How Exactly Should Critics Review VR Games?
Video games have come a long way. As they’ve changed and evolved, video game criticism has changed along with it. Of course, in the early days, it was absurd to say video games needed reviews; after all, there was only so much one could say about the likes of Space Invaders and Pac-Man. However, given what interactive entertainment has become, game reviews have become invaluable to many. Though some will still say they’re superfluous, there’s no doubt that the art of criticism can indeed be readily applied to what was once a simple child’s hobby.
However, we may be looking at a crossroads here: While we maintain that VR gaming won’t replace traditional gaming any time soon (if ever), we’ll still need product reviews, and those reviews could prove immensely useful. After all, despite the allure of fancy new tech, things like PlayStation VR will only sell if the consumer sees games he wants to play, or at least try. But how exactly should a critic approach a VR review? The experience is drastically different and frankly, I don’t see how you can approach it the same way you’d approach a regular game analysis.
There are several issues, I believe:
1. Is this LESS subjective or MORE subjective?
There’s an element of subjectivity in all reviews but that level may fall or rise with VR, depending on how you look at it. On the one hand, subjectivity may be higher because there could be certain experiences a player hears about and absolutely loathes. In other words, genre and personal preference may be more important than ever, considering the enhanced immersion.
On the flip side, subjectivity may actually be lower because the critic will be testing the functionality of these games and if that’s low, nobody will want it, regardless of genre or preference. If the game is mechanically flawed, the entire experience will essentially fall flat, will it not? It’s like gameplay squared because it’ll hinge so heavily on the tech behind it.
2. Will graphics even matter, or will they be more important than ever?
Again, there are two possible sides to the issue. Because we’ve gone well beyond seeing something on a screen and picking out screen tearing, clipping, and other graphical flaws, critics will have to tackle the graphical evaluation differently. Maybe because of the immersion factor, the graphics won’t matter much at all; on the other hand, maybe they’ll be more critical than ever because we have to believe our surroundings, yes? If we’re constantly being reminded that the whole thing is an illusion, the experience takes a hit.
3. What should the score reflect, and how much weight should be given to each category?
Though no two sources review games the exact same way (a double-edged sword, in our estimation), many assign individual scores to specific categories, and then offer an overall score. And even if they don’t give individual scores to those specific elements, they’re still at least mentioned in the text. All of this will have to be altered for a VR game review, correct?
For example, the graphics question above comes into play, as does the category of control. It’s feasible that a VR experience could “click” for some and not for others, though at the same time, it’s certainly plausible that a game is simply flawed from a control standpoint. Again, subjectivity versus objectivity. And what about factors like length? Chances are, we’ll soon be told we shouldn’t play VR for an extended period of time (we’ve already published our health concerns) and besides, one can sit with a controller in one’s hand for quite a long time. Doing what is required of VR gaming might be more taxing, and some experiences might be especially draining.
Lastly, critics always want to answer one question for the consumer: Should I buy this product? That has always been and should continue to be the ultimate goal. But how will a critic conclude that a VR game is a must-play? These days, it isn’t hard to conclude that something like Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End is a masterpiece that just about any gamer will appreciate and enjoy. Will it be so easy to determine in the world of VR? Or will the potential issues listed in this article get in the way?
Maybe it’ll be like everything else in the industry. Maybe all of us, including critics, will simply have to get used to it. Maybe in ten years, reviewing VR games will be second nature, though let’s hope nobody forgets how to issue traditional reviews, too. One final note: As it’ll be difficult to “show” the gaming world what a VR game is really like via standard marketing tactics (screenshots, trailers, etc.), reviews may end up being far more critical than we think…