The horrible truth about Game Reviews

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TheHorribleTruth

I could have headlined this “What we do wrong with Game Reviews” but then I’d be imposing my faults / beliefs on others and that’s wrong so we’ll stick with what we have.

This article has come about from 2 recent conversations, one that is still going on in the MW3 review and the other from a private Skype and public Twitter chat.

Comparisons

Titles gets compared to the series they came from, whether they should or not is up for discussion but what isn’t is that they do. Don’t believe me? Well what if Modern Warfare 3 was called Urban Combat and was developed by a new studio without massive backing.

Would you then be calling for it to receive a 6/10 or would you be falling over yourself to give it a 9+ because of its incredibly in-depth multiplayer modes, options and customisation levels. Not to mention a full co-op experience and an incredible blockbuster style single player experience?

I can tell you from experience it would have been bashing on the 10/10 scores across the board because say what you like about MW3 (or BF3) they are technically excellent titles.

However people in general appear to believe that MW3 got high 8’s and 9’s because of it’s pedigree and the truth is that MW3 is held back by it’s history. There is a bar that we expect it to reach and anything less is unacceptable.

The same goes for series spin off’s, I’ve been told now that I can’t compare Battlefield 3 to Battlefield Bad Company 2 because that’s a spin off and I should be comparing it to Battlefield 2. When comparing it to Battlefield 2 it has some great innovation but against BFBC2 it’s not as impressive… I see what you’re asking for oh BF3 fan.

However a game will always be compared with it’s first spin off as the series is still close together and then if the spin off stays in the same genre/time setting then it will be continuously compared.

We have to compare Battlefield 3 to BFBC2, it’s illogical not to.

LikeABoss

Did you complete it?

The most common question bar none is whether we complete games before reviewing them and the simple answer is… sometimes.

Do you really think I completed FIFA 12 before reviewing it? Is that even possible? Also Skyrim has unlimited side quests so the game cannot be completed and the main story is 100 hours long so when do we review it? (We haven’t reviewed it yet if you were wondering)

I also reviewed MW3 and had completed the single player but not all the spec ops levels and obviously you can’t complete the multiplayer.

When it comes to more obvious titles the general rule is finish the game and then review it, if the game however is just terrible then feel free to not finish it and state in the review that you didn’t complete the game but you really don’t think it’s going to get any better or worse than it is already.

Then we get mini-game, music game compilations, these are party games and are intended to take a long time but be the same all the way through just with varying levels of difficulty. Again the rule of thumb is to try all the mini-games (genre’s of music) and at least to the most difficult of 1 or preferably 3 of the mini-games.

Oh and what difficulty level? I personally play most games on normal so they are still fun and after completing them I’ll crank it up to stupidly hard and try a few levels to get an understanding of the AI and gameplay at the higher level.

How long do you get the game for?

Unfortunately we aren’t treated like the European or American media in deepest darkest Africa and while Mario’s awesome blog of note in Italy gets the game 2 weeks before release we often have to wait until a few days after release before our review copy arrives. So that’s why our reviews are often late.

We get given sample copies to review games on. These are identical to retail copies in every way and form except that they cannot be resold and have no value on the open market. They arrive separately from the main distributor overseas and can often get held up in customs.

This is something I personally complain about all the time which has turned into a bit of an inside joke in the gaming community, which annoys me as I find this to be very important and detest being treated like a second class citizen in the gaming world.

Oh and we keep the games forever, perks of the job as they say.

WhatPressure

Publisher / Advertiser pressure

Yes it exists, no it’s not hard pressure and no we’ve never once had our advertising threatened for a poor review. Mainly the pressure is to get a review out and not about what the score is.

Also we get hassled about the horrible things you lot say about the games but that’s the fun part of the job so I hope it continues from both sides.

What’s an average score

The big unanswerable question. If the rating chart is between 0 and 10 then why does everyone cluster around 7-8 and does that make a game that scores 7/10 average.

This one is solely my opinion as Geoff has his own, entirely wrong, opinion on this one which I’ll try get him to add to this article.

