Reviews – Previews, can they be Trusted . . . ?

Talking ‘Bout A Review Revolution

by: dkpatriarch


Ed Intro:

xboxoz360_icon581.png “I ask dkpatriarch (David Hilton) from the Aust-Xbox-Forums if he’d like to contribute some stuff to the XboxOZ360-Blog, as I often find his news items and points of view very interesting and well worth reading. So here’s his first piece regarding the latest kuffufl over GameSpot and Edios’s “preview/review” of one of their games that saw a high ranking GameSpot staffer “removed” from his position, with various “accusations” being passed back-n-forth over the net. – Welcome aboard mate.”

So, one of the most popular gaming sites in the universe, got caught out doing a “cash for comment” deal with Eidos. The well publicised story of the Gamespot editor and reviewer who got sacked for giving Eidos’ game Kane & Lynch a low score of 6 when Gamespot had a lucrative advertisement deal with Eidos has been doing the rounds on forums and emails all over the place. Gamespot denies it, of course, but there are too many coincidences to truly buy the PR attemps. But I’m not interested at the moment with the arguments that have been raised about online gaming journalism’s integrity; that’s being dealt with elsewhere. I’m interested in the power of a number.


It was the ‘6’ that caused the commotion; the relatively low overall gamescore given the game. This scandal reveals just how important review score numbers are; so important perhaps that publishers like Eidos and others will invest in a website expecting a better overall review score to sell more games for them. With the rise of online gaming magazines and websites the game review score now reaches even more people than did those in the trusty gaming mag we had to pay for. These online game websites generally have no subscription income and so rely on advertisement dollars. That opens them up to pressure from advertisers. Advertisers know how popular and how important online review scores are or they wouldn’t use the website. How many of us, myself included, visit a site like Gamespot, or ever better, Gamerankings or Metacritic, to see how a game ‘scores’ overall? One single number and we see that the game is gold or rubbish. We don’t even need to actually read a review.

The problem, besides the possible conflict of interest issue, is that these powerful review scores do not really sum up a game properly. They certainly do not represent the tastes of all gamers either. Nor are they consistant.


For example, the latest 360 Magazine scores Assassin’s Creed a 2 star out of 5. That’s on par with this month’s review score for Beowulf and Kengo Zero, and higher than Cars: Mater National and Viva Pinata Party Animals. However it is lower than Scene It, a game they say “fails to beat Buzz! in almost every respect”, and Tomb Raider Anniversary, which it describes as treading “a very fine line in that perhaps its very existence (on 360) is questionable when you consider what you’re really getting here is just a hi-res PS2 game”. So a glorified dvd game apparently worse than Buzz! and a hi-res PS2 game are better than Assassin’s Creed. Bullocks. No matter its failings it does not deserve that kind of comparison. Assassin’s Creed has also been getting high game review scores from other reviewers, and without a doubt displays amazing technical achievements.

So here is the problem in mirco: the review scores as they are do not really work. A ‘Big Brain Academy’ (which Gamepro gave a 9) cannot really compare to the latest Zelda or Mario Galaxy, despite the similarity of score given by game sites. They may all be fun but which are obviously technically better? Also you cannot compare a score for COD4 or Halo 3 to Viva Pinata or Assassin’s Creed. They simply aren’t the same kind of game. Some gamers will want high level technical detail like graphics and tight controls; others are more impressed by the ‘fun factor’ of a game, or its replayability. All gamers want to know that they are comparing apples to apples and a straight comparison of overall game scores does not contextualise the game. So, short of forcing every gamer to actually read all the reviews or to eliminate the overall game score altogether, what can be done to improve review scoring?


Do you trust reviews/previews . . . ?

I believe the overall games review score needs to be split at least into three. Category 1 would be an overall score for technical aspects like sound, graphics, control scheme, frame rates, clipping, and design etc.. Category 2 would be an overall score for gameplay or “fun factor” and replayablity. Category three would be a “better than” or “worse than” comparison with similar games in the genre, or a “new game genre” tag if it is a new type. In this way a review of Big Brain could say how technically it is rather simple, but that it is a lot of fun, and a new genre to videogaming, without being put in position where its score makes it seem like the same experience as Mario Galaxy or Zelda. The reviewer of Assassin’s Creed mentioned above would be able to show that technically Assassin’s Creed is a real achievement, but that in his opinion the ‘fun factor’ was lacking, without giving a ludicrously low 2 stars.

Sure, some review score systems incorporate elements of this model, but most rely on gamers to read the review to get the clearer picture and still rely on the overall score to mark the game as good or bad. I think reviewers need to move away from having one overall number to represent everything a game offers and gamers should not limit themselves to a ‘Metacritic’ average of these single overall scores. These numbers make or break a game, and it really is a shame for the many titles that may have had greater support if the game had not been distilled to a single puny representation of its merit. In some other cases it is a shame some titles end up purchased by gamers who are impressed by the high score but then find they wanted more fun or better graphics or a different genre altogether.

At the very least, if the review you skipped to the end of incorporated the three category system it might cost Eidos and their ilk three times as much to ensure positive scores….or be much more obvious if they and the pressured reviewer try to cheat on the game’s report card.

How about you? Have you got some ideas for a game review revolution? Share them in the comments section below!

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11 thoughts on “Reviews – Previews, can they be Trusted . . . ?”

  1. Very interesting read DK.
    I definately agree with you Dark about the way that anything under an 8 is thought of as a bad game. I don’t think that will change any time soon tho. Guess it is mainly up to the reviewers to communicate that a game isnt neccessarily bad just because they scored it low.


