Weekend Discussion: Does Alex Hutchinson Have a Point About Western Game Reviews?

Earlier today, I linked to a piece featuring Assassin’s Creed III Creative Director Alex Hutchinson where he claimed that the Western gaming press was giving a pass to Japanese developed games when stacked against Western-developed titles. Specifically, he was calling out the press for giving Japanese games a pass when it came to in-game stories which he described as “literally gibberish,” comparing (uncited) respsonses to Bayonetta and Gears of War.

After the jump, I’m going to argue that Hutchinson is off base on this one, but we also want you to respond to this post on Twitter: do you think Hutchinson has a point or is he simply full of hot air?

As we enter the latest round of “what’s wrong with game journalism,” I’m sure Hutchinson’s statement will get a lot of play going into the weekend, particularly with his free use of the phrase “subtle racism” when it comes to the gaming press. What I think he’s getting at here is the same kind of perceived bias that’s lobbed at film critics for cheerleading smaller arthouse films over blockbusters (mark my words: if The Dark Knight Rises doesn’t get at least one major Oscar nomination, it’ll get ugly out there).

But bundled into Hutchinson’s accusation are a couple of separate ideas that are being conflated and his example only muddies the waters a bit. In the case of Bayonetta versus Gears, he’s calling out one tongue-in-cheek character action game that also poked fun at a couple of decades of SEGA IP while the other is a grim, serious third person shooter, the first in a planned trilogy whose entire marketing and execution all pointed to a very serious story.

Both games are mechanically excellent, although in terms of intent, I feel like Gears misses the mark, but that’s beside the point: the critical response to Gears (and the whole GoW series has been overwhelmingly positive, particularly when you look at competiting titles from Japan: Vanquish, with an aggregate score of 84% on Metacritic and Quantum Theory (37%) are two recent cover-based third person shooters that don’t meet the particular smell test of Hutchinson’s argument; ditto this year’s Inversion (52%, still too high) whose unqualified badness was recgonized by critics.

If we want to look at something that might be somewhat comparable to Bayonetta (in terms of being a Western-developed game poking fun at itself and conventions), let’s look at another Epic title, Bulletstorm (83% average on Metacritic). I’m willing to say that its average review score is comparable to that of Bayonetta. This might be messing with the sample a bit here, but both games received high marks from Game Informer, Bulletstorm here, Bayonetta here, written by two separate reviewers, both fairly over the top in their praise for each game. What’s instructive here is that in each case the reviewers assessed the game in terms of the intent of their stories and found that they worked (as did the overwhelming majority of critics).

Earlier in the interview, Hutchinson is asked about the continued success of fairly same-y iterations of Nintendo IP, and I do think there’s a great argument to be made about how the big N can consistently deliver the same experiences featuring the same characters and continue to win over critics and audiences. But I’m wondering how much of that is tied up in nostalgia and brand loyalty rather than some perceived “subtle racism.” (I think it has more to do with the way Apple fans will flock to new Apple products in spite of relatively modest changes between hardware iterations).

I’ve really only cited a couple of examples here, but that’s mostly because I haven’t got a clear idea of how Hutchinson is making this argument, given that he doesn’t really offer any sort of proof, cite any examples, or elaborate on why this kind of subtle racism in his words continues to pervade the industry.

So what say you, Multiplayer readers: Is Hutchinson right on this one? And if so, why? In either case, offer up proof as you let us know what you think on Twitter.

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