Posts Tagged ‘ Real Warfare: 1242

Hope Is the First Step on the Road to Disappointment

Would you believe I volunteered to do this review of Real Warfare: 1242? Me either.

This is the price you pay for optimism. I installed the game and played the first level, and while I didn’t think it looked brilliant, it looked like it might be a pleasant diversion. Since most games like this don’t get reviewed, I thought I would take a crack at it.

L.B. Jeffries once wrote about why he sometimes takes a detour into shovelware. He said it applies a corrective to the “quality bias” that sometimes colors a lot of game criticism.

Almost all reviewers and critics that I read suffer from a quality bias. If all you do is play highly polished, sophisticated AAA games or acclaimed indie titles then you’re only playing the cream of the crop. This leads to a lot of nitpicking. Complaints that the controls “could be smoother” or “the story is a bit dull” are all a bit grating because these are highly personal, impossible to perfect attributes.

Basic achievements like the game working, having a coherent story, and me not wanting to quit after ten minutes of play are all things that are difficult to put into words.

I’m torn on this. On the one hand, I want to believe him here, so that the hours and hours I spent on Real Warfare: 1242 are something more than a life-stealing waste. But I’m not sure I grant the premise that playing bottom-of-the-barrel disasters really helps us get the right critical perspective. In fact, I think it might be harmful.

Reviewers love to complain about the 7 to 10 or 7 to 9 grading scale that afflicts game criticism, especially with big-budget titles. A crummy AAA game gets a score of 7, and a really good one gets a 9. There are a lot of reasons for this. It’s probably exhausting fighting battles against vindictive publishers and their PR people. Review aggregation and the deafening volume of instant opinions on Twitter push everyone, subconsciously or not, toward the median judgment. And maybe most of the people reviewing games are just bad at it, for one reason or another.

But I think something else is at work, too. Most review scales are using an out-of-date calibration. The 1 to 10 scale, or whatever scale you want to use, used to reserve the lowest scores for hopelessly broken and buggy games. There were a lot more of them twenty years ago. “Unplayably bad” was a common verdict. These days, it isn’t. Quality control really has improved throughout the industry. These days a buggy game means features that don’t work right, or an AI that misses some important tricks. Twenty-year ago, a buggy game crashed every time you opened a certain window, or had a number of commands that simply did not work.

By those standards, yes, most games are pretty good these days. The standards for incompetence have changed. Real Warfare: 1242 works just fine, for instance, except for the fact it’s awful.

So should we play terrible games to cure ourselves of the Quality Bias? Or should we celebration the general rise in standards, and stop pretending that the bottom of the review scale should be reserved for the most incompetent and non-functional products? Manohla Dargis isn’t watching Youtube videos and student films to help her keep studio pictures in perspective. Technical competence is the least we should expect from our entertainment. No more points for being better than the worst possibility.