In my opinion a truly average game would receive a score of 5/10 however we don’t review even 10% of all the games that hit the market simply because there are so many and we have so few man hours in a month. We generally,  but not always, only review titles that have been sent to us and it doesn’t take a genius to realise that distributors aren’t going to send us many bad games to review.

And don’t think the developers and distributors don’t know when a game is bad, they’ve been doing this longer than me and you put together and generally know exactly what a game is going to score before sending it out.

We, Lazygamer, also have a target market and while that does include casual family fun games it doesn’t include Barbies latest adventure or Dora the Explorer games. These are generally your average games and if we were reviewing them you’d see a much great range of results coming out of the reviews.

Also a 10/10 doesn’t mean the game is perfect and has no faults it simply means the game has done so many great things and is so entertaining that all of it’s faults are forgiven.

I can’t remember if I have ever given a game 10/10 but thinking back in life I would have possibly given Portal, Quake and New Super Mario Bros Wii perfect 10’s as those games are just incredible in my mind.

So in closing, if a game is a AAA title and by that I mean it’s a solid franchise with a ton of financial and marketing backing and it gets a 7/10 then that’s bad. We expect more from that. However a brand new IP from a small studio could get a 7/10 and that is good and worth looking at as some extra financial backing could propel that title into the stratosphere.

In a nutshell, read the whole review and not just the final score please.

ChallengeAccepted

Okay so that’s my rant for a Wednesday, I’d love to hear you feelings on it and if you think I’m completely wrong please tell me why. I seriously do love the feedback and don’t believe my opinion can’t possibly be wrong. If I’m wrong I’ll admit to it and do my best to change.

PS: I hate reviewing games, it’s a fact

[A word from Geoff]

Gavin and I fight about review scores, and indeed review practises all the time. I have a nasty habit of having to finish games before I feel I’m qualified to review them. Obviously this doesn’t count for annualised sports titles, or mini-game collections, or any other titles that you could – if you were bored or perhaps masochistic enough – play for all eternity. When it’s a narrative driven game, or something with a unique hook, I just don’t feel that I have the right to criticise or commend a game until I’ve at least experienced all facets of it. 

I also try  not to rush through them; playing games in a manner atypical of the way regular people do , by trying to rush through a 12 or 15 hour game in one sitting can lead to a sort of fatigue or boredom, negatively impacting scores; something that your average player – who plays in shorter shifts (There IS life outside of videogames, apparently) won’t experience. It’s not fair to the game, or those who made it.  It’s why my reviews are often late – as was the case with Dark Souls, which I played, and indeed relished over weeks.

That’s not to say that I take task with reviewers who don’t finish games; with so many games to review and deadlines looming over heads it’s often the only way to get things done. It’s a sad fact of life, but that’s how it goes. I also don’t think a game should be reviewed based on its own legacy, or financial backing, or attached nostalgia and that each should be taken on its own merits – but that’s almost impossible to do. Super Magic Hero Quest Adventure 3  is undoubtedly going to be compared to its predecessor and scored accordingly with people, as Gavin’s pointed out, expecting more from the title.

On the subject of scores, I find them arbitrary, mostly meaningless numbers that get added to the bottom of what really counts – the review itself. There seems to be too much focus on scores, and thanks to aggregators like Metacritic and the relatively young age of the medium, I find scores for games tend to be hideously over-inflated, with a metric that starts too high up the scale. For that reason, games that get scores in the 7s – the new average- get seen as “mediocre” and often overlooked. It’s a pity- because often they’re wonderful games with imaginative ideas – just possibly with a few design problems that hold them back from being amazing.

For me – and this is where the fights usually happen –  a 7 is awarded to a game that’s really pretty good, and would be enjoyed by most everyone. ; 8 is great – games that are well made, polished gems shining brightly; 9’s are handed to phenomenal games that redefine or push boundaries within their genre and 10’s? Well I’ve yet to hand one out – probably because not a single game has shipped with a hot Swedish lady with her own kneepad accessories.

Now go shout at Gavin in the comments.

Last Updated: November 23, 2011

Gavin Mannion

I for one welcome our future robotic overlords

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