Weekend Hot Topic: The current state of video game reviews

Readers discuss how and when they use video game reviews and what they think of review scores and how accurately they’re used.

The subject for this week’s Hot Topic was inspired by reader Neil Down, and asked whether there are any particular sites, including this one, that you think could do things differently and what you think of those that don’t have a score at all.

Most people seemed to enjoy reviews, as both entertainment and advice, although most also admitted they use multiple sources to make their final decision, on whether to buy a game or not.

Perfect scores
I don’t think I’d give the same score as GC to every game I’ve played (that would be a bit weird) but I’m comfortable any discrepancy tends to just be a genuine taste thing. I have to admit though, when the ‘people have different tastes’ card is played I sometimes feel like that’s a bit of a cop out answer.

That’s probably because I do think mainstream review scores are often way too generous, but that’s always been the case since hype became such a huge thing in gaming (probably having exploded at some point in the 90s, and compounded by console wars that were fuelled by ‘official’ magazine reviews, etc.).

The main issue I have with modern reviews, though, is the number of apparent 10s I’ve played that are clearly nowhere near a 10. I’ve just started to assume it’s because the criteria for what a 10 is seems to have changed among some mainstream reviewers.

To me, a 10 is something that shakes the foundations of gaming, that pushes boundaries in some significant way or that becomes the figurehead for an established genre (or the pioneer for a new one). If it’s the absolute maximum rating you can give, it devalues the score to have so many critics lump in games where the review summary is basically ‘I had a great time with it and I can’t think of any flaws’. It seems like this happens for at least a couple of games each year, and I’m fairly sure if the former standard was used we’d be lucky to see a game get a 10 once every couple of years.

At the same time, even though it’s now a cliché, a 10 should never mean a game is perfect, and I’d say there are plenty of genuine 10s that have more obvious or abundant flaws than a lot of games I’d give an 8 or 9, for which I can’t think of many improvements (without fundamentally changing the game).

I’m not one of those conspiracy theorists who think critics get paid off or rely on the cooperation of publishers, but sometimes I wonder if the ease with which 10s are handed out is a self-serving thing. Maybe some critics are looking to stand out among their peers and they’re cashing in on the prestige associated with their editor giving them this big hyped game to play. Or maybe a specific reviewer was chosen for a particular game because it would increase the chance of it getting a high score and having the website at the top of Metacritic.

Metacritic criticisms
The best review score is the ‘out of 5 ‘ one. That’s because that range is very representative. Let me explain. A score of 3 out of five is okay. A score of 4 is good. A score of 5 out of 5 is excellent. Essential.

Percentages on the other hand have too far a range to represent. Look at this… we know that 80% is good but 81% is also good. And so is 82%. In fact all the way to 89% is good. So you see that a large difference covers more or less the same thing with percentages. The out of fives are easier to differentiate.

Anyway, I believe review scores are essential as they indicate how good a game is at a glance for those that don’t have, say, five minutes to read. Over the years reviews have changed in the way they’re introduced. Years ago the reviews would go straight to the point and start describing the game. Reviews now start with a certain feeling the reviewer portrays before they get into actually describing the game.

About Metacritic. They prioritise critic reviews over the user reviews, unfortunately. I believe the user reviews are more important than the critic reviews because they’re made by the players. The purchasers.

On the main page of Meatcritic, the critic scores are shown and not the user scores. That’s not proper. Unless things are different now, I accept correction. Enough! Thanks for reading.

GC: Critics don’t tend to review bomb games.

Tabula rasa
I don’t know if this is weird or a fairly common practice, but I don’t read reviews for games I plan to play. This isn’t to avoid spoilers, since most reviewers avoid them altogether, if not give warning before hitting that territory, but to ensure I go into a game as ‘fresh’ as possible without anyone else’s opinion to influence me.

I still read a lot of review for the games I know I’m not going to play though, either because I don’t own the system they’re on or because it’s a franchise I was once interested in but have lost touch with (I love Pokémon but at this point filling out the pokédex is harder than my job, so I’m unlikely to play another Pokémon game).

I’ve always found the use of a scoring system useful as it gives a quick glimpse into what the game’s like without even needing to read the review, but I understand the frustration with 7 from most publications meaning average rather than 5- 7 should indicate the game is worth your time – not worth putting up with if you’ve got nothing better to do.

Regarding the God Of War fiasco, there is an argument that too many publications have given a game that’s extremely derivative of its predecessor too high a score, but at the end of the day the medium is highly subjective and if someone, game journalist or fan alike, enjoyed it enough to give it a 10 more power to them.

In my eyes the fiasco reflects more on the state of game fandom though, since anyone who didn’t give the game a 10 is getting death threats and Kratos knows what else in the comments section, rather than a healthy debate about the score. What is it about video games that makes people simultaneously aggressive and defensive?

E-mail your comments to: [email protected]

Tried and tested
If I’m honest, game scores don’t do anything for me. All because one person doesn’t like a game it doesn’t mean I’m not going to like it. Don’t get me wrong, I’ll have a quick look at GC reviews, but if a game gets a low score I don’t go, ‘Right, I’ll pass.’ I watch the trailers first and if a game tickles me I’ll give it a go.

