Not my cup of tea

I'm no great fan of games journalism but I'll admit it has been getting a little better over time. For example, the days a reviewer who openly hates a certain genre of game writing a review of a game in that genre and panning it are, generally, over. What I have noticed, though, is that it's becoming quite common for games trying something different and being criticised for it for not doing it "right", meaning the way the reviewer was expecting it. The same reviewers, mind you, who usually harp on about innovation. The reviewers who think they are part of quality control and game design and think their input is a necessary requirement to make a game good.

Three titles that have received this treatment recently in various dark corners of the internet and pod-sphere, which, I'll admit, are three titles I personally am a great fan of, are Mirror's Edge, Little Big Planet and Biohazard 5. And some of the reactions have me stumped.

In Mirror's Edge, for example, the player, through her parcour adventures, may pick up a gun or two. It was obviously a design decision to handle this a certain way, namely that it interferes with the running and jumping, which is what the game is about after all. So you can pick up a gun, yes, you can use it, yes, but really you should be thinking on your feet, literally. Grab, fire, drop and run. Aside from the fact this is a refreshing approach in the usually gun-porn heavy FPS genre, I like it for forcing the player to stick to the game's main control scheme. Yet, if some reviewers are to be believed, if you show a gun in a game, the game has to function as a full-blown FPS in the Call of Duty sense of the word. They moan that the intentional gimping of the controls is a tease, a broken design. Every game with guns, they imply, has to work as a perfect FPS shooting game, or else!

Biohazard too suffers from this reviewers' myopia. The game makes it impossible to run and shoot at the same time, which, as it did in Biohazard 4, causes some tense, intense moments where you sweat it out, cornered by a horde of zombies all coming at you with pickaxes and chainsaws. Every bullet you fire requires you to stand still and aim carefully, much like you would in real life incidentally. Yet people seem to complain you can't run and shoot at the same time, that when aiming the camera moves slower and that you can't strafe. In short, they complain it isn't Call of Duty or any other fast-action run-and-gun FPS.

Little Big Planet too has seen some controversy over their Z-jumping where, in an essentially 2D game the player is automatically put into one of three levels of depth. Now to be honest I too was a little disoriented by this. But a few levels in it just clicks and it doesn't become a problem anymore (except in a few badly designed levels floating out there). There are certain rules for the level-sorting and they make perfect sense, and once you wrap your head around it and don't fight it it works beautifully. But as it is essentially a 2D game experience people complain it isn't 2D enough and that this weird 3rd dimension to the levels with its automatic jumping around is a total game-breaker.

Of course there are plenty of people who, like me, love the games above and click nicely with the control schemes. But a small, often vocal minority seems to think doing something different it a bad thing. What is the harm in thinking something just is not your cup of tea? Personally I hated the early entries in the Biohazard series, mostly because of the controls. I didn't criticise them for doing it wrong, I didn't expect them to do it differently, I just didn't like it and hence didn't play the games. Only when Biohazard 4 came around did I give the series another go and I was hooked. (For non-Japanese Xbox360 users, by the way, the demo for Biohazard 5 is utterly awesome; it's Biohazard 4, basically, with a little plus alpha.)

The way Mirror's Edge designed its weapons use, Biohazard its limited moving and firing capabilities and Little Big Planet its 2.5 level sorting are uncommon, yes, and they might need some time to get used to. Some people might just plain not like it. But so what? It works for some. Don't demand a game to be more like what it isn't, open your mind or simply don't play it; just play the shooters and 2D platformers that conform to your expectations and leave the rest of us to enjoy something different.


  1. "For example, the days a reviewer who openly hates a certain genre of game writing a review of a game in that genre and panning it are, generally, over."

    Hehe, I thought this too, until I read this review:

    Egad, comparisons with Fifa! :(

    I entirely agree with this post, the picking up of minor (sometimes innovative) features of a game as a core component that is "done wrong" is just silly. Reading a few odd Mirrors Edge reviews I can easily pick out those who "get it" and are good at writing these things, and those who just don't.

