You don’t have to like the Penny Arcade guys (hey, plenty of people don’t) to like what they’re doing. The recent game-reviewing spat (exacerbated by Gerstmann’s suspicious firing) is really relatively tame compared to their past feuds with, say Jack Thompson. Anyway, I think it comparatively obvious that Gabe is right—game reviews have adopted the approach of newspaper movie reviews and devolved to being dominated by their metrics. This is the same phenomenon that creates those movie print ads that heavily feature 5-star raves and “two thumbs up”. Some gaming companies adopt the same approach, touting 10/10 scores and the like, to the exclusion of giving any idea what the gameplay is about. Consider Kane and Lynch, for example, the game that kicked off the present controversy. The advertisements feature a bunch of cutscene violence that looks decent, so I know the game is about killing dudes with reasonable graphical fidelity. But what’s the story? How does it feel to play the game? Why is ‘killing dudes with reasonable graphical fidelity’—a property shared by no less than 50% of extant games—their marketing focus? This is different from asking why it was their development focus; that’s a question for its own post.
The length and breadth of most gameplay, paired with the diversity of personal goals associated with a person’s approach to gaming, calls for a more measured and less numeric approach. Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time is a fantastic platformer wedded to a charming story and a dull combat system. For the platforming enthusiast it is a game sent from heaven, but someone who loves RPGs, fighting games, or 3rd person adventures might justifiably hate it. Game reviewers need to consider an alternative approach to reviewing games, one that pays less attention to a dubious and corrupt quantification scheme and puts more effort into opening a window for the reader onto the experience of playing.