Over the past few days, gamers around the world are filled with glee now that the PS4 is available on store shelves. And many more gamers will be filled with glee once the Xbox One launches in about a week. Over the past year, the game industry has harped about how PS4 has superior hardware, how the Xbox One has superior online, how the PS4 has superior first-parties, how the Xbox One has a superior controller, how [fill in the blank, we've heard it all]. The differences between the two consoles seem numerous, but there's one thing they seem to have in common.
Average launch games.
"Average launch games?!?" you say? Well, if Metacritic is to believed, the headline titles for PS4 and Xbox One are just...average.
Two of PS4's biggest exclusives, Knack and Killzone Shadow Fall, have a 56 and 73 Metascore, respectively. Terrible? Well, maybe not. These are, after all, launch titles. Killer Instinct and Dead Rising 3 also sit in the mid-70s Meta range. Average games? Maybe not. These are, after all, launch titles.
Not like Metascore matters, though, right? It was about the time that Uncharted 2's number of Perfect 10s skyrocketed that the gaming media and certain sects of forum warriors decided unilaterally "Metacritic doesn't matter anymore". Then again, if you have a game like Knack averaging less than 60/100 on Metacritic, there must be something wrong with the game, right?
Perhaps neither Sony nor Microsoft were ready for next gen. Maybe they rushed these games. Maybe it's a bit too early to 'jump in'. Instead of 'Greatness Awaits', we should've waited for greatness. That is, if Metacritic and the reviewed posted on Metacritic are worth any serious consideration.
Honestly, I don't think the games they've shown are as bad as the scores let on. Rather, I think there are a few other factors at work here.
First, let's just tackle the elephant in the room: gaming journalism is corrupt as can be. Am I blaming the low scores on bribes or lack of professionalism? Partly. Every new generation is a fresh start, a new beginning, a chance for game companies to prove themselves. The last year has shown that a beloved game company can quickly fall from grace if they go against their fans' desires. And to be perfectly fair, all three "flubs" (Xbox One, Wii-U, Vita) have been quick to change their tune and try to appease their fans. All three "flubs" have recovered remarkably from their low point earlier in the year.
On the other hand, journalists have been slower to catch up. A lot of journalists were blindsided by Microsoft's announcement of the Xbox One and its draconian policies. Trying to be good fans, they spun each piece of negative news but eventually it got to be too much. Certain journalists *cough*Sessler*cough* have continued to show their bias, but for the most part gaming journalism has re-aligned itself and they're ready to do their job and report gaming news fairly. And with that in the cards, journalists don't want to look too soft. They don't want to be seen as 'biased' to either the PS4 nor the Xbox One. Result? Lower review scores.
There's another factor at work. For all of last gen, we dealt with "review score bloat". An 8/10 for a AAA title was an outrage. A 7/10 for a AAA title was a death sentence. Every game that was - supposedly - worth playing averaged in the very high 80s but typically a 90 or above was a requisite for being considered a top-tier title. Year after year, more and more 9/10 games came out. Year after year, the 9/10s were rolled out for pretty much any and every big-name franchise.
And that was idiotic.
What we might be seeing is reviewers hitting the Reset button on review scores. Instead of front-loading the generation with 9/10s and 10/10s, reviewers are being a bit stingier with their praise, which is perfectly fine. C'mon, we ALL konw that these launch titles will be *okay*, but they'll be surpassed in a few years when bigger and better games come along. Does anyone disagree? As such, there's no value in bloating their scores. It'll only continue the toxic trend of review bloat.
Is review bloat the only reason why these next-gen titles are getting such average scores? Nah, I think in some cases it really is just good ol' bias and lack of integrity. That's never going to go away. What is important - as a gamer - is to read the reviews and try to discern whether YOU will or won't like the game in question. Sadly, most reviews lack any critical thought. The reviewer explains the mechanics, talks about some cool mechanics, talks about some flaws, and then hands down an arbitrary score (which often doesn't even seem to match the tone of the review itself). Most reviews are terrible at actually giving you enough good information to draw your own conclusion.
I do hope, however, that journalists ARE hitting the Reset on review bloat. What we as gamers must do is hit the Reset on Metacritic (so to speak). We need to stop being so obsessed with differences in score (and differences in sales numbers...OH GOODNESS PLEASE) and instead focus on the content and value of the game. When review scores lose their power over us as a gaming community, reviewers won't abuse them. Better yet, videogame publishers won't manipulate news outlets in order to acquire better review scores, which is what led to the widespread corruption in the game journalist industry in the first place.
Are the PS4's (and Xbox One's) launch games really that bad? Hmmm, kinda. These are launch games. I hope that no one is so caught up in the marketing hype that they REALLY believe these games are going to be landmark titles. They're launch titles. They'll be fun. They'll be okay. But these games probably aren't all that mind-blowing. And guess what? That's perfectly okay. I don't need a game to have a 90+ Metascore or high praise from a so-called "professional" reviewer for me to enjoy a game, and neither should you.