Perceived Value

A strange trend seems to be emerging within the review process for games. If something lacks a large quantity of content, the score goes down regardless of the quality. For example, Dirt: Showdown was given a lukewarm reception because it’s career mode is short.

I completely disagree with that assessment. I found the game to be extremely enjoyable and a decent attempt at a Burnout style game from a company known for realism. The physics felt wonderful and the damage modeling looked amazing.

For $60 though, I could maybe see the point. There isn’t a tremendous amount of stuff to do, but the included modes and cars are furiously entertaining. Then again, I got the game in a Steam sale for $5, so maybe my acceptance of it’s “lack of content” comes down to perceived value.

Gamers exist in a world where the generally accepted $60 price point is not the only way to buy a game. That may have never been the case, but every game launches at $60 at retail whether it should or not.

I know during the PS2/Xbox/GCN era, we saw a bunch of B-games come out at reduced rates. Those titles clearly knew they weren’t going to set the world ablaze and kept their MSRP low to garner more sales.

This led to titles like The Suffering and GUN becoming hits despite not being of the best quality. One of my favorite games from the era, Psi-Ops: The Mindgate Conspiracy, was a huge failure due to launching at a full retail price point.

And possibly that “To Be Continued…” ending.

Without the expectation of “$60 thrills,” games like those are allowed to be rated fairly and given a chance to entertain. If Aliens: Colonial Marines didn’t have the audacity to launch at full price, it may have not been as negatively received.

A person’s own perception may shift that idea. Games like Dead Space and Max Payne are fairly short, but have been showered with praise from gamers and critics alike. Everyone seems to think that the general polish and feel of the games is worth their higher launch prices, even if you could get extensive experiences for less.

Bethesda had started talks about this when Skyrim was nearing launch. The director of Elder Scrolls 5, Todd Howard, stated, “I do think industry-wide we would benefit from more games out at $19 or $29. I would try more games. Because I’m not going to try a game for $60. It’s a tough decision.”

That does make sense. Without having a wide range of titles to enjoy, you begin to fall into a rut and give-up on gaming entirely. Without those fresh, different, unique games, one gets jaded to the whole practice.

Valve has done their best to remedy that situation. While Steam sales may not be the best answer, they show that any title can become popular and lucrative if given a better price.

I can even attest to it. While I wouldn’t recommend Dirt: Showdown to serious simulation racer enthusiasts, anyone looking for a rambunctious time slamming cars together will not find a better title.

Yeah, $60 is a bit much, but getting the game for $5 will give you weeks of enjoyment. That lower price lets you feel out whether the game is for you and how the online mode functions. FYI, smashing others online is a blast.

The year is 2015 and we’re still dealing with full retail price. $60 is not going to cut it anymore, especially not when disasters like Batman: Arkham Knight launch on PC and just assume $60 is correct.

I think reviewers should be looking beyond the dollar value when evaluating games. It may be easy to write in that something isn’t worth full price, but don’t let that negatively effect your perception of the game.

A lot of deserving titles will get slammed because their prices are insane. Just because the games market is a broken mess doesn’t mean the title is, too. And to developers; it doesn’t speak negatively of your game to price it at $40.

Reviewing One’s Experience

So Batman: Arkham Knight is a flaming pile of excrement, right? Well, only if you’re playing the PC version. Otherwise, the game runs fine and looks great. Should those negative review scores be revised, then? When WB and Iron Galaxy squash all the bugs, should we demand critics re-evaluate the game?

With this weeks latest controversy over a game release, I began thinking about an old idea of mine. When does objective criticism and personal experience become a factor in a game review? A game cannot cater to every specific customer at once, but we see fans demanding such a thing from writers.

The constant stream of, “No way this game is a 5,” and “Too much batmobile. 7/10,” are just pathetic. At the same time, maybe we should be seeing more objective takes on current games.

While I used to be all about leaving personal experience out of the equation, I’ve shifted my viewpoint in more recent times. Unless a game has actual game breaking bugs (Which Arkham Knight does on PC), you can’t truly call it a bad game. If it makes even one person happy, then it has not failed.

Even made me question humanity. I’d call that a win.

I’ve enjoyed a lot of critically panned games. Binary Domain is a brilliant shooter, but most reviewers couldn’t be assed with it. Long Live the Queen is a charming text-based adventure, but critics didn’t find a lot to love. Goat Simulator is also quite shat on, but I love how hilariously stupid it can be.

My friend is also quite fond of WWE 2k15 on PS4. We both agree the game is a horrible, broken mess, but the glitches produce some of the most outrageous moments we’ve had in a long time. There isn’t another game out there where Sting can do a split in mid-air while Hogan gets stuck inside the ropes.

I’m getting tired of seeing people complain about review scores, as well. If someone personally feels that a game should be rated a 5, you don’t have any right to refute them. You don’t have to agree, but to shout that they are wrong is ludicrous.

The 10 point scale for reviewing has long been abused. Critics will give average games a 7 and that tilts the scale in a negative way. Now anything below a 7 isn’t worth looking at, which means that 7 is actually 5 and 5 then becomes something like a 3.

I believe that has more to do with how ingrained school grading has become in society, but it still leads to a misconception about the quality of a game. It also does nothing to inform a reader if the game is any fun.

I remember when GamePro still existed. They used to grade games in 4 different fields; Graphics, Sound, Control and Fun Factor. A game could get low marks in the first three, but Fun Factor was ultimately what most people were curious about.

Ah, memories.

