Friday, September 26

What I discovered on my way to tearing a new one for Star Wars: The Force Unleashed.

A copy of Star Wars: The Force Unleashed (sW:TFu) fell into my lap at the beginning of the week and with this sudden and unexpected opportunity I felt I could try my hand at offering a "current" review of this game. Its visit would be limited so I resolved to focus all my attentions on it to the scorn of all else (including this blog if you hadn't noticed). I finished the "normal" difficulty setting on day one and pondered whether to endure the game again, on a harder difficulty to get the alternative ending that taunted me with its "locked" status. I wrestled with my completionist impulses and while I did so I went and read a few blogs.

Versus CluClu Land is a blog I've mentioned a few times. I highly recommend it to anyone who is interesting in thoughtful discourse about gaming and the world, there's a link to it in the links section. While visiting in this impromptu interlude I was greeted by Pliskin's evil, evil words as he explored the meaning and relevance of game reviews. For a time his honeyed words messed with my substandard issue brain and had me convinced that it would be worthwhile to follow his sage advice. You've probably already guessed that I was going to play through sW:TFu for that last piece of story - the gaming press had promised it was good! - and I had a blog post that was delayed due to my inexplicable fortune so there would be a delay in getting the review out.

Then, before I try his ideas out for myself, he goes and posts a review himself. Somehow this turgid piece of steaming advertising copy (aka turd) only served to undermine those ideas that had formed in my head prompted by his musings earlier. Let me declare my undying hatred for this person I do not know, largely born of synonyms for envy. Why? Apparently there's a thin line in there somewhere. Fortunately he doesn't read this blog, and if he were to read it, I'm a complete nobody who's opinion is irrelevant in the grand scheme of things. So I need not fear hurting his feelings. I questioned my own slavish devotion to his twisted mental manipulations and began to realise something about what I want from a review. Probably the point, but no matter.

Criticism can mean many things. It can be the analysis of something with the intent to provide feedback to the creator of that thing so that they may improve. Rather than the whiney complaining or listless fawning that is the staple these days. Critics criticise. The content of their criticisms lie within their "review". Those critics I respect most explore their feelings, established knowledge, the ideas the creator wished to express and the response of the viewer in light of all these things. It's personal, opinionated and typically includes a discussion about what was lacking and how it could be done better. No point in telling someone what they're doing wrong without telling them what they need to do to fix it.

Except that many games lack a permanent infrastructure to make such an exercise meaningful. Developers hire staff to make that one big game to end them all and then reward them by firing them once it's "gold". While this is also true of movies, it is also true that movies have a cultural industry that involves criticism with meaningful feedback that is directed at the specific individuals involved in the generation of a product. Directors, cinematographers, actors, writers, editors, sound and lighting staff, even the lowly stuntspersons and gaffers (among others) will get a look in from time to time. The relationship that exists between the critic and the developer (without even considering their relative anonymity) is largely meaningless in games. Critics in the gaming world serve only to promote someone's product, some publisher's product. And don't get me started on quality assurance. What is it with all these online patches for supposedly complete games anyway? Test the damn thing before you release it, fix it and then try to sell it to me.

sW:TFu glitched on me in less than 5 mins. The game froze at the 4 min 32 second mark as Vader was dicing some wookies. I was able to "complete" the holocron subquest(s) simply by changing my outfit once I picked one up. I discovered this quite by accident. The story was lacklustre, weak, insipid garbage with puerile scripting and voice acting that can only be described as "what the fuck"? The people responsible for the in game camera should be shot. Sith Lord difficulty was a joke (Sith Master unlocks once it's completed but I chose not to endure any further punishment), I died twice during the entire playthrough because of my desire to experiment rather than through any actions of the AI or the difficulty of the game. Even the graphics are weird, a cartoony representation of the far, far away galaxy that completely undermines the supposedly sombre atmosphere of doom and gloom the story tries to portray. I suppose I should also mention screen tears, clipping, piss poor controls, the overhyped waste of Euphoria (much more effectively implemented in GTA IV), how there are only two force powers of any worth - telekinesis in four variations, push, throw, repel and sabre throw or electrokinesis in the form of lightning or electrical shield - nothing unleashed here. DMM was nice though (mostly).

Yet there are some who have lowered their standards and expectations so much that they will ignore all the problems of the game, all its shortcomings and play it anyway. I really wonder what is going on at times. Advertising copy billed as a "review", minimal direct or indirect feedback on the quality of titles. Titles released as buggy messes with no respect for the craft, the art or the consumer because they can patch it later presumably. A press that is a simpering sycophant so desperate for an exclusive they won't check sources, will fire those who write risky reviews, or rely on a publisher's press agent for the scoop that would have once come from investigative journalism.

I'll still hate Iriquois Pliskin for all the wrong reasons and Star Wars: the Force Unleashed for all the right ones. What I want from my critical analysis of shit, is critical analysis. And if it's shit, I want someone to call them on it. Don't you?

Edit: You may notice that I've accidentally written the word "interesting" instead of "interested" in paragraph two, sentence two. I'm not going to change it because I suspect it's a Freudian slip of sorts. I apologise for any inconvenience this lack of compulsive grammar tyranny may cause.

4 comments:

Daedalist said...

All your complaints about the game were exactly what I feared based on the demo.

I'm not even sure I can be bothered renting the game, let alone buying it.

Iroquois Pliskin said...

thanks for the hatred, I think?

As for the stuff in your post, I do totally think the critic's job is to give an honest assessment of a game and never shy away from pointing out its faults in order to make nice with a publisher, or whatever. Like, if you think Force Unleashed is a buggy mess it's your prerogative to call them out for making a shoddy product

But I guess I don't think it's the critic's job to be critical in the sense of being negative. Rather, what I try to do when I approach a game that is really compelling to me is describe what it is about it that makes it so interesting to me, how it goes about making a certain type of experience on the player, what sort of things it tries to do. And then you talk about how much it's successful on that front. Along the way there will be lots of negative stuff even in good games, and if those things really detract from your experience it's you job to point 'em out.

thanks for reading!

nobody said...

Daedalist,

I never, ever want my opinions to modify anyone else's. Not really. My rant in this post isn't really even a critique of that game. I guess if I wanted there to be a result from my spouting I would want it to be that you have expectations that are about right (or lower) than what is delivered by the game. Thus, should you choose to explore it, you won't be disappointed by its shortcomings.

nobody said...

Iriquois,

No. No. No. No. No.

Didn't you read my post? You're not supposed to be reading this blog and if you are you certainly aren't supposed to shatter my illusions by commenting! Thank you for doing so, I guess?

I agree that negativity is not productive, not without some degree of exploration of what might provide a better result in design and implementation. I happen to really like your notion of the "theory" of a game, even if it's a little pretentious. sW:TFu isn't really fully formed as a game so its difficult to explore its substance when the substance it carries is akin to a basket of broken pieces. Conflict is important to progress, sometimes "negativity" if properly framed can lead to more fruitful outcomes.

I found your review to be a tepid work overburdened with saccharine. That's doesn't make it poor quality, just not to my taste.