This weekend, Ferrago kicked
out an editorial on a
comes up at least once a year. Their supposition was
that the score we video game reviewers give a game is
meaningless next to the actual review.
It seems that, amazing as it
may seem, simply seeing a set of numbers on a game doesn't
help people decide whether or not they'll like the game
unless said people are exceptionally lazy. From Ferrago's
slightly more blunt point of view:
Few things wind me up more than when what appeared to be a well-balanced and thoughtful gaming discussion descends into a successive barrage of review scores and Gamerankings ratings. Recently a colleague asked me what was better; Paper Mario 2, The Wind Waker, Animal Crossing or Four Swords. Of course, there is no answer because each game is utterly different from the others. Although I resisted answering the question, eventually I at least conceded that out of all the games in question my personal favourite was Animal Crossing - though I wasn't necessarily saying that it was the best game, I was more just hoping an answer of any kind would dispel the annoyance. When I was told that I was a "mug" because Wind Waker averaged a 9.1 on some rankings website whilst Animal Crossing merely ranked an 8.1 it took considerable effort to refrain from abuse.
First of all, I'd like to point
out that I, too, was amazingly unimpressed by The Wind Waker.
While some gameplay mechanics were nice, the vast majority
of it was a series of techniques that had been done far
better in Majora's Mask and Ocarina of Time, combined with a
boring and time-consuming quest to essentially wander the
world in a boat until you stumbled across the right spot to
drop anchor and go fishing for treasure.
But it got lots of high
review scores from game reviewers who just couldn't bring
themselves NOT to give a Zelda game a high review score.
It's not like this was unexpected; there are a few titles
that consistently get big review scores despite low
enjoyability factor for many gamers. Grand Theft Auto comes
to mind; yes, it was innovative once. Yes, the designers do
a good job designing sandboxes for you to play in. Yes, the
1000th time you've been in the shaking car with a hooker, or
tried to do some stupid stunt in the airplane, it tends to
get boring. But, of course, no review will ever tell you
that, because no reviewer will take that amount of time on
the game. Ben at Ferrago agrees - there are games he'd
rather play that garnered a lower review score, even as he
gave San Andreas better than 90% when he was reviewing it.
So what does a game review
score do? For many sites, it's not just one score. There's
an overall score, but also several categories - if a game's
got the most luscious graphics in the world, but trying to
control it is going to have you
feeding your controller through a chipper/shredder, I'm
going to tell you that. If the graphics are mediocre at
best, but it's got one of the best storylines and gameplay
mechanics you've ever seen, I'll tell you that too.
Ideally, you should read the
review of a game. Examine what the reviewer says about the
mechanics, how difficult the game was, and how good various
aspects are. If there's something that's going to be
annoying about a title, likely it's in the review. Most
gamers have a few reviewers that they've found whose reviews
they read because most of the time, they agree with what the
reviewer has to say. They go to these reviewers, and then
may go to Gamerankings or similar sites after the fact to
see if their reviewer is thinking similarly to more of the
first break the review score into a set of categories such as graphics, story, gameplay, controls.
This helps the reviewer figure out what
aspects of a game they liked or didn't like, and then
condense the categories into the single overall number. At
the end, a game that gets an 9.0 instead of a 8.0 may not be
any better or worse than the 8.0, but you can rest assured
that a game that only garnered 4 points on a 10-point scale
is probably NOT a game you want to be buying.
this a step further; they aggregate everybody else's review
scores into a single number, the
average score a game gets. For about 90% of game titles, this is a
decent way to find out, very quickly, what the gaming
community or reviewing community
thinks about a title. This is the highest level of an
abstraction from actually reading a review - you get a very
generic idea of every reviewer's very generic idea of how
much fun the game is.
For most games, this works
fine. "Sleeper" hits like Shadow Hearts: Covenant still show
up decently high in the reviews, and most games that are
pure crap rightly show up with incredibly low scores. The problem is with those
games that suffer from score inflation and/or deflation. Yes, let's face it, there ARE games like that out there.
Super Mario Sunshine was obviously not as good as the
original Super Mario 64, but it still got 90% or better on
most reviews. Metroid Prime had a rather counterintuitive
control system, and very little replayability, and the same
applies. GTA: San Andreas is perhaps an 80% title, a sequel
of a sequel of a sandbox game where once you've finished all
the missions, the replay value degrades quickly. That's the
reality of the game, but it seems to be heresy in the gaming
community to give it anything less than 90%, and so the
scores don't match the game's quality. Likewise with Duke
Nukem Forever - when it is finally released, there will be a
very quick rush to judgethe game. The response, just as with Daikatana,
will either be a mad rush to pan the game as "we waited this
long for this piece of crap" or will be a Halo-style "they
can do no wrong" reaction. As a reviewer, I try to ignore
this as much as possible; for instance, I refuse to touch Gamerankings on
until my review's already in the system. There are some
reviewers who I'm sure do the opposite, trying to tune their
reviews to be as close as possible to the GameRankings
What is the purpose of a
score, for games? It's to indicate to readers, as quickly as
possible, whether or not the reviewer thinks the game is
worth buying. It's the same thing as Siskel & Ebert's
thumbs-up/thumbs-down, the same as the 5-star scale for
restaurants and hotels; the point is to very quickly answer
the solitary question, "Is this game worth my $50?" With
that in mind, game sites that break the numbering down past
a simple 1-10 scale, or 5 stars with half-stars thrown in,
is getting silly; since the score is a generalization
anyways, it should be as generic as possible. There's no
need to completely ignore the score, and it DOES serve a
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