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In praise of the 7/10

Essential!

I like bad games. They can often be more interesting than the current standard of highly polished, triple-A titles that adorn our PlayStation's and Xbox's hard drives. This is partially because more often than not their supposed "badness" isn't because they are badly designed, but because they didn't come together in the way they perhaps deserved to. You can call me contrarian if you want, but that's not what I'm trying to be. It's more that I want to allow more time for games to breathe than I think they're sometimes afforded.

Forspoken is the most recent example of a "bad game" that I think I probably brushed off too quickly, despite there potentially being some worth in what it's doing. Henry's excellent review concluded that the game is "hard to universally recommend" due to its ups and downs, though he did also believe that its worldbuilding and combat meant it's still worth looking at. I haven't played the game myself, only some of the demo which didn't enthuse me, but Henry's review did.

I'm not here to defend Forspoken, I think a lot of the criticism of this game is absolutely well placed, particularly to do with the fact it has a Black protagonist but doesn't engage with what that means. I am here to defend the kind of game Forspoken is though, which teeters on that dangerous edge that is the 7/10 game.

Cover image for YouTube videoForspoken | Launch Trailer
Forspoken.

Eurogamer doesn't offer scores in its reviews, which I wholly appreciate, but it is still generally the universally accepted method of surmising reviews, despite it obviously leading to people only looking at the score and not much more than that (we all do it, myself included). But a game being a 7/10 or below generally begets a reaction of "so it's bad then?"

Games are still desperate to be recognised by the other arts, particularly film, evidenced by The Game Awards constantly having film actors present the awards to assign some supposed lack of legitimacy (you did your best though, Al). I think that's part of why games have to be masterpieces, constantly one-upping the previous "best game ever made," something that you do not find in any other medium.

In turn, I think this leads to a general issue when it comes to continuing the discussion of games in a thoughtful way. There are some notable examples of mediocre receptions to games that are now thought of as all-time classics. The Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker was derided by fans due to its radical change in visual style (in part due to a graphical demo presenting something darker and grittier, a natural follow-up to the sombre Majora's Mask). Now though, it's many people's favourite of the bunch, because it is actually a pretty good game!

Demon's Souls too was not immediately well received, with early impressions clearly not fully grasping what it was trying to do, and with even Sony passing on publishing the game outside of Japan - and later admitting to making a mistake in that regard. Critical consensus upon release was glowing though, obviously making it the birthplace of what is arguably the most popular genre at the moment, the Soulslike.

2022 best games Elden Ring - your character on horseback in the bottom left looks out over a land of ruins towards a giant, glowing golden tree
It's been a bit of a journey to the point where Elden Ring is a blockbuster.

To me, this clearly states that early impressions are functionally useless, as they don't provide time for larger and more nuanced conversations to be had. What would the games industry even look like if Demon's Souls, and subsequently Dark Souls, weren't treated as the peak of all game design? This tough-as-nails and reaction-heavy gameplay can be found in games like Nioh and Hollow Knight, the latter also benefiting from the abstruse form of storytelling FromSoftware games often have. FromSoftware didn't invent that kind of storytelling (among other things, it borrows heavily from the mysterious world of Ico), but it did help normalise it.

But obviously, none of these games are bad, and I started this piece by saying that I like bad games. Of course there's value to Demon's Souls and Wind Waker, they both have incredibly interesting pieces of design, both in terms of its gameplay and its visuals. Then what of the bad games?

Nier is one such title that some could argue failed on the game front by having quite simply fine combat, serviceable in the face of progressing through the story. Reviews at the time of its original 2010 release noted the lack of engaging gameplay, but complemented its narrative, one that I believe is very successful in subverting the typical tropes of a JRPG cast.

Theoretically, then, its half-a-remake/half-a-remaster elevates it from sort-of-bad game to actually-very-good game. I personally don't think the more fluid combat did it any huge favours other than possibly providing a slightly smoother experience. But the clunkiness of the original did suggest that the titular Nier, or whatever you named him, is not the finely tuned fighter he appears to be in its remaster, rather someone who developed his fighting skills out of a need to survive.

Yoko Taro in Emil mask
Similarly, Yoko Taro's Nier games have taken a circuitous route to classic status.

Even so, I don't think the original Nier is still quite a bad game, as like I said, in spite of the combat the story was near universally praised. What game is widely accepted as bad then, that could maybe do with another look? I can't really think of a better game than the infamous Sonic 06.

I don't have the time to give a comprehensive overview of Sonic 06, more accurately titled Sonic the Hedgehog, as if there could be any other, but if you have a spare 45 minutes then give this essay from Umurangi Generation composer and video maker ThorHighHeels. This particular video radically changed my perspective on a game that is frequently reduced to mockery because of the abundance of glitches and broken sections you can find in the game.

Like Forspoken, Sonic 06 doesn't really need defending, they're both made by massively successful corporations that won't suffer from a few bad reviews, but there is beauty to be found within its walls. As ThorHighHeels highlights, there are details and vibes present throughout the game no video titled "SONIC 06 WORST GAME EVER" could ever capture in the way they deserve, and it really left me with this sense that I need to spend more time giving love to even the worst of games.

Right now, I don't have much intention to spend any time with Forspoken, because I quite simply don't have the time to give it enough space to approach respectfully. Maybe I'll get it in a sale somewhere down the way, and see whether it's deserving of the widespread derision it's received.

Neither this or Sonic 06 are perfect games, obviously, but it just shouldn't matter. I want to be better at finding value in imperfect things, because I am an imperfect person, and yet still people are kind enough to give me space to grow, and change, and fail, and succeed. Let's give more games a chance to succeed, even if they never do.