“Are you kidding me?!?! Absolute nonsense!”
“This joke of a review has no right to be posted here!”
“Could you be any more desperate for clicks? I can-“
“…are we even playing the same game? This is-“
*continued bleating of angry fans echoing throughout the cosmos as a new PS4 exclusive isn’t universally considered the next masterpiece to grace consoles.*
The next entry into one of N4G’s longest-running blog series is upon us! And not a moment too soon! Because just when you think more people would utilize the hyper-democratized internet to spread good news about a game they’ve played, build bonds discussing said game with like-minded peers, or simply anything productive, a cluster of the community act like bad-tempered babies at the sight of something running contrary to their expectations. So what’s caused such a commotion that’s sporadically distracted people from playing and enjoying said game in question, you may ask? Today’s victim is Days Gone receiving less-than-stellar review scores accumulating to a 72 on MetaCritic (with a similar enthusiasm displayed on other aggregate sites). Oh the humanity.
Since I’ve expunged some derisive urges up above, it’s fair to add a couple of considerations:
• No, none of what’s to be stated should be considered a disincentive to challenge critics on their consistency, reasoning, and/or honesty when push comes to shove.
• As I’m sure you’re all aware, that doesn’t grant permission for caustic members to act like they’re free to harass critics. Contentions on where to draw the line on engaging with them acknowledged, I think we can all agree it’s a bad look when someone like Gamespot’s Kallie Plagge is having a heart-to-heart with the mom of someone who hurled insults her way for giving Days Gone is a 5/10 (1). Obviously she took it with gusto, yet there’s still something so cringe-worthy in seeing that attitude. Thumbs up for that guy resuscitating gamer stereotypes too.
Bloated qualifiers out of the way, I need to stress that the arguments I’m going to be posting here don’t mean I’m in agreement with Days Gone’s harsher critics; in truth, I’m not fit to pass judgment on its quality when I’ve only put in about eight hours. How’s it treating me thus far? Pretty well. After getting over the bad first hour-and-a-half, I’m surprised with how easy it is to get into ‘checklist mode’ of destroying nests and earning trust with the two camps. It’s hitting those same strides as a solid Ubisoft open world game thus far. I have criticisms to plaster at some gameplay mechanics, characters, and godawful framerate issues (on base PS4); having noted these preliminary opinions, I’m still at this stage where I’m moderately enjoying myself—and who knows how much more/less I’ll enjoy later on.
All this said, let’s weed out review-rage and get to the actual arguments that apply to the wider context of our current review culture.
1.) “The problem is the general audience would’ve only experienced the 1.03/1.04 version onward, so game journalists describing technical issues that would’ve been cleared after their playtime impairs scores to an extent. If that’s the case, perhaps they ought to go back to reevaluate.”
While I grasp the notion of giving the release-date version of Days Gone a fairer shake when an alleged plethora of software bugs have been cleaned up so quickly, reviewers weren’t given a version that was more agreeable to Bend Studios’ & Sony’s score interests; they experienced the 1.0 state because that’s what the publisher approved for shipping. And reviewing a work based on one’s initial experience has been the precedent set since games reviewing has been a thing. Why should the consumer public need to sympathize with a publisher’s deliberate action of pushing a game out instead of doing more QA testing and delaying? It’s true that Day-1 patches have become a norm; at the same time, Days Gone should be a clear lesson that such a mindset is risky. Leaving in too many “known shippables” (2) to fix in version 1.02, .03, etc. can come back to bite you.
There’s also another aspect attached here which causes me to question anyone’s intentions: ending review copies altogether. Little mental effort is required to see what complications may entail. For starters, skepticism in one’s own product is implicitly communicated to the consumer when aggregate sites show no entered reviews upon arrival. Some didn’t appear to pay much heed when I warned about it with Bethesda’s review policy on no early review copies (3), but needless to say the…*cough*…fallout from Fallout 76 has vindicated my worries; furthermore, it’s not shocking to see Bethesda pirouetting from that previous position with their coming releases (4). Next, this idea places a newfound pressure on reviewers having to get through the game, jot down some notes during play, and write their review as quickly as possible. How much value will you put in a critic when deadlines are calling for him/her to hurry through the game? Not to also ignore the fact of how negligible reviews would be anyway in this system.
In essence, your capricious call to either end review copies or fundamentally change the review process can have stifling effects on the industry. Worry about how polished the 1.0 version is instead.
2.) “And I would’ve received a better score too if it weren’t for you meddling SJW’s!”
