Well, now with The Sims 2 review at IGO behind me, and a few health problems conquered, I sat down to Second Sight last night, eager to play a game I have been anticipating for most of the summer. I had the pleasure of reviewing Psi-Ops earlier this year, and while I liked it, I felt it fell just short of greatness; once I looked past the cool psychic powers, the game's basic design was half-empty, instead of half-full. It was fun, but it lacked the immersive story, intriguing level design, and challenging AI that make most great action games really stand out.
Knowing Free Radical was looking to implement some solid design in Second Sight, and knowing that the story had a unique time-travelling twist, I was almost trembling when I put the disc in my PS2. And you know what? I'm disappointed. I am a huge stickler for control and camera issues, and Psi-Ops had some targeting issues - but nothing compared to the annoying camera angles and controller fumbling that SS features in its first hours. One of Psi-Ops major feats was how easily the psi-powers controlled. In Second Sight, you must cycle through the powers to find the one you want; in practice, along with the continuing camera struggle, this pulls the gamer from immersion just as things get interesting. Too bad - a little more polish could have made the first hours more fun. Keep a look out at IGO or on my GS reader reviews for final impressions once I have completed my evaluation.
I also received an interesting email questioning my "rather high" score for Astro Boy for the PS2 (I scored it a 7.0), and it got me to thinking about quality vs. fun, and how a reviewer is to separate the two. There is no doubt in my mind that a horrible game is horrible to almost everyone across the board; and that a superb game is superb to most as well. For example, most can agree that Half-Life is a great game, just as most can agree that Daikatana is terrible. But what to do with these "guilty pleasures?" In all fairness to the person that sent me the email, Astro Boy is short, not terribly involved, and is more linear than you would think at first glance. On the other hand, I had a great deal of fun with it, and while I recognize its flaws, they are easier to forgive when the things that work work well. I have a lot more forgiveness towards a game when it does something well, even if a few other features fall through the cracks, than a game that reaches for mediocrity in all of its aspects. For example, the worst game I have played this year was Way of the Samurai 2; it didn't succeed at anything it set out to do, and I didn't have any fun (unless you count laughing at the voice acting) simply because it did no one thing all that well. In Astro Boy, pounding on bosses was a hoot, and when you are having a ball, it's easier to overlook the complete lack of replay value, the linear story path, and its abrupt ending.
In the end, I can recognize that an individual can have fun with a game while still recognizing major flaws, but I think its wrong to overlook the enjoyment factor completely. We all have our guilty pleasures: for me, I can say that Oni on the pc is definitely one of them, regardless of its tepid level design and lack of multiplayer. The "fun rush" means those things have less meaning to me, and as a reviewer it's my job to mention them - but their impact on the score or the review text depends on the evaluator. In the end, how good a game is depends not just on its favorable elements, but on how many frustrations you are willing to overlook to get to the fun. In Astro Boy - and Oni - the frustrations weren't annoying enough to keep me from having some fun, and really, isn't that what gaming is all about?