We as critics are bestowed with a very specific and powerful ability. We are given the power to assign a rating to a creation. To provide an in-depth examination of the positives and negatives of the thing that has been laid before us. Our comments, criticisms, and complaints will sway the public opinion, and through this we will make or break the success of the the game that these people have spent their lives making. It is a terrible and exciting concept to wield such power. Game journalists, are, in a sense, the gatekeepers of success. Collectively, our reviews will propel a work to greatness, or cast it into the deepest pits of gaming hell.
As it stands, the method by which games are judged is through a numeric system. Sometimes it is one through five and shown as stars. Other times we see a numeric scale of one through ten. Either way, the concept remains the same. Once all the words have been laid to rest and the dust has settled, the game receives a single number to represent all of the hard work and determination, the blood, sweat, and tears as it were, that they poured into their work. Can all of that passion, that vision, and that drive be boiled down to a single number? Clearly it can, as the industry has adopted this vision of assigning a score to games to determine their worth. I am here to ask, “Why does it have to be a number?” and more importantly, “Why does that number result in success or failure?”. Join me my friends, as we explore the world of game reviews, and ultimately uncover the fact that modern reviews are becoming obsolete. A change is in order, and I will show you what this industry needs.
Is a Game Review an Opinion, or an Examination of the Game's Merits?
Well, isn’t that a quandary? Are game reviews meant to provide an opinion, or simply assess the game’s merits? A review of something is, by definition, someone’s opinion. Of course, an opinion and a review are two different things. Before you throw up your hands and grab you nearest dictionary, let me explain. Someone can easily walk in to a game store and proclaim that a game is terrible or waste of money, and no one would bother to stop them. Of course, that is their opinion, and not in fact, a review. A review provides an opinion carefully constructed around realistic examinations of the game's merit’s and the overall game as a whole. By this standard, games should not be judged as compared to other games, even in the same genre.
You may be typing a hate mail to me right now, and I’m fine with that. Games are individual creations. Yes, they may be categorized into genres, but one shooter is vastly different from another. Compare Bioshock to Call of Duty, and you’ll see what I mean. Yes, both games are in a similar genre, but they both seek an entirely different end goal. That being said, comparisons are inevitable and sometimes need to be made. If one shooter is better than another, it’s okay to say that. Even so, the ultimate score must be determined by more complex means. Games are an individual representation of a singular developer’s vision, and as such, cannot be compared to others. The only exception of course is games within the same series, since those are made by the same people.
To answer, this first question, posed by myself of course, I think game reviews as a basic principle, need to be a combination of opinion and the game’s merits. Primarily the review needs to examine the game as it’s own entity and not something that has to answer to every other game ever made. I recently came across an interview with the lead boss, Enric Alvarez of Mercury Steam. Their most recently release was Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2. A game that received mixed reviews from the press. His comments were inspiring and I felt should be expressed here.
In the interview, Mr. Alvarez made an interesting comment about game reviews in general, particularly in response to a review from Edge magazine which gave his game a 4/10. This is what he had to say:
“I agree that, in the end, it’s an opinion, and an opinion is totally respectable, but let’s not confuse an opinion and a review. The review is about the object and the opinion is about the subject. You can say “I do really like rock but I hate opera”, and this is an opinion, not a review. If I had to review, say, “Don Giovanni”, I wouldn’t even know how to start, and this honestly is something the gaming press lacks. A lot of people who review games do not live up to the game they’re reviewing.”
