I've realized that, over the years of reading certain types of game reviews and then playing games based on those recommendations, I've developed certain prejudices about what a game must do to reach a baseline level of quality, what it takes for a game to be considered good. As such, I tend to resort to a fairly standard list of criteria when I'm playing game. Is the plot good, are the graphics impressive, is the gameplay interesting and polished? It makes sense to judge games based on these criteria because most games worth the while tend to hit the nail on the head in at least a few of these categories, regardless of genre. On the other hand, it's an arrogant assumption on my part, to assume that I, like an alchemist of old, have managed to boil down an art form into several crucial elements, whose harmony ultimately makes or breaks a game.
Thinking of games in such reductive terms is kind of depressing. At one point it made sense, back when games had few options in the directions they could go, and the genre hybrid was a pretty rare thing. It's an easier way to look at games, to see them through some prescribed lenses that everyone has worn for a very long time. But it also gets boring and I have decided to cannonball straight to the bottom of the deep end, at least where my personal game playing standards are concerned.
I made this decision after thinking back on my experience with the latest Prince of Persia, six months ago. I thought the game itself was a boring, lifeless glowing ball (read coin) collect-a-thon. But I remember watching the Prince scramble up a crack and noticing that he climbed exactly like a real rock climber would on that crack. His hands were wedged in one over the other and the weight shifted accordingly. Clearly, they had done motion capture on a rock climber. It was a wonderfully realistic touch and I marveled at how much character it added. It was in many ways more impressive to me than any moment in this year's supposed movement tour de force, Mirror's Edge. I thought to myself that this is a crazy notion, that a character animation could be so affecting as to make the game worth its purchase price.
But why confine myself to a narrow set of expectations? Why can't character animation be the defining element in a game? Don't worry, I'm not saying the review of the future will be a recommendation based on the journalist's strange obsessions. However, there is a great deal in games I've found myself passing over, or otherwise not mentioning to people, because it falls outside the usual evaluations used in games.