On Tuesday during a break at work, I sat down and noticed that Eurogamer had posted its review of the eagerly-anticipated and largely-hyped PS3 exclusive Uncharted 3. After thoroughly enjoying the previous entry in the series last year, I was keen to find out just how well, or badly, the latest iteration had turned out. And even though that the last month-and-a-half have cleaned me out with the traditional glut of high quality games, I'm always on the look-out for more, because quite frankly, I want to experience them all. What separates Uncharted 3 from the rest, however, is that it is up there on the fabled list of games I will play, regardless of reviews.
I read the Eurogamer review from top to bottom with interest - and it's worth noting that this doesn't happen often - and I was absolutely engrossed with the actual piece itself. Beautifully written by Simon Parkin (who works for Eurogamer as well as Edge, the Telegraph and more) it enthusiasticly describes his appreciation and love for the series and the game itself. But the central concept of the review is a critique of games that are so tightly scripted that there's little scope for freedom of play. Uncharted is not alone in this style of gameplay, of course, but it is a facet upon which the series really hangs its hat. All of its positives and negatives can be attributed to this style, from the spectacular graphical set-pieces to the moment-to-moment gun play. I reached the end of the review and saw the score - 8/10, and I felt myself give out a little disappointed sigh. Not because I disagree with the score, but because I know what the inevitable response in the article's comments is going to be like.
And so it comes as no surprise when I see comments bemoaning the 8 and the focus of the review. Without a hint of irony, the fact Simon has dared to score lower than the Metacritic average comes almost as an insult to them. With a few vehemently demanding he be fired - obvlivious to the fact that he works for Eurogamer on a purely reelance basis. Others scream that Simon and Eurogamer are biased - or, as the ignorant, illiterate internet illuminati usually prefer to claim, the grammatically incorrect bias. Of course, there are some who put together a reasonable, decent argument against Simon's view, which is fair enough but for the most part, the comments remind me of going to the zoo and seeing a load of agitated monkeys hurling themselves around their enclosure, screaming and screeching as loud as they possibly can.
Perhaps it wouldn't bother me as much if I hadn't seen it so many times before, especially recently where both Gears of War 3 and Battlefield 3 also received an 8. Every time there is a review of a major game and it scores 9 or below, there's an outcry that the score is too low. And when there's a 10, there's a vocal minority who will say the score is too high. The reviewers are in the position where they are biased if they do, and biased if they don't.
I have put some thought in to this recently and if you follow me on Twitter you may have witnessed some ranting on this very subject, as I do believe what a lot of people expect from a review is not the same as what they should be getting. Let's start with the big ol' elephant in the room - the score and the importance thereof. For simplicity's sake I'm will refer to scores out of 10. I do not believe this method to be any more or less valid than sites and other publications that use a 5 star system or an 100% method. Here's a statement I will whole-heartedly stand by: 8 is a good score. 8 is a score a developer should be proud of. Sadly, it seems a lot of games reviewers seem to be stuck in a position where 7 - 10 seems to be their entire range, with 7 becoming their way of saying a game is not worth buying. It's something I won't go into any further as it's a topic that has been discussed many times previously, but it seems when sites dare to use the entire spectrum of the scale they get criticised heavily as 7 has become the average baseline rather than 5. Likewise, 10 should not mean a game is perfect. It should allow for flaws but reflect the fact that this game has that polish, that level of quality, that something special to rise above it all and be recognised as a potential future classic.
My second statement is one I can't believe I'm having to make - reviews are the personal opinion of the writer. It represents their view of the game as filtered through their experiences and enjoyment during play. Reviews do not reflect your opinion of the game/series/developer/console. Why would they? So stop treating them as such. If you want to read nothing but overly gushing descriptions of the features of AAA titles you should probably go read the press release. Or IGN. Thirdly, I'd like to add that context is king. I had a short discussion via Twitter today where I was asked why Uncharted 3 was criticised for its focused linearity and given an 8, where as Modern Warfare 2 (the 6th Call of Duty) was given a 9 and arguably does exactly the same thing. I gave a quick response then, and have been considering it ever since, and the only answer I have is that context is king. Modern Warfare 2 in my eyes is a multiplayer game. I cannot remember anything about the single player beyond the controversial "No Russian" level but the multiplayer was extremely well done with the quasi-RPG levelling being refined to near perfection. Single player was little more than a bullet point to put on the box and it has been that way since the original Modern Warfare years prior. Reviews had been in that context, and are also nearing 2 years old themselves now, bringing time into that equation as well (will Modern Warfare 3 make the same critical impact now? I'm not so sure).
If we are to bring MW2 into the discussion then it would be more appropriate to compare it with Uncharted 2, also released in 2009, given a 10 by Eurogamer's editor Tom Bramwell and awarded its game of the year. It is now the year 2011 and while the landscape hasn't changed so dramatically, the games industry is not where it was this time two years ago. But is it unfair to suggest that just because Uncharted 3 sticks to its proven formula that it deserves to be "marked down"? Should games be reviewed in a vacuum of sorts, free from the context of other games and the passage of time? The first question is certainly up for much debate but the fact I've even seen the latter proposed, frankly boggles my mind. Games will always be compared to other games and even other media like film and television. Who we are, our likes and dislikes are governed by our experiences, by what we've watched, read, played and lived. We do not live in a vacuum so we should not expect the same of reviews.
Finally, done correctly, there is no such thing as a "wrong" review. Eurogamer doesn't go out to troll its readers, it's plain daft to suggest so. Yes, I had a sly pop at IGN earlier on, but assuming they're not a paid-for mouth-piece, their high scoring enthusiasm has as much validity as the likes of the hyper-critical Edge scores. In the end, the real beauty of Simon Parkin's review was not what he thought of Uncharted 3 but that he was. able to articulate the why of it all so well.
In the end we'll all look at various reviews and decide whether or not we agree with it or not before we've even played a second of it. That's OK, we can't help it. But the great unwashed masses could do with bearing in mind that if a review doesn't follow the current line set in Metacritic or doesn't confirm what they believe then it's not down to bias and it's not down to a bad reviewer, in fact it may well be the opposite.
So the only question I have left is "Do you agree or disagree?"