So, in short, the gaming industry needs to assign reviews to people who understand the game their reviewing. If someone hates RPG’s, then they shouldn’t be the one to review Final Fantasy. Opinions are perfectly valid in reviews, but ultimately a review should examine a game based on the game itself, and not the vision that the reviewer had in mind for the game. For example, I recently reviewed “Pure Chess” for the PS4. I gave it a 9/10. Some people may say, “Hey, why did a chess game get a better score than X-game.” Well, it got a score based on how well the game portrayed chess, which was pretty damn good in my opinion. Am I supposed to say “Well, Pure Chess wasn’t as good as Call of Duty so 5/10?” No, of course not! A final note on this matter, I would like to quote Mr. Alvarez once more from the interview:
“I’m talking about very good people that, for example, destroyed the first LoS. This is not about being right or wrong, it’s about talking about what you have to say. When you say in a review that textures or the engine are not the best, or that the gameplay is not up to it, you have to know it right. You can’t just say “I did not like it, and as I don’t like it it’s bad”, because that’s incredibly arrogant.”
Games do not deserve a sole opinion, they deserve an examination of the work, the quality, and the overall competence of the game.
If Videogames Are Art, Then Why Do They Need a Rating?
You see a piece of art, and you may think that it looks like a first grader did it. And yet, that art makes money. Games as a form of art is an argument that is still constantly waged across the internet and beyond. Even so, the Supreme Court ruled recently that: “Videogames are a creative, intellectual, emotional form of expression and engagement, as fundamentally human as any other.” Video games are art, ladies and gentlemen, but they are also a product. We pay sixty dollars or more for any game that comes out, and therefore it is important for us to know about what our money is going to.
Ultimately, reviews are given a number because of the industry standard. If game journalists want to be respected and acknowledged, then the price of admission is a score from one to ten. The problem with using this form of rating is that people will see a number and instantly decide on a game. Sometimes, they will scroll down to the score, skipping the review, and make their decision based on the number they see. I think the number system is not working. People see anything below a 6/10 and they think that they game is broken or not worth playing.
Five out of ten is average and therefore playable. Most people will see such a score and immediately dismiss the game as broken and unplayable, which is simply not true. Mr. Alvarez said this during his interview:
“It’s true that Edge liked the first game but they didn’t enjoy this one as much. I also think that what happened is terribly unfair. One must be blind or stupid to give a 4/10 mark to a game with this quality. With a 4/10 people think it’s a crappy game, badly done, one that’s broken with gameplay mechanics that don’t work and awful graphics. If I were a reviewer I’d know this, and I don’t think that LoS2 deserves the score of a crappy game.”
Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2 was not an amazing game. It wasn’t broken either. If I had reviewed it, I would have assigned a five or six at the highest. Most people would see this and immediately dismiss the game. It has a lot of great elements and a good story, but today’s industry has inflated reviews to inflate egos or appease developers and as such has completely skewed the system of numbers to the point where people make their decisions without reading the review. This is affected also by websites that will boil down these numbers into an average.
Why Do Sites like Metacritic Matter, and How Should Reviews Change?
There are websites out there that take all of the scores from reviewers and calculate an average. Taking everything into account from my comments above, this is not a good idea. What happens here, is that people see a number, and they make a decision. A number cannot represent the time, effort, and merits that a game has. It simply cannot because a game is not a math problem or a simple painting, it is a complex examination of a a world, a story, and its characters. Something like that cannot be given a number, it simply is not fair.
Websites like Metacritic will compile review scores and assign a rating. Doing so will provide an overall view of the game. Many games that have found success were initially shown as “Average” or “poor” in the Metacritic reviews. These titles such as “Deadly Premonition”, “Killer is Dead”, “Psychonauts”, “Brutal Legend”, and “Nier”, all of whom have acquired a “Cult Following” as it were, and found success.
The concept of assigning something as simple as a number to a creation like a video game is absurd. I say that our industry needs to move away from numbers. The website “Kotaku” for example has reviews that answer the question “Should I Play This?” The review says, “Yes” or “No” and gives several points. This is the right direction. Games are more than works of art, they are creations, living and breathing forms that people gave years of their lives to create. Don’t just give them a number, give them a review, an examination, and a recommendation for players. They deserve that much.
What do you think of modern game reviews? What would you change? Tell us in the comments!
Article by - Bradley Ramsey
Insert Date: 04/18/2014