Now, granted, the way I’ve mockingly presented #2 goes against my usual method of steelmanning these arguments. And I’m fine with that. Because there’s few other criticisms against game journalists that’ve become so insipid and downright insulting to my cranium. The key reason quite simply comes back to the lesson of “The Boy Who Cried Wolf.” It’d be one thing if said scores would be influenced by the importunate amount of manspreading throughout the game, but I’ve yet to come across that level of reasoning here. And although I can’t speak to all low-scored reviews, I did peruse Gamespot’s and Polygon’s to see if those banal accusations hold water here. Maybe the label gets hurled at me for not seeing the liberal bias, but you’re free to take a gander yourselves (5) (6).
Acting so vociferously towards Plagge’s 5/10 is still one that leaves me confused. Well…not towards the rough score. That’s easily understood. And though I think there’s a dearth of positive sentiments I’d personally give to counterbalance her negatives, the ways in which she reached a conclusion aren’t disharmonious with her praise of another open-world shooter: Red Dead Redemption II. You can look at the pro’s and con’s from those two side-by-side and realize what she values from these games. Within various paragraphs there’s scrutiny given about how Days Gone handles character development, story structure, game structure, and what the open world has to offer. An interesting dichotomy has been made in my head parsing out the enthusiasm between the two, which leaves me worried for Days Gone’s progression. After escaping the snow in RDR II, there’s so many opportunities for interlocking engagements to occur that breath life and meaning into various interactions. I haven’t been sucked into Days Gone quite the same way but am curious to move forward. As with Days Gone, I haven’t completed RDR II but a similar kind of worry is there for the writing of Deacon St. John compared to Arthur Morgan.
If these are the types of ‘SJW criticisms’ that you think are poisoning review culture then I’m not sure if there’s any helping you. I’ve been open about politics in games and considering it within reviews before (7) (8) (9), of which I’m open to criticism and challenge, but such hardly even applies here. We’re talking about a reviewer getting flak for—momentarily—broaching the issue of how this story-heavy game doesn’t do a good job with story. And, yeah, storytelling does include the framing of the main character: motivations, challenges, and more. Theming, tone, characters are all things worth examining and have been occurring far, far longer than any argued soy infiltration of games media.
The same type of surprise occurred to me when checking out Polygon’s review too. The closest thing to identity politics inserted would be describing his scruffy beard and winsome persona. Maybe that’s considered a leftist dog-whistle for the whole ‘white male protagonist’ controversy? I don’t know. I can’t stand such a bad-faith consideration (regardless of which side does it). To reiterate: I haven’t read all of Days Gone’s negative reviews; that said, when two of the most constantly castigated examples contain more noteworthy analysis than the mundane YouTuber criticizing them (10), ‘tis time to reconsider how you approach critics you so despise.
To be honest, these diatribes strike me as a snowflake’s attitude. Speaking of which…next point!
3.) “The problem comes down to a disparate qualitative standard placed upon Sony exclusives. Critics are overeager to jump on sour spots of their 1st party titles, rather than remain objective and even-handed.”
Out of all the obnoxious qualities fans can have towards their favorite company, this is one of the most unpleasant. It’s one thing for you to personally find the track record of a publisher to be rock-solid; it’s another when your modus operandi for what other people may be critiquing is to just consider it in bad faith. This nowise suggests there aren’t biases found in every reviewer; that’s how opinions have always operated. But it sure is convenient how you’re able to narrow said biases down to “reviewers like to go after my favorite system on occasion” right after an exclusive doesn’t hit your perceived scoring threshold.
It’s also mind-boggling when this defense is utilized. The most prominent example of this used before Days Gone was The Order: 1886, a bad game critics mistakenly thought was mediocre. I’ve got to ask: what’s with this inane defense of Sony’s most typical exclusives of this generation? Third-person corridor & open-world shooters are the most populated genres within the AAA space, so it’s already a contentious market to say the least. It seems more rational to understand Days Gone on those terms. The overall sentiment shouldn’t even strike anyone of it being a bad game, just following in line with recent releases of Just Cause 4, Far Cry New Dawn, and other 2nd-tier open-world games. And if review-copy woes were as annoying as I’ve heard along with quality-of-life issues, design frustrations, story complaints, and more, I’ve got news for you: that low-70 is artificially buoyed, not deflated, by it being an exclusive 1st-party title.
What’s most frustrating about all of this noise is that there are nuggets of potentially interesting conversations to be had within those numbered arguments listed above. Questions about how & when it’s conducive to your audience to check certain biases or developer/publisher ethics in this ‘patch culture’ have sturdy legs. But nothing gets anywhere when the petulant Sony Apologencia gets to have the most say while disparaging virtually anyone’s thoughts when it’s underneath a certain point threshold. If you’re one of those people who have issues coming to terms with others’ perception of a game you like and need to conjure up the more spurious of the claims I’ve listed above, I hope you consider the counterarguments. And try to grow up.