I think game critics should be authorities. If they are not authorities, if they are not better at their job than the common public, why do they exist? Why did they think they should be the few voices highlighted among a great many voices? Why are they paid to be these voices? Why are their opinions important when we have user scores and steam reviews? They should, based on their position, be selected because they are better at doing their job than the people around them. They should, based on having the job, be committed to doing it well. They’ve failed at this.
For a fighting game like USFIV they don’t need to break it down frame by frame. They could, at minimum, comment on how street fighter, as compared to other fighting games in its genre, is a game that stresses grounded play by having a lack of movement options, using links to hit-confirm into special moves and supers, features a more simple combo system with very simple cancel rules and the FADC mechanic which costs half your super meter, allowing you to make moves safe on block, and extend combo. They could go over the slow walk speed, the use of dashes over runs or hops, or air dashes. The tendency that combos are based primarily on 1 frame links. There’s all these things that fighting game players use to describe their game relative to the games around it that these reviews don’t include. If you move over to a Guilty Gear review, a less popular game that is reviewed more in the vein of, “here’s how this crazy thing in the fighting game genre differs from the template we’ve come to expect” rather than “here’s how the new update plays” like Street Fighter is, then you’ll still find it to be deficient in comparison to the way a player would describe the differences between the two. They could at least have someone on staff who is knowledgeable to know why all these things are the way they are. Journalism outfits have multiple people to cover multiple games and genres, yet none of them seem to have a fighting game player on staff.
Unfortunately a lot of great evidence of incompetence, at least for the fighting game genre, and Bloodborne, has come through since I wrote the post Tripping on Air that would have served as an aid to the central message of the article.
With Street Fighter V, probably the biggest, easiest to describe, and most important changes to the game are the fact that the crouch tech throw option select is out, there is no longer invincibility on backdashes, there is a 2 frame buffer on all inputs, and a longer buffer for canceled special moves, pushback on light attacks has been increased to prevent long pressure strings, and almost none link into medium attacks anymore, with almost no sequences of 3 moves linking into one another existing anymore, input shortcuts (the diagonals counting as both of the cardinal directions) are out, and there are no close and far versions of moves with most neutral jump versions of moves also being defaulted to the diagonal jump versions. Less important/noticeable changes might be that kara-throws/kara-specials no longer work (technically still possible, but no movement), you can only die from chip damage with supers, plinking is no longer in the game, and the hitboxes were all standardized to very blocky shapes, making the ranges of moves and combos much more consistent. These are all things that were known during the beta period, many months in advance of the final release. These are all basic information that don’t go nearly as deep as the precise frame data chart (though that was also available during the beta).
In addition to that, they probably could have stood to comment on how PC only supports xinput, and on PS4 you need to be signed into an account for every controller you use, with legacy controller support only working by plugging in a dualshock 4 first, setting it to an account and engaging the legacy controller mode, then plugging in the legacy controller, with the dualshock 3 needing to remain on standby for the entire time the legacy controller is plugged in, making it useless. Not to mention the game picks up lag if wireless devices aren’t properly decoupled from it. Mentioning the sub-par single player content on release would probably have helped too, but Smash 4 had that as well and didn’t get slammed for it.
Here’s the top 3 reviews for Street Fighter V returned by google:
And here’s a Jim Sterling video thrown in for fun.
The Kotaku and IGN are really sad, mentioning none of the above, and the giantbomb one picks up a few of those points (input buffer, chip, and rollback netcode). They can kind of be dismissed for the legacy controller thing and the subpar server quality, these reviews were written before release so they couldn’t have known. But they have had every opportunity to find out all this other stuff that people knew long before these reviews were written.
In comparison, here’s a video someone made before the game came out about all the changes between SF4 and SFV. (you can tell it came out before the game did both by the date of publication, and the fact that Zangief has no facial expression during his super, this is the cracked version of the game people played on when the beta wasn’t up)
So before the game came out, people had better information about the over-arching and game shaping changes than what journos eventually released with. This video doesn’t explain how these changes affect the game entirely, but anyone competent at the game could tell you easily. A journo on top of their game could fill in this information, but most aren’t.
Guilty Gear Xrd’s another great example that I won’t have to type as much to demonstrate.