  2. It’s interesting that both Hyper and 360 magazine state the challenges they have these days competing with online website reviews and news but offer the fact that they as print magazines can usually spend more time with a game. As a result of not having to rush to be the fastest review up on the net, they claim that therefore they may have more accurate reviews. I’m not sure if this is true (especially after the 2 stars for Assassin’s 360 magazine gave) but it is an interesting perspective.


  3. I know, it was an effort to drag you away from it, just ask your girlfriend mate, she’d know . .hehehehe

    But yes, many gamers simply look at a score and base “their” thoughts around that. Even going so far as to run the game down and make comments on it, bad usually, even though they have yet to play it . . . odd as it sounds, but it’s true.

    Some people hated Black with avengence, yet I found it completely riveting, followed the storyline and understood WHYthe developers (Criterion) did what they did with the ending . .it had to be that way. yet most gamers simply bagged it, as did many reviewers, because of its ending, and the fact it had no MP . .again, if you check the storyline out, it can’t have a MP aspect to it in the first iteration, perhaps in the 2 and 3rd (it’s also a trilogy btw – eventually)

    But as you rightfully point out DK, many gamers simply don’t read things these days, especially if it’s longer than say 7 lines of text.

    Which is also why the mag Xbox360:OAXM (and it’s UK parent mag) has almost 75% or more of pics with little text , whereas other major 360 mags have less, but better quality pics, and more detailed articles on the games and their reviews. And why the majority of it’s buyers are younger gamers, with older ones choosing mags such as X360, 360, EDGE etc . . . .


  4. True, you rarely see anything below 5 these days; either that means there are less rubbish games out these days (which I think actually is true…most 360 games have some redeeming quality (even the horrid Hour of Victory)) or all scores have to be 5 and above or the reviewer is under scrutiny. I agree that people now look for games that score a 9 and buy those (because there are plenty now). 9 seems to mean: a buyer, instead of: a genre advancing wow of a game experience. But again I think this shows that games should not be given a single overall score, because it says so little and has so much influence.

    You and OZ read reviews and previews of games that catch your fancy (and so do I) but I’d say the average gamer (and even me too sometimes) just look at the end score and the game is then imprinted as good or bad in our mind.

    I pre-ordered Jericho, which got poor scores (and for some good reasons), and was worried when I saw the scores that I had wasted my money. But I enjoyed it. The game may have not have been as good as COD 4 or whatever, but I enjoyed it, faults and all. Each person could probably find a few games like that that they enjoyed despite the low score or obvious flaws. If I had seen the reviews first, would I had pre-ordered? Probably not. That’s how much influence a number has. I’m glad I kept my pre-order and got it.


  5. Nice article there DK , I really enjoyed it – good to have you on board. I totally agree with you on categorising the review scores, however I know that I’ve got a really bad habit – especially on GameSpot, I’ll just skim past all the different scores down to the “total” score… It’s really bad, but that’s just how many people are.

    Mind you, I do read the whole review, so I know what the score really means. But anyway – great review. Right now I’m trying to keep it simple with my reviews, but later down the track it would be a good idea to start breaking down the scores to a more “apples and apples” approach…

    My other gripe is the cluster of exceptional games all packed in between 9.5 – 10/10. There needs to be an industry perception change, 5/10 should be an average game, but many consider anything less than 7 to be absolutely terrible.


  6. True mate, but then, I’m on a pension, so money is espcially tight for me, so I’m cautious on my purchases. I use the scores, or at leastthe review/previews as a ‘guide’ only, read up on a game as much as possible, then once my mind has been made up, even if the game might cop a bit of a flogging viw post launch reviews, I’ll still then give it a go.

    Like my recent purchase of TimeShift. While it’s not faired all that well, in many reviews, I waited until I could afford it, via a GAME voucher and them reducing it, – lucky me – and got it, as I did enjoy the demo . . . but that’s me. Many probably don’t like it . . . I think if people base their purchases only on the score it (the game/s) may get, then they might just miss out on a game that might well suit them, but not their friends.

    They are guides, and they are all personal experiences, but as you point out, many can and are “influenced” to some degree, especially pre-launch.


  7. Well you are doing exactly what you should: making up your own mind based on playing the game. It is just that some people don’t have the money to ‘experiment’ on games they think they might like and so go by these scores….which may be leading them in the wrong direction.

    First, the score may be suspect (a PR firm has recently admitted they were paid to encourage good previews as well as the known Gamespot situation) and second they may miss out on a game they like due to some ‘overall score’. How many posts on the Xbox forum go something like: “IGN scores HALO a 9″…. There has to be a better way to give an indication of a game than the single overall score or metacritic ‘average’. If you used Metacritic for movies you’d see a lot of slow dull films and never see any escapist action ones….


  8. Yes, I liked the article to, makes you wonder just how valdi many of the various reviews are

    But like you, I make my own mind up about a game I like, even if it does get a flogging by ‘some’ reviewers. Only those games I like naturally, but my experience has shown me, that what many dislike, I like, or find interesting, rather than boring etc.

    It does come down ones personal preferences in the end, and there’s been many a game i would not have bought and NOT enjoyed if I relied only on a game review score.


  9. Nice article mate, I never really thought about it that way. But for me, a review is a guideline, I never make up my mind about a game (a game I intended to buy anyways) until I play it myself.

    Take Assasin’s Creed for example. I think the game is fantastic, I love the gameplay and the story which are two aspects of the game which have been hit the hardest by game reviews.

    It all comes down to personal preference. I could love Mass Effect and you could hate it. Those opinions won’t be changed by a review score.


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