There is an enormously popular YouTube clip of comedian Louis CK on the Conan O’Brien show, complaining about his fellow humans’ misplaced entitlement and lack of appreciation. His bit concludes with an observation about an airline seatmate who, mere minutes after learning that the plane had free high-speed internet, became incensed when there was a disruption in the service. “This is bullshit,” this passenger grumbles. Louis CK can’t believe it. He exclaims, “You’re in a CHAIR in the SKY!” His summary: everything is amazing and no one is happy.
I thought of that bit this week as I started listening to podcasts and read some critics’ reviews of Star Wars Battlefront, especially in light of those same critics’ reviews of Fallout 4.
Let me start by saying I appreciate and respect informed critical opinion no matter how wrong it is. Just kidding, of course. I’m actually down with critics who disagree with me, but what I’m starting to take issue with is both a sense of entitlement at one extreme, and a lack of critical thinking at the other, both of which seem to be creeping into the press and podcast spaces more and more.
Let’s take a look at Battlefront, which has so far received relatively positive but decidedly mixed reviews. This is a game with impressively photorealistic visuals, an amazing score cobbled together from John Williams’ music, and it’s a game that absolutely nails the Star Wars universe as few others have even come close to doing. The combat is fluid, the weapons are satisfying, and some of the battles are literally cinematic, a word critics love to toss around but that games rarely achieve. Despite seeing the original film on day one, I am not even remotely a true Star Wars fanboy but I am blown away by the presentation.
“I played the game for, like 60 hours, and then got bored.” one podcaster/critic said. “There are only 11 weapons and they’re all basically blasters,” another one complained. “There aren’t enough modes. There are only nine. And only all of them recreate precisely the experience of being in the Star Wars universe from battling Imperial Walkers down to the graffiti scribbled on some driod’s backside.”
Forget for a moment that perhaps playing any game for 60 hours at a stretch might lead to a little fatigue, or that had DICE used the usual arsenal of sniper rifles and shotguns the fans would have crowed about inauthenticity and disrespect for George Lucas. Battlefront is an amazing achievement visually, and for getting so many things just right. Those critics who went on apoplectic tirades about the broken state of Battlefield 4 when it launched–and rightly so–might want to at least acknowledge that Battlefront arrived with far fewer issues.
Of course, it’s not perfect. There’s no single player campaign, which is a huge missed opportunity. It is not as “deep” or complex a shooter as Battlefield 4 or even Black Ops 3 so that FPS fans who like to glue themselves to the couch for weeks at a time and build out the ultimate virtual, noob-pwning warrior will just have to accept that sometimes, shooters can appeal to a broader, more casual audience. Sorry, bros, but don’t worry. That big ol’ bag of weed, ass-worn sofa, hours of job-and-girlfriend-free time and copy of Halo 5 are still there waiting.
Then there’s Fallout 4, upon which many of the very same critics heaped all sorts of unconditional love, despite the fact that it looks like a five year old game (at least), has many bugs, janky tech, and with exception of some minor visual tweaks and the addition of some new crafting systems, represents almost no forward progress from Fallout 3. The main quest is in essence recycled, the writing is graceless, and while there is a ton to do, a lot of it consists of roaming the world looking for junk to pick up.
Am I being unfair and dismissive? Absolutely. Fallout 4 nails the post-apocalyptic world, gives players enormous freedom, and certainly has the ambition of scale, which might be both its biggest asset and biggest flaw. But if Battlefront is only a conditional success, then so, in equal measure is Fallout 4.
To opine is human, but to opine with some objectivity and intelligent appreciation is the job of a critic. Have critics let their distrust of all things EA color their opinion of Battlefront and their fawning love of Bethesda tint their view of Fallout 4?
Well, at least we can all agree that Rise of the Tomb Raider is just about perfect.
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