Here’s two people who know literally anything about the game remarking on what makes it better or worse than the previous iteration:
Top 3 Google results for Guilty Gear Xrd Review:
The game trailers vid is especially funny, with all the actually skilled people playing being spectated in lobby play, with anything in local multiplayer being floundering about, maybe a special or attack, but not even a single gatling combo, like they didn’t play the tutorial.
In both of these cases, these are people who have no more information than these critics saying things that are way more important.
Bloodborne is a bit of a different case, it’s not a fighting game, it’s a single player game which is more standard to a lot of stuff that gets reviewed. I think here it’s important to look at what everyone was talking about, the information that was being shared between the early alphas and leaks of gameplay before. Peeve’s video in particular got 433K views, which is a massive number of views compared to a review.
This is the type of stuff people were interested in. They wanted to know about the crazy new quickstep that replaced the older roll dodge while locked on. They wanted to know about how the backstab and parry system was changed. They wanted to know about the transforming weapons. The new regenerating health system. The amount of hitstun/poise damage that weapons inflict (which ended up being greatly emphasized and differentiated between weapons, attacks, and enemies in the final game). These are the types of things that people were dying to know about the game up front, that they were sharing info on between their friends and starting huge reddit threads about, and the initial press releases said nothing.
Top 3 reviews from Google:
What did the initial reviews tell people? Only Kotaku mentioned the dodge change. They all mention that transforming weapons are in the game, though not that you can cancel attacks into a transformation, attacking at the same time, nor buffer transformations from rolls to get special transformation attacks. IGN lightly touches on this by saying you can string together combo-like attack chains. They thankfully all mention the ability to regenerate health, but none are so clear as to say, “When you take damage, the amount you lost is in yellow and can be healed by attacking back” nor the logical consequence, “This tempts you to attack again when it’s unsafe in the hopes of gaining back the health you just lost, potentially losing even more in the process” IGN amazingly doesn’t mention visceral attacks at all, and kotaku fails to mention the backstab changes.
Reviewers don’t tell the people basic they want to know. They write up a bunch of fluff with vague incomplete feature summaries mixed in. I’m not asking these people to be pros. I’m asking them to be baseline, I’m asking them to report the basic things in front of everyone else’s eyes. I can pick up a game and make a list of notes from it that are more informative than your average review. I can pick up a game and derive from those notes a notion of whether they actually translate into a good game or not, a game with interesting choices, depth, a reasonable learning curve. Reviewers aren’t authorities on reporting what they see, what they do, let alone authorities on games categorically. I asked someone coming back from playing a bloodborne demo at a trade event questions about the game, all the stuff I’d have tested in the first 5 minutes of getting my hands on the game, how did the new backstabs work, how did the new parries work? what range did you have to be at for them? How does the new quickstep work, what can do you do off it? what’s the recovery time like? Invincibility time? He couldn’t answer any of these, he didn’t know quick steps were in the game at all. I showed him footage of one and he was like, “Wow, that’s cool looking.”
I was talking to a friend recently about Vanquish, and had to make a case for why the game was good. These are some basic things I came up with. Vanquish is not a spectacularly deep game like a fighting game. (This will eventually be edited into a full blogpost of its own if it hasn’t already)
Sure, some of what’s written here is more precise technical stuff that the average gamer doesn’t totally care about and I have the benefit of hindsight unlike the other examples I cited which were more fair, comparing people with the same access to information, but this is roughly the same length as the average review, and 90% of these things are things that someone just playing the game could see and write about. Vanquish reviews from the time have nearly none of this.
You do not need to be some type of crazy genius, authority, or pro level player to get this type of information down. To see what is on the screen and describe the same thing I described.
If something like next-gen graphics are the thing that is the premium quality of a review, then I don’t see reviewers reviewing that very well either. Not to mention that reviews could be replaced by screenshots and high res video footage in this case. I don’t see commentary on the use of MSAA over FXAA, or the amount of AA being used/supported (or the lack thereof for console releases). I don’t see commentary about the framerates of various games. I don’t see commentary about visual design in traditional game reviews (and I see it way more often in games analysis than mechanical commentary). I certainly haven’t seen any type of commentary about art as insightful in the general games press as this essay from a pixel artist renouncing his art form. Reviews don’t cover narrative in any great detail because they’re obligated to avoid spoilers. Reviews don’t describe ANYTHING in the game particularly well, don’t get across the facts that a player wants to hear, that they seek out from a game when given the opportunity to ask anything about it, and certainly don’t get into the level of specificity that an authority or expert could.