The Ryan Lambie Column: Games that divided critical opinion

Is the Resident Evil demo the best thing ever, or the biggest disappointment since Phantom Menace? Not for the first time, opinions are divided...

Mr Ryan Lambie's amazing joypad.

Human beings are contrary creatures, and subject to all kinds of strange flights of fancy and weird opinions. One of my oldest friends is a good example of a contrary human; over a quiet beer the other day, the topic of discussion turned to films.

“Have you seen The Dark Knight?” I asked, readying myself for a conversation where we could share our enthusiasm for what I thought was one of the best films of 2008. “Yes,” my friend replied. “And what a load of bollocks it was.”

This verbal sucker punch completely knocked me for six.

“You didn”t like it?” I asked, with a slight stammer of disbelief. “No,” came the reply, followed by a vehement critical mauling which detailed failings in the scriptwriting, direction, lighting, acting and cinematography. It seemed pointless trying to say anything in poor old Batman’s defence, since my friend’s reasons for hating the film were precisely the same as my reasons for liking it.

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“Oh well,” I said, shrugging like a jolly old vicar, “one man’s meat is another man’s poison, as they say.”

A few days later, the exact same friend came round for a visit and a co-op game or two, and I began to enthuse about Super Smash Bros Brawl. “It’s utter bollocks,” came his rebuttal. He then began detailing failings in its control system, graphics, sound, overall production and package design.

I suppose if art has any reason to exist at all, it’s so that people can sit around and criticise it. And while there are some works of creativity which are met with instant and unremitting critical praise – Citizen Kane, To Kill a Mockingbird – there are others that seem to split opinion straight down the middle; for every lauded Da Vinci there’s a frequently lambasted Damien Hirst, for example. Similarly, video games can be prone to ‘The Marmite Effect’, where one website or magazine heaps a new title with adulation while another tears it to pieces.

Resident Evil 5 is a case in point; the playable demo has caused something of a rift in the gaming community, with some commenting favourably while others have poured scorn on it. An article posted at N4G last Tuesday titled “Resident Evil 5 is a bit disappointing” managed to attract no fewer than 243 comments; most of the criticisms appear to be aimed at the control system, which has been described as “slow” and “tank-like”. Having played the demo myself, I can certainly see where some detractors are coming from; RE4 may have revitalised the franchise and revolutionised the third-person shooter, but the decision to retain the slow trudging of its protagonist in RE5 is somewhat disappointing. Games like Gears of War took Capcom’s control system and refined it hugely, making the latest RE seem rather antiquated by comparison. That being said, I still enjoyed the demo and appreciate it for what it is: not the revolution that its predecessor proved to be, but a superb evolution nonetheless.

Last year’s Mirror’s Edge is another example of a ‘love it or loathe it’ game; while a quick scan of Metacritic reveals an aggregate score of around 79 or 80 (“Generally favourable reviews”), a closer look at the individual write-ups shows the extent of the critics’ dissent. 1UP.com are at the top of the scale, giving the game a glowing A minus, describing it as “an absolute must-play despite its idiosyncrasies.” And while C&VG and IGN were similarly enthusiastic, other reviewers were less so, with Game Revolution and respected magazine Edge giving it a decidedly middling 50 per cent equivalent, citing a lack of depth and poor replay value.

Similarly, Ubisoft’s reboot of Prince of Persia, Mortal Kombat vs DC Universe, Tom Clancy’s Endwar and Quantum of Solace all received a mixed bag of reviews, with Quantum receiving the whole gamut of scores, from 90 per cent (“GoldenEye for a new generation. And praise doesn’t come much higher than that,” said videogamer.com) at one end of the spectrum, all the way down to the nadir of 30 percent from videogametalk.com (“It’s a dreary, repetitive affair that never makes you feel excited to be in the shoes of James Bond.”) at the other.

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What all this highlights, of course, is that reviews are just opinions written by ordinary, game-loving human beings, just like you and me. So while they can be a useful bit of guidance, steering the unwary consumer away from utter drivel like Golden Axe: Beast Rider or Rock Revolution, we shouldn”t be too surprised if their opinions don’t always tally with one another.

Human beings are, as I said earlier, contrary creatures, and with countries continuing to blowing each other up and factions of society still arguing over the existence of God, it’s hardly surprising that nobody in the gaming community can agree whether the Resi 5 demo is the best thing ever or the most disappointing moment in popular culture since The Phantom Menace.

Ryan writes his gaming column every week at Den Of Geek. Last week’s is here.

5 February 2009