.


1. Hitman: Blood Money
Metacritic score - 82
Sample Review - "The gameplay gives you plenty of choices regarding progressing through a stage, and it looks good while you do so. It would've been very easy to churn out another boring murderfest, but instead we get a thinking man's game. Good showing." (Game Over Online)
My Comments - Thinking man's (and woman's) game? There's a fatal flaw if I've ever heard one. Blood Money was a great title, one of the finest stealth games ever made (only the Thief games could compete with it). It married an interesting story with tight, intuitive gameplay and added in some of the most inspired level design I've ever seen. Hitman is almost more of a puzzle game than an action title, as determining how to eliminate your target in the most stealthy manner possible is a fascinating challenge. Unfortunately the game suffered at the hands of critics thanks to the fact that it was ported from the previous generation, and was thus consigned to scores that put it behind the decidedly inferior Splinter Cell games.

2. Condemned: Criminal Origins
Metacritic score - 81
Sample review - "While it is a worthy first survival horror game for the Xbox 360, Condemned: Criminal Origins is a bit of a one-trick pony. Once the campaign is over, the player can go back to unlock more extras, but the game is pretty much done, and it has probably gotten repetitive to the average player by then anyway." (GameShark)
My Comments - Sigh. Condemned is one of the scariest, most atmospheric games I've ever played. It ramps up tension like few movies can do, let alone video games. The environments are creepy and unsettling, and the combat is almost disturbingly visceral. This game is not for everyone, but for those who like smart horror films, Condemned is a must-play. As for being a "one-trick pony", what else did you want GameShark? It's not an 80 hour RPG, it's a 10-15 hour horror game with a tight narrative and excellent gameplay. It's certainly true that once you've played it, you've seen the story and some of the scares will be ruined, but so what? It's a different kind of play experience.

3. Banjo-Kazooie: Nuts & Bolts
Metacritic score - 79
Sample Review - "It's hard to recommend Banjo Kazooie: Nuts and Bolts. It's too complicated for kids, and too convoluted for adults, If you're the creative type, you'll enjoy fiddling around with all the parts, but if you're looking for an accessible game that you can play in short bursts and make headway, then steer clear." (GameTrailers)
My Comments - Nuts & Bolts is a brilliant idea for a game. You give the player a bunch of pieces that can be constructed into vehicles (engines, wheels, wings, etc.), give them challenges (carry an acorn from one spot to another, win a race that traverses both land and water, etc.), and then let them design their own custom machines to complete the challenges. It's like Lego/Tinker Toys come to life. It's quirky and different with an endearing sense of humor.

So of course, reviewers mostly disliked it. Oh, there's usually some hand-waving towards the "creative types" (see above), but games like this are generally seen as just time-wasters before getting back to the serious business of blasting space aliens in Halo and its many, many clones. What annoys me about this type of review is that it grossly underestimates children (would someone look at a pile of Lincoln Logs and say "those are too complicated for kids"?) and makes a basic assumption that anything that engages someone's mind is destined for failure. If we expect the worst from people in our society, isn't that what we'll get?

4. Thrillville: Off the Rails
Metacritic score - 73
Sample Review - "It's perfect for children, for whom things don't have to "be integrated" or "logical". A series of semi-amusing, unconnected activities: sounds a lot like a sandbox, which, once you graduate middle school, loses its charm unless you can bring your gat." (Games Radar)
My Comments - In other words, once you turn 14 years of age it's no longer possible to enjoy a sandbox game if it doesn't involve robbing banks and killing prostitutes. You know, integrated logical games like Grand Theft Auto. In Thrillville, you get to design your own theme park, build roller coasters (and ride them!), and try out a variety of well-designed mini-games, all of which are apparently activities that only appeal to elementary school kids. If only you could punish guests who complained about your park by beating them with a baseball bat, maybe Thrillville could aspire to GTA's sense of realism...

5. Sacred 2: Fallen Angel
Metacritic score - 71
Sample Review - "If you can accept it for its dated gameplay, underwhelming visuals, and pervasive bugs, then you may find something of value in this old-school hack-and-slash RPG. All other prospective dungeon crawlers are best advised to take a pass on this fallen flunk." (GameTrailers).
My Comments - I just don't get how this game slipped through the cracks. Dated gameplay? It plays almost exactly the same as World of Warcraft, which has a greater population of players than some developed nations! Pervasive bugs? I've put over 100 hours into the game and found bugs to be both rare and minor. Oblivion (another game I liked) received nothing but critical acclaim, and it was way more buggy than Sacred. Underwhelming visuals? Feh, I guess that depends on what you were expecting. I think the game has very solid graphics, and the variety of enemy models and environments is truly staggering. Compare it to Borderlands (for example), which has a very drab and repetitive art style, and Sacred easily comes out on top in that category.

Again, this is the game on my list that I understand the least. Sacred is like a combination of Diablo and World of Warcraft, which is like mixing chocolate and crack cocaine. Yet reviewers hated it. Why? I'm still not sure, but anyone who likes open-world fantasy RPGs should give this one a try.

1 comment:

  1. I'd like to trade my morning latte for "chocolate and crack cocaine."

    Awesome post!