  2. I think you're missing the fact that game reviewers aren't paid to just review games. They're paid to review games in a way that makes people want to read the review. An easy way to do that is to stick to one extreme or the other. "It was good, but..." isn't as exciting as "OMFG THIS BLOWS". Sadly.

  3. I haven't yet played the other two, but I appreciate your comments about Little Big Planet. It's understandable to me why so many gamers compare the running/jumping mechanics in LBP to Mario games, but I'm befuddled as to why the Mario Way is defensively perceived as the Golden Mean. LBP's system works well for the game it serves.

    Just as Mario's familiar mechanics were altered for Mario 64 and again for Mario Galaxy, mechanics must serve the games they're designed for. LBP is a very tactile game, and its controls communicate this feeling to the player quite well, in my view.

  4. Lyle's post embodies the gist of my thinking as well, that game reviewers are entertainment as well as informative. Its a lot easier to write an overwhelmingly negative review in a humorous style then to actually discuss its positive and negative facets.

    Anyway, all the games that have come out have done so by either breaking or perfecting the mold, not by staying the same. Its the gamers who make the ultimate decision, as long as we buy the games that pique our curiosity we decide what gets made. With an ever expanding market of new gamers across the age spectrum who have no preset idea of what a game 'should' feel like, the ones that stand out from the crowd will win out in the end.

  5. God, Odin Sphere gets a kick of that too. It's a side scrolling action game that commits 2 major crimes:
    1-You have to THINK and have a long term strategy for survival during each level.

    2-Thou Cannot Mash Thy Buttons. The game punishes you really hard if you're a masher.

    Dark Sector is one of those games where you read the review text and then you look at the number or letter score at the end and you wonder what's with the mismatch? Oh, it's the fact that Dark Sector isn't Gears of War. Great, will someone get this stupid fanboyism out of the review?

    1 paragraph earlier, the boss battles, puzzles and overall combat powers progression were being lauded and now it's being smacked for not being Gears of WAR?!

    Another qualm of mine is how long-winded reviews versus the amount of content in the review that actually matters.

  6. Hmm, I feel like I can agree with the gist of what you are trying to say but unfortunately I can't agree with the all the examples.

    LBP *DOES* have poor controls IMO. Personally I think it does needlessly meaning it would be better with different controls. I don't think it's new, it's just wrong because it's frustrating. Maybe wrong is too strong a word. How about, if it was well designed it would not be frustrating for so many people. I don't see how that's not obvious given the number of people that report being frustated by it. There are plently of semi 2d games where you walk in and out of the screen. LBP is not the first, most of the other games didn't have the frustration level that LBP has in that regard.

    So, since we have examples of things that work and we have many many people for whom LBP is not working it seems a pretty valid critisim to me.

    The Mirrors Edge one though I agree with. I had a similar issue with reviews of Metroid Prime. Acutally it was super highly rated but some people couldn't get past that they wanted it to be an FPS and it wasn't an FPS and they refused to recognize it wasn't an FPS so they'd keep trying to play it like an FPS and continuely be disappointed.

  7. Hey Michael Abbot posted here!
    Brainy Gamer shoutout!!!

    Anyway, awesome post. These are all points I have raised at some point or another with friends (especially the Bio5 gripes). I just sent this link off to a dozen people or so.

    Keep it up!!!

  8. So the gun controls in ME are deliberately gimped? I wasn't sure, since the aiming controls of Battlefield Bad Company (also by Dice) feel pretty horrible to me on the 360, and a long way behind Halo / CoD4.

    I'm also not sure what you're getting at with "much like you would in real life incidentally", when you're discussing a video game about zombies. The game clearly makes other breaks from strict reality in the name of having a better experience, so what has real life got to do with it? You seem to be saying "some reviewers didn't like that, which is a wrong opinion, whereas my opinion that these controls are good is the right opinion".

  9. Heh, yeah, I guess pointing to realism in a zombie game is ridiculous. The point I'm trying to make, though, is not that "my opinion is more valid than your opinion" but rather that people like to criticise games for having control schemes that do not conform to what they think should be the standard, and that I find annoying. Would Biohazard be better if it controlled like Half-Life? If that's what you want, then why not play Half-Life?

