With a huge proportion of high-profile releases earning top marks and few game critics willing to dish out lower ratings, Mark Butler asks whether review scores have now become completely meaningless.
Single reviews became meaningless years ago, now even metacritic has no meaning...!
I think the problem is that games, unlike a lot of other media, have goalposts that are constantly moving, and as such it is very difficult to draw a line in the sand and say 'this is an average game and is pretty typical of the medium'. Todays 'average' game is tomorrows 'poor' game and yesterdays 'excellent' game. What it would take is for games reviewers to take a stand and say that games, like many other things fall along a normal distribution. Any game that scores a '5' is average, and only 1 in 1000 games might score a 9.9. Lets say that Gears of War 3 is an average game. It is well made, fun and looks impressive. These should be considered 'average' qualities, because no one wants to play a game that is not well made, fun or looks like crap. This is not a slight on Gears of War, as what I am saying is not that Gears should be considered a poor game, but that the bar should be raised that high. Or maybe pick a game that was not as good, say Prototype or Rage (or whatever you feel is an average game). When I see game scores and I see a 7 I know that the reviewer and most readers will see that as an average to poor game, but as the article has shown, the 'average' score on metacritic is probably closer to 8 than it is to 7, this meaning an 'average' game is somehow also scored in the top quintile if scoring was done along a normal distribution!
When expectations that games are only great if they get a 9 or more became the norm, and sites caved in to that notion and 7-8's meant games were just ok... yes, reviews have become a shell of what they were. Low scores and high scores dominate ratings.. and middle ground scores are looked upon as bad. The whole system is messed up.
I only read the reviews to find out what I might like and what might piss me off. The score itself really doesn't mean much to me. Watch gameplay videos on YouTube tells me a lot more.
When people are crying over an 8/10 score, review scores have no purpose. Scores have been inflated to the point where a 9/10 is becoming closer to being a mediocre rather than a great game.
Mostly... gaming journalists just aren't credible. They fail to evaluate a game as a narrative experience. That doesn't mean every game has to have a story. Far from it, but the gameplay should complement the overall experience. If it's a simple high scoring game, there's not much of an experience to be had. At least one that lasts. Expectations are changing, and journalists need to adjust to this. Multiplayer is still a pretty big deal, but it's losing a lot of it's relevancy thanks to games like COD and Battlefield. I don't know about everyone else, but I'm completely tired of shooters. Most of them are mediocre at best. And they say the West is leading in terms of game development... I've been switching to the East over the past couple years because there isn't enough innovation. Granted, the East isn't much better but at least the devs there try something more artistic.
I think the point is that different journalists put different weightings on different things - and we can choose ones whose views tend to represent our own. For example, I completely disagree about your narrative point (gameplay is all that separates our medium from film, and all that matters to me), so I tend to read reviews from critics/bloggers that weigh mechanics over artistic flair. Nothing wrong with the reviewers. But the scores have got to go.
So you just like the fact that a game is a toy first and foremost and fail to see what artists can contribute to the medium. I'm saying we should evaluate each game as if it were art. Just like movie, television, and book critics. Also, I value gameplay highly. I just think it needs to be built around a theme. If that theme is in the form of a story, it needs to be built around characters to sell the idea. If that theme is in the form of a more abstract idea, that feeling or emotion needs to communicated through the gameplay, setting, mechanics, etc (for example, flower).
I don't really want to get into the 'games are art' thing, but are you seriously suggesting reviewing games like "Truth Or Lies" as if they're a work of art? Or Bratz? Or even annualised sports games? Believing that all games are somehow art is naive. Most are disposable toys or sports, and only a glittering few have managed to transcend that. To review them as such, therefore, would be rank generalisation. But that's NOT the point. My point was that we all like different things, and we can all find a reviewer who shares our perspective. It's the scores, not the people, who are at fault - because you can't quantify an opinion.
