Review scores are amongst the most controversial aspects of games journalism. While reviewers all argue that the most important part of the review is the text, the truth is many gamers will only see a brief snippet of that text as they scroll down the metacritic page looking for a score that they can be outraged about. Righteous indignation abounds along with logical abusrdities (“How can your review score be a valid opinion when everyone elses is so much higher/lower?”). Along with the occasional attention grabbing site that deliberately scores a game high or low to become an outlier and increase their site traffic, the vast majority of games reviews require no conspiracy theories. They are written by a gamer over a couple of days as he tries to play as much of the game as he can and still finish the review on time while matching the house style of the publication he’s working for.
Every journalist wants their article to stand out but fit in at the same time. They want their work to reflect their personality and views, but not to seem out of place where it is published. This applies to music journalism, film and TV and pretty much everything else including gaming. That being said, this pressure to “fit in” with the existing journalists at a site or magazine can result in work thats somewhat predictable. Although I believe that games review sites generally try not influence the score given by an individual reviewer, realistically the reader has to take into account the publication or site they are reading. If you think a reviewer at The Official Playstation Magazine reviewer would be allowed to give Killzone 2 a 7/10 score then I think you’re being very naive. More insidious is the reviewer who adjusts their score based not on what they believe the game deserves, but on what that type of game would normally receive at that particular website or magazine.
Is this kind of thing happening? Is it wrong, to adjust your personal views on a game based on the opinions of the sites or magazines readers? I guess its hard to say. I know that personal biases are very hard to overcome and therefore should be made explicit to the reader where they exist. In the Official Playstation Magazine, they will never admit that their score scale for Killzone 2 went from 9 to 10, but they should. Conversely, the exact same is true for The Official Xbox Magazine and, Oh I don’t know, Halo Reach.
The truth is reputable, honest gamers are generally the ones that write the reviews that we all lap up. To see those honest reviews faithfully represented we should read them in the places where these journalists are free to express there views, and scores, openly.
How do we find such places? Well, we have to use our judgement. We have to look for reviewers willing to critisize a major release fairly, with genuine consideration of gameplay strengths and flaws. We have to look at whether platform exclusives score more highly than similar games of the same quality. We have to look at the languauge used and be wary of word like “awesome”, “best ever” and “perfect”. We have to look at whether reviews of “critically acclaimed” games show evidence that the reviewer has played them in depth, or has simply scored them highly based on popular opinion. Through these filters we can get an idea of whether the views expressed are honest and worthy.
Here at CalmDownTom we’ll be hosting more reviews in the future. We hope to provide you with opinions which will be as honest and unbiased as we can make them. Let us know what you think of them, and us, in the comments section.
And despite everything we said, please try to read the reviews, don’t just check the score.