Video Games

To Oblivion and back again

I’ve recieved some flak about my negativity toward Oblivion. I do qualify at the beginning of my last post that my review was more of a fill-in-the-blanks supplement to unrealistically shining reviews of the game, but I suppose some resources for comparison would help my readers see where I’m coming from. Here’s some excerpts and summaries of reviews I’ve read that should illustrate the need for critical reviews such as mine.

Gamespot – 93%

This review does a great job of highlighting the depth and immersiveness of the game, but barely glosses over the bugs. Though Gamespot allotted a similar score to other publications, the review’s unfounded summary downplays the shortcomings laughably:


The Good: Huge, lavishly detailed world offers tremendous amount of action and adventure; main mechanics like combat, stealth, and magic are fun and well designed; impressive artificial intelligence and hundreds of believable characters; outstanding symphonic score, as well as excellent voice acting and sound effects; tremendous replay value, plus gorgeous graphics to make it easy on the eyes.

The Bad: Frequent though fairly brief loading times; you might run into some technical issues with performance.

PC Gamer UK (print article) – 93%

These blokes hit the nail on the head when they declare Oblivion “a messy masterpiece”. Although the reviewer is doubtlessly as giddy as we all are when playing this game for the first time, his review is even-tempered and reflects the still inflated score:

It’s: Narcotically addictive, (Gasp!) Emergent, Brutal
It’s not: An AI revolution, A grind, Perfectly polished

FiringSquad – 95%

I was both delighted and disappointed by this review, as it is the best example of investigative games journalism of the bunch but is incongruent with the score. This reviewer voices many concerns about gameplay balancing, interface, and quest tedium, yet qualifies the generous score with the availability of mods that remedy the game’s many shortcomings such as in this example:

The interface we’re less keen on. It’s clearly designed for the 360 and has big, giant icons and text that don’t work too great on high-resolution monitors right in front of your face. Fortunately, there are mods to shrink those images and the text to show more lines of inventory. Mods will also take care of annoying “loading area…” and other routine messages that really don’t add much to the game.

I agree wholeheartedly with PC Gamer magazine’s take on this issue – if it’s not in the box it’s not in the score. Ultima 9 (mentioned in a comment on my last post) was released in such an unfinished state that the company offered a replacement install disc for free by mail, but this didn’t save it from the journalistic guillotine of any publication worth its weight in mithril.

To me, a great game is one that makes you forget you’re in a game. With the exception of load screens, the Half Life series is probably king of suspension of disbelief. Undoubtedly those games are much more simplistic and linear than a supposed “world simulator” like Oblivion, but they give you no less than what you need to get by. The Grand Theft Auto series does this better with each iteration, as does Elder Scrolls, but GTA and Half Life follow the (defunct?) Google mantra of finding a niche and polishing the hell out of it.

Whether you prefer a virtual reality Robert Munsch over a papier mache Tolstoy is your choice to make. Myself, I tend to take the road less travelled by tipping my scale toward the unquantifiable “games as art” extreme. Sure, many of my criticisms are specifically about gameplay mechanics pertaining to numbers in a database, but reading between the lines reveals my displeasure of my awareness of that database.

I like Oblivion. I really do. But I don’t love it. I think a score of 85% is appropriate for such a game, as I feel about 20% of what the game throws at me is unpolished or broken, but the execution and charm offset this penalty by 5%.

So again, yesterday’s critical review was no less complete than the blindingly incandescent or quizically schizophrenic reviews from other sources. In truth, I’m too lazy to maintain a news source that follows any topic to conclusion. I just calls ’em as I sees ’em. Let today’s blog entry show that I take reader comments (electronic and otherwise) seriously enough to revisit or change my mind on an issue.

By brian

About Brian Damage:

Who is Brian really?
I live in Toronto, Canada, and work for an IT firm. That's about as much real-world info I'm comfortable divulging here. What you read on my blog is the real Brian, but, for the sake of freedom of speech, I feel most comfortable leaving a gulf between my cyberspace and meatspace personae.

Who is Brian at work?
My ridiculous job title is "Marketing Specialist" since I wear so many hats at work. I'm a technical writer, a specialist in enterprise search technologies, an electronic forms designer, a newsletter author, system administrator... but I'm in the Marketing department so for the time being I'm stuck with this inauspicious title.

Who is Brian at play?

Who is Brian