    Little Big Planet seems the most contentious and yes, there are a lot of people out there that HATE the level jumping; but I'm not one of them. It's part of the design decision and it works for some, not for others. LBP would have been a vastly different game had they omitted it. There might be room for tweaking but honestly, once it clicks it works beautifully so I can see why they did what they did (but also why some people don't like it).

  10. It makes *perfect* sense to critisize a zombie game for not being realistic. Having clearly defined breaks from reality does not mean that anything goes. Speculative fiction works because is shows how reality would be, if it was diferent. Thus RE is supposed to show you how would be forced to deal with zombies were they to appear in the real world.

  11. Hey JC, I found it odd that people claim it is the control scheme of BioShock that made run and gun impossible.

    When I was working on the controller input system, we looked at many 3rd person and FPS games for comparison, and the final system in terms of control and speed was on par with the better games out there.

    What made the difference is actually the AI in BioShock. AI in BioShock move faster than in other games, and most of the time they don't charge straight at you.

    In general, I find most game reviewers lack the design/technical understanding of a game to critique it properly. They find something they don't like and then speculate wildly as to the cause.

  12. I usually like reading your posts (as a foreigner living in Japan and video games enthousiast) however on this one I do not really see where you are getting at about game reviews.

    First, its not like game reviewers out there are newborns. We all have a history of gaming, and there are probably more commonalities than differences in the games we enjoyed and we experienced. And that being said, we all have expectations when it comes to playing - you expect your character to move left when you press left, not the opposite. If it went in another direction, ok, you can call that "different", "original", but you are merely finding an excuse for something that simply is not pratical or not logical in a game sense.

    I do not think the Z-axis in LBP was a very good idea. I do not care whether it works or not, LBP is a 2D game at heart, this Z-axis is making the position of your character look confusing in many situations, even when you do not have to think about jumping or moving to the foreground. You could definitely have had a LBP without any Z-axis while still retaining the same qualities. It is not about "originality", it just does not work well, and makes you feel like shit when you die because you simply did not notice exactly where you were standing. A game that allows design flaws means it is flawed itself.

    About Biohazard 5, I also find it stupid not to able to run while shooting. Its not what you would do in real life if you were about to die, right ? You would not patiently wait, aim, and risk being cut in pieces in the next second. THe first human instinct is to get the hell out of danger and strike with more confidence. Any game that lets you play otherwise just causes unnecessary stress on the player. Again, you can say its designed this way, but it does not mean it makes sense.

    And gaming is also about evolution. Ideas that did not work did not "stay". Basically the controls we are used to are the ones which have been proven to be working very well in the course of the years. I do not see any point in challenging what's best in class.

  13. @ekianjo:
    the mere fact you say something as subjective as "best in class" .... FPS controls are best for FPSs. Biohazard would be a vastly different game had it had FPS controls. If we are going to belabour my stupid "realism in a zombie game" comment, you can't properly aim a gun while running. The characters are sent there as problem solvers, not to run away. So there. They need to stand still and aim to be effective. Realism.
    No, people who don't like Biohazard's controls, fine, don't play it, it's not for you. Just stop demanding they change the entire game so it fits your FPS needs; just go out and play an FPS instead.
    Is kind of my point....
    It's an emotive subject, for sure, and opinions differ, I get that.

    It's true your average reviewer lacks any technical or design insight and knows nothing about development practices. Doesn't stop them ruminating about it though. :(
    Congrats on Bioshock, by the way. It's on my extremely short list of recent games I actually finished, completed; it was that good! :)

  14. ....Parkour......

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  16. Have to disagree with your blanket statement on why people dislike certain aspects of Biohazard 5's control scheme. I too thought people were complaining about nothing until I sat down to play it. The issue is, you can control the camera and run at the same time, but not shoot and walk at the same time.It is a matter of what sticks they put the controls on, and it just feels out of place, like something gets taken away as soon as you pull your weapon. I never noticed this in Biohazard 4 on Gamecube, but for some reason it definitely annoys me with BH5.

    Also try to cheer up! All your posts are doom and gloom. You live in a country where there is a lot of fun to be had. If you don't like your job, go freelance! You probably have a few titles under your belt to make this a realistic option.

    Good luck!

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