They are, despite the commercial leanings. The programmers and artists at work still tried to design a great game. Whether one is or not is up for debate. You could make that same argument with movies and books as well. There are dozens of movies featuring Barbie and friends. Remember Barney on TV. Even books like Twilight are considered art. You and I might see them as examples of poor art, or say there's not enough to appreciate. Art is a general term to describe the fruits of our labor that are designed to capture our attention so that we might gain some meaning in the form of ideas, thoughts, and/or experiences whether intentional or otherwise. I mean, after all the saying, pretty much says it all: "Beauty (art) is in the eye of the beholder."
Movie reviews do it right.
I buy games based on genre, then the demo, then the developers and then reviews. Gamers should not consider reviews as the sole factor in purchasing games. Buy what you like for yourself.
Reviewers should take into account previous games in the series. (If it has any). eg. Something like Uncharted moving to Uncharted 2 was massive and should have been scored accordingly, moving to U3 was a slight backstep and should therefore receive lower scores. Games like COD which barely change should have their scores lowered for that very reason. If FFXIII were compared with previous titles its score would have been around the 4 or 5 out of 10 mark. The review system is outdated.
COD games aren't worse; they're just not better. They shouldn't be scored lower for not getting better. And I don't agree with XIII, as I loved that game, but that's personal opinion. And what if there is no other game in the series? How do you score the first one? What do you base it on? DO you gauge it by how it stacks up to others in the same genre? What if there isn't really anything else in the genre? I think a game should be based solely on its own merits: what the game attempted to do, and how well it did so. Other games in the series can be used for comparison's sake within the review- as it would make things easier for the reader to understand- but that should not be taken into consideration when grading the current entry. If we followed your rule, then no FF would ever score as high as VII, as many people widely regard it to be the best FF of all time, if not the best RPG of all time. Instead, the games should all be graded as the standalone titles that they are (even when they're direct sequels), and given reviews and scores that reflect how well they execute what they attempted to do. In that respect, XIII did a very good job doing what it attempted to do. Its poor reviews and low scores, however, stem from the fact that people wanted things from it that the game never intended. It's like when people graded down for GT5 not having custom livery; the game didn't set out to give you full control over your car's looks. That was some other game. GT5 set out to give accurate simulation of driving, of racing. Let's say MW2 is a decent game. By all rights, "Decent" should warrant more like a 6, not the 9 it usually gets. Black Ops comes out and is also a decent game. It shouldn't get a 5 because it's not better than MW2, but a 6 because it's decent. Reviews and the scores would be fine if people judged games on what they ARE, not what they WANT them to be. Unfortunately, people don't do that.
I'd say you'd score the first one on it's own merit, which is how every game is reviewed right now.
Opinions are subjective. None of what you say is true. Might some readjust their scores if given the chance? Perhaps, but you shouldn't assume that any game is worse than any other. What doesn't click for you may work for others.
The problem we have is that sites have perpetuated the myth, due to their scoring systems, that a game needs to score within the 9-10 bracket to be considered a worthwhile game, while 8 is "pick up when it's cheap" and 7 is "avoid, terrible game, do not buy". It's messed up and beyond repair because of the number of games that got 10s and 9s that never deserved it.
I'd like to point out that critics are cracking down on their ratings systems. It's not as easy to get a 9 as it was a year ago. This system feels a little broken as a result. For example, I just started another playthrough of Enslaved (great game, by the way), and was trying to recall any NES games that I thought was anywhere near as good. I failed to come up with even one. The original Metroid came close. Super Mario 3 was another contender, but that was pretty much it. Enslaved, even with all the tearing and framerate issues, was a much better experience than most other games from that era. Previously, I acknowledged Enslaved as an average game and Metroid as an outstanding game. Upon reflection I realized my tastes had changed. I found something in Enslaved I appreciated more than Metroid. Now, I'd be more willing to reverse the scores. This kind of thing will keep happening as games continue to discover what they have to offer.
N4G is a community of gamers posting and discussing the latest game news. It’s part of NewsBoiler, a network of social news sites covering today’s pop culture.