When I was younger and the internet wasn’t what it is today, my gaming news came primarly through gaming magazines. Particularly from the now defunct GamePro, thanks to some error that let me have a 4 or 5 year subscription for free. One of the biggest draws was reviews for the games I wanted for a birthday or the big games I wanted but couldn’t play.
I liked their rating system: a 1-5 scale for graphics, sound, control, and fun factor, along with a small list of things like game length, price, etc. So you could have scenarios where a game’s graphics weren’t so hot, but the reviewer still enjoyed the game and the game gave you a lot of replayability.
Years later I realized that I put a little too much emphasis on these ratings, ending up skipping some games because of what I had read. I came across a few games I had skipped before and ended up loving them. But back when my sole source of gaming info and opinions told me “This game is pretty bleh and probably not worth your time”, my minimal teenage income went elsewhere. The biggest one I can think of is Super Robot Wars: Original Generation 1 & 2. If you’ve seen the show you may have seen the episode where we played one of the games, or heard me talk about them, but I’m a big fan of the series. Back before I knew what the series was, the only US entry was given something like a 2.0 fun factor, with comments about how bad the story was and blah blah. By stroke of lucks I found both 1 and 2 at two different Gamestops and played the shit out of each. It was great to finally have a Super Robot Wars game in English and I still recommend them to fans of the series, but if you asked me when I first heard of it I’d probably tell you I had heard the game sucked.
This is an issue with reviews for any type of anything as a whole, particularly media, since everyone has their own preferences and tastes. I know that falls into “no shit” territory, but with games nowadays there’s so much emphasis on the numbers in these reviews. Many sites whittle their reviews down to a single number, whether or not they have a full review elaborating on why they gave it said number. Even if they do have the text to back it up, sites like GameRankings and Metacritic aggregate these into a number that many people use as their sole basis for judging a game’s quality or worth. “70%? Garbage! Don’t waste my time.”
The worst is when a review does something like, “Controls great, fantastic visuals, tons of replayability, had a blast with it. 6/10” A close second would be along the lines of “I hate baseball and sports in general, so MLB 14 gets a 3/10”. The aggregation gets even worse when you have troll sites like Quarter to Three who gives low scores simply as clickbait, but somehow it gets added and accepted to GameRankings.
Nowadays I prefer more of a “Skip it/Try it/Buy it” sort of rating, with listings or bullets of what the reviewer liked and disliked, rather than letting it all ride on a number. Sure it doesn’t make it onto the aggregation sites, but it at least gives a more accurate depiction of what the person thought about the game. Whether or not a person’s bias is coming through in those likes and dislikes is another side of it, but eventually you learn a site or person’s style and preferences. Things like IGN reviews seeming paid off, Eurogamer hardly giving games more than a 7/10, and Polygon’s weird white knight agenda thing they seem to have going on.
But you can take these sort of things into consideration when choosing whether or not to get a game. If a site hates all the games you love, maybe that 5/10 or 2/5 means it’d be right up your alley. I did just that with many of the Disgaea games, which were rated lower for being repetitive and similar to early entries, but I still enjoyed them all. Bullet points that were negative for the reviewer might not be such a hindrance for you.
That isn’t to say I haven’t been burned taking a chance on a game, but that door has swung both ways numerous times. I’ve gone with high rated games that were good, high rated games that I hated, low rated games which were deserving of a crappy score, and low rated games I thought were pretty kick ass.
We tried to come up with a decent rating scheme for games here at TDM which didn’t use numbers and was closer to the method I mentioned above, which you can see in some of the reviews GamingMistress has uploaded recently. It’d be nice to come up with some sort of universal rating system that can accurately identify flaws with a game while making its high points known, while minimizing bias, but bias is in our nature, so I don’t think we’ll see the numbers game changing up any time soon.