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Judging Game Quality: J.D.’s Take

Upon the arrival of each new AAA video game, there are eager gamers everywhere anticipating the game reviews that accompany them. Will it live up to the hype, what works or doesn’t work, and, perhaps most importantly, how does it stack up against other similar games? Now herein lays an interesting question about game comparison. Can one definitively and objectively state that game A is superior to game B?

When Jeff first came to me with this dilemma, the answer seemed simple enough. Clearly we can see that there are indeed good games as well as bad games, Superman 64 is evidence enough of that, but what is it exactly that makes a game of good or bad quality? Engaging gameplay and intuitive control are the most obvious candidates that separate the different ends of the spectrum. Looking at it this way it seems that we could easily compare games to one another, but does control need to be perfect in order to be considered high quality? Let’s take Resident Evil 4 (RE4) as an example. RE4 is highly lauded in the gaming community even years after its initial release (2005) as well as after the release of its successors. However, it doesn’t control as smoothly as other shooting based games and could be considered “clunky” to control. The protagonist, Leon S. Kennedy, moves more like a tank than a person, but, as history will tell, it is critically acclaimed. Why? Simply put, it is supposed to control in this manner. As a survival horror based game, the reduced mobility adds to the sense of dread, suspense, and helplessness that this genre of game warrants. If it were to control more fluidly it would betray the genre and hurt the game.

So if a game doesn’t have perfect control but is still considered to be high quality, how can we tell whether or not a game is good? In order to answer that you have to understand:  the game’s genre, the developers intent, and the franchise. Knowing this, it becomes easier to grasp the quality of the game in question. While this may put you in the ballpark of good or poor quality, it still can’t perfectly quantify the game down to a number, letter, or any other form of reviewing games. Metroid Prime is a great example of this. When Prime was first announced many longtime fans of the Metroid franchise called foul, saying that the first person perspective betrayed the foundation that the previous games laid down. Now we can see, years later, that it did, in fact, stay faithful to its predecessors as well as expanding upon them in a way that never could be done before.

Now this all comes down to the question, can one compare two games and definitively say one is better than the other? Well look at Super Metroid and Metroid Prime for illustration. Both are games within the same franchise, have similar gameplay elements, similar setting, etc. Yet they are two vastly different games. Metroid Prime is a first person adventure game, while Super Metroid is more centered on platforming. When I first played Prime, I had never played the previous games. It wasn’t until years later in college that I finally picked up Super Metroid on the Wii’s Virtual Console and was able to experience it. To this day I have only played through Super Metroid once and Metroid Prime multiple times. You would think this would be indicative of my feelings toward which is the better game. Clearly this would be Metroid Prime if we took it merely by the numbers. Do I believe that Metroid Prime is superior to Super Metroid?  No, certainly not. I would say that I enjoyed it more than its predecessor, but enjoyment is not indicative of objective superiority.

Still holds up over a decade and a half later.

When it all comes down to it, we can’t say with precision whether one game is better than another. Every gamer has his own genre or franchise of choice; therefore you can’t expect every game to be viewed in the same light as everyone else. The reason that we compare games is so that we can understand more easily the mechanics of a game and to decide which games to buy. Essentially it’s all about personal preference. I’m hoping that in the future we will slowly do away with the scoring system altogether, but perhaps that’s just wishful thinking. Boiling a game down to a number seems unfair to the developers that put their hard work into crafting an interactive experience. That is what the review itself is for. It’s the reasons behind the numbers that count, not the number itself.

You’ve heard what I think, but what are your thoughts on judging game quality? Are there any points you think I missed or overlooked? Let me know in the comments below and I’ll be sure to respond!

About shickj

I am an Accounting Specialist currently residing in Portland, Oregon. I graduated with a Bachelors in Mathematics. I've been playing Nintendo since I was a kid and never looked back!

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