Even if you end up hating a game after grinding away at it, the fun you had when you first popped it in should be worth it. If you live your life regretting the decisions you make and looking to strangers online for confirmation, you’re doing something wrong with your life.

What truly tipped in into this line of thinking was the end of 2011. I was eagerly waiting for games like Uncharted 3, Saints Row: The Third and Duke Nukem Forever. Those all quickly became my least favorite from their respective franchises, but it also taught me a thing about believing in reviews online.

At the end of the day, the only person who will know you best is yourself. You cannot rely on someone’s opinion when making a purchase. You should obviously reference a review to gauge any glaring errors in playability, but some person who has never met you is not a good indicator of something you may like.

Why should I care if some random jerk thinks my favorite game is trash? Unless he is threatening game developers or personally assaulting my family, I don’t know why his thoughts should impact mine. I like the damn game and that is that.

This may be a bit sidetracked, but I just wish people would learn to use reviews for what they are; opinionated viewpoints. They are one person’s account of how they saw the game. If you typically agree with that person, then the review might just be for you.

Yeah; this guy.

So at the end of the day, I believe personal experience should weigh more in a review score. Instead of trying to remove any trace of humanity from a piece, inject more of your own belief into it.

As indie game writer Rob Marrow told me, “Of course I’m bias. I don’t like this specific type of game.” You can’t always get what you want. Learn to deal with that.

Batman is a Jerk…

Gaming has been host to plenty of superheroes. For the most part, their games have been either entertaining or mildly annoying. Batman has produced a couple of pretty good hits, but his big turnaround happened with the Batman: Arkham series. Traveler’s Tales, developers behind the Lego games, must have never got the memo.

When I started off with Lego Batman 2, I didn’t really know what to expect. I gave up the Lego games because they were all essentially the same. I gave this a shot because a friend of mine came over and urged me to play it. Well, not only is Lego Batman 2 a fairly mundane and annoying game, but the story ruins it.

For starters, Superman makes absolutely no sense in regards to the game. There are numerous puzzles where Batman and Robin will be trapped on the other side of a pit of fire, yet Superman cannot fly them across.

Traveler’s Tales has never been at the absolute cusp of quality, but its games have had charm to spare and plenty of low-pressure fun. Lego Batman 2, though, reverses that. Batman is portrayed as a headstrong blowhard and Superman is a bumbling idiot. Poor Robin has to deal with these people and you wonder why he hasn’t quit yet.

There is one instance early on in the game where Batman throws Robin off of a platform and jumps after him. They are pretty much dead at this point, but then Superman sweeps in. Batman has no regard for Robin’s wellbeing and ends up looking like a jerk.

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After that level, Batman learns that The Joker and Lex Luthor are planning on using Kryptonite to power some gun that disintegrates objects. Robin knows this is Superman’s weakness and tries to persuade Batman to tell him. Batman yells about how they aren’t calling Superman and ends up looking selfish. Some kind of hero, right?

To make matters worse, the rest of the Justice League are only present for two levels. Their role in the plotline is so contrived and ham-fisted that I wonder why Traveler’s Tales even bothered. I understand that having all these characters gives the game a greater longevity, but when their powers end up replacing all of Batman’s suits, you wonder why they weren’t called in sooner.

That’s my chief problem with this game: necessity. I fully understand that no game is ever a required part of being alive, but what exactly does Lego Batman 2 provide over its predecessor? A large, Lego-fied Gotham City isn’t enough to keep me going.

There are so many instances of lazy writing that I don’t even know where to begin. One of the very first levels has you building Robin’s helicopter so that you can chase Joker. You manage that and Batman ends up almost falling into the ocean. Well, he thankfully calls his own jet in at the last second. Wait, why didn’t he do that to begin with?

Later, Batman and Superman somehow trade places to fool Joker and Lex Luthor into revealing their plan. The plot works and the two heroes then give chase to the villains. But wait, The Joker used Kryptonite to weaken Superman, who ends up being crushed by an anvil when he’s Batman. Shouldn’t he be dead?

The final nail in the coffin is how the last boss is defeated. Batman calls down a laser from space with the help of the Justice League. A giant robot is rampaging throughout Gotham and Batman waits until the very last second to utilize his laser … which could have ended the conflict immediately … and was extremely easy to acquire.

Really, what does this all say about the actual gameplay segments? Well, with Superman in tow, why are there segments where he is arbitrarily disabled? Superman cannot walk through electricity. I guess it must be made of Kryptonite. Hell, the Man of Steel can’t even swim!

Then you have the Justice League member, Cyborg, who can use Superman’s laser eye technique. Well, that’s just wonderful. Why bother with Superman? Oh, he can fly. Well, so can Wonder Woman and Green Lantern!

Lego Batman 2 is so dedicated to stuffing the roster full of characters that it forgets that these heroes should have individuality. All the villains manage to have distinct battles, so why can’t the heroes have some form of differentiation?

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Then the floaty controls come into play and make you wonder why the entire thing couldn’t just be built around Superman. I know that an already easy game would be practically on auto-pilot at that point, but I’m so sick of backtracking with Robin’s stupid hamster ball thing when Superman can just pick him up.

I will say that the co-op works surprisingly well. For once, you aren’t locked to a single screen. The game has some weird split that tries to morph the screen based on a character’s position in the room, but it beats being confined to a small box. It also makes the other player envious that he can’t fly!

On the whole, I do not like Lego Batman 2. It tries very hard to provide a different world for a Lego game, but sticks to artificial puzzle challenge to lengthen the game. When the universe of the game contradicts the powers of its heroes, you know something is wrong.