In the increasingly hype-heavy/trailer-reaction/positivity-train culture of games and film coverage, the role of the review seems to be getting lost.
An opinion about a piece of media can only be subjective. There will often be majority leanings but you can not scientifically say a game is fun. It comes down to the experience.
The aim of reviewing consumer products
As its base goal, a review should inform the consumer of the product’s value. A criticism is a much different beast that should take a bold stance on how that piece of art relates to the surrounding culture. But a review should be about the bottom line.
The best strategy is to find a reviewer with similar taste to you. For example, I think Jeff Cork of Game Informer is a great writer and extremely witty podcast guest. However, our taste in games differs greatly.
Firewatch and Thumper were two of my favorites in 2016. I deemed them worthy purchases and memorable experiences that stick with me today. Jeff Cork however, scored them lower than I would have (5.75 for Thumper!). While I agree with many of the points he made about Firewatch, the faults were not enough to make me regret my purchase. On the flipside, I’m sure there are many gamers with similar taste to Cork’s that might be disappointed if they bought one of the two and were happy to be warned away by his reviews.
Don’t take it personal, and don’t worry about Metacritic
It’s common to see a loud minority take personal offense to a low score bringing down a game’s Metacritic rating. This is childish. The ONLY person who should care about Metacritic are the poor Developers who have Publisher bonuses tied to the score. Anyone else who cares is reacting purely out of emotion and confirmation bias to see their opinion echoed.
The biggest problem with Metacritic is the conversion of scores. Slant magazine’s 3/5 (above average) could be deemed to look worse as a 6.0 on Metacritic. Commenters cried ‘clickbait’ and rushed to the defense of the inanimate object and their own confirmation bias.
Review vs Criticism
Slant’s Jed Pressgrove reviewed Breath of the Wild, but I would classify his work closer to a criticism.
If a review is designed to help the consumer make a smart purchase, a criticism is a bold analysis of the game as a piece of art. To make a statement about the game’s own statement.
Reviews are well-balanced, but criticisms should be strong and focused. They should explore unique perspectives and challenge why the art exists and how it affects us. There could and should be criticisms claiming Breath of the Wild as the greatest game of the generation and others calling it the worst.
Find great reviewers you trust, and read the rest as thought-provoking entertainment.
An 8/10 won’t offend anyone, but it doesn’t help much either.
Kotaku doesn’t give scores. They used to have a simple “Should you play this?” but even that has disappeared, perhaps appearing too quantifying. They instead list the pros and cons, talk about their experience, and rely on the reader to make up their own mind.
Many sites score out of ten, using either a 20, 40, or 100 point scale. I find these redundant as most games (other than shovelware) sit between 7 and 10.
When reviewing a game as a whole, it’s very easy to give it an 8. The gameplay itself might be poor, but the visuals and sound could be top-notch: Think The Order: 1886. Nearly every game has enough pros and cons to argue an 8. It offends no one, but doesn’t help much either.
WWE 2k17, Mario Run, Sniper Elite 4, Ghost Recon Wildlands, FF XV, Gravity Rush 2, For Honor, Dead Rising 4, Yakuza 0 and many more received between 7.9 and 8.5 from IGN.
As a fan of wrestling and lover of AKI’s N64 titles, I find the 2K series to be extremely weak and in need of a complete overhaul. I could make an argument for it to score a 5 or less, but an 8 can agree with my critique while pointing to just enough that was done right.
Final Fantasy XV is a classic 8/10. Ten years of development and 30 years of franchise nostalgia is enough to please many. Heck, Final Fantasy XIII was a disaster and still received an 8.5 from BOTH Gamespot and IGN. The game was an obvious trainwreck, but still looked like the millions of dollars spent on it and had enough hype going in to fudge over disappointment.
To the kids wrapped up in Metacritic drama, remember:
Everything regarding entertainment is an opinion and don’t take opinions personally.
Find reviewers you trust to help you make smart purchases.
Have fun debating the merits of games.
And don’t be an asshole.