I’ve always done that and it hasn’t failed me for 30 years. If I have bought a game and I hate it I just sell it on, because I always buy on disc. Yes, I lose money but only a few pounds. A £70 game I can resell it on for £65.

Unqualified opinion
The main thing I want from a review is to find out why someone liked or disliked a game without spoiling any specifics. From that I can hopefully predict whether or not I would like the game. I do not want a checklist of features, when reviews do that it comes across as a paid-for advert. I also do not want the reviewer to become too bogged down with resolution or performance.

I like GameCentral’s approach to reviews, as they do a good job of explaining if the core experience of the game is something worth playing and only get into the technical side if there are issues that negatively impact the main experience. I do however also know someone that hates GC’s reviews due to the lack of technical information. In their opinion GC not including this makes them ‘unqualified’ to comment on the quality of a game.

I can understand the difficulties of reviewing games. Earlier this week reader Grimwar85 asked me in the Underbox, if I would recommend Nobody Saves the World. This is a game I really enjoyed, completed twice and unlocked all achievements on but one I can also see will definitely not appeal to everyone, so replying to Grimwar85 was not easy.

Essentially, I think the problem with some reviews is that they stop trying to be a person’s opinion and try and be a buying guide. Although I can understand this as many gamers ask for buying guides and not opinions. Some gamers also get angry when review scores stray too far away from their personal opinions, which must dissuade some reviewers from giving their true thoughts due to fear of steeping too far from the herd.

In instances where I like a game despite its flaws, I am reluctant to recommend them to others as those flaws may resonate more with them. It is much easier to recommend the technically good, polished game that is a bit dull over the enjoyable janky one.

When trying to be a buyer’s guide reviews ends up giving higher scores to the competent game with loads of content over the fun, short experience with a few technical issues. It is also likely some reviewers will simply not review games that they cannot get into, which will skew the average score of reviewed games upwards. Like GC said, there must be a lot of people that bounced off Elden Ring but that is not reflected in professional reviews.

Those are not criticism either, it is perfectly understandable. Technical issues in a game can really hurt it and also poor introductions can push people away from the very start. I would not have played and completed Deadly Premonition if it was not for reviewers like GC championing it. I ended up loving it but would have played for an hour and abandoned it if I had simply stumbled upon it myself on Game Pass.

One Switch reviewer on YouTube has stated multiple times that Disco Elysium is one of their all-time favourite games, but it didn’t review particularly well on their channel because it does not run that well on Switch and their review scoring is heavily influenced by performance.

Nintendo Life recently made a YouTube video discussing Sonic Frontiers and how that game has pretty much divided opinion in their office down the middle. They all seem to love it or hate it with no middle ground.

Theoretically, if I was a professional reviewer I would give two scores. The primary score out of 10 would be how much I enjoyed the game and/or whether I found playing it a worthwhile experience. And a secondary score out of 5 would be a technical one that considers performance and graphics on the format I played it on. Note that the two would not be additive, in terms of Metacritic only the primary score out of 10 would count, not the total 15.

Obviously, I realise that the two are not mutually exclusive. Poor performance and bugs can negatively impact the enjoyment of a game, whilst excellent graphics can enhance an experience.

No surprises
For me the review is all part of the enjoyable build-up to a game’s release. As long as there are no spoilers, which there never are with GC’s games then I like to read all about a game before it’s release and make the final decision on whether I’ll buy it.

I rarely change my mind because of a review but that’s more because I’ve usually followed the game for a while and am rarely surprised by the verdict. Although if a game I’ve never heard of gets good reviews that will certainly turn me on to them.

Decision making process
For me, personally, I would obviously check out GameCentral’s reviews first and if I am late to the party for a past game I’d go to Metacritic and go to the 7 to 8 or 9 scores by the reviewers and go to GameCentral to check out a two year or more old review first, due to the trusting impartial reliability of them.

Usually, I’d use reviews to find out what to expect in the game and the type of mechanics being used. The key features for me are graphical designs and the artwork of the gaming world and the type of music or soundtrack that will accompany me on my journey. For gameplay mechanics I’ll use the review as a starting point and if the reviewer liked them or not.

YouTube reviewers would be another resort, to see these gaming mechanics in motion and absorb the much needed info from the user reviewers and factor that into my decision. The fact that God Of War Ragnarök had about a million 100% critical reviews and GameCentral were way down the list with a respectable 80% or 8/10 is why I prefer this site on Metro to other also respectable critics. Continuously seeing through the hype of the gaming mist to see the real fruits of the pudding and seeing if it’s a good one or a rather nuanced one.

When the above information has been researched enough then the always reliable gut feeling of mine will complete the decision to purchase the game or not. But sometimes review critics have thankfully put me off at the last moment, just before I parted with my cash.

Gaming journalism and their hands-on information by these experienced people will always be needed. As long as the trust is there from previous times I’ll assimilate the data, process it, and make my decision.

E-mail your comments to: [email protected]

The small print
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