Reviewing Reviews

Hey everyone, I wanted to free up my weekend so tomorrows post is actually today.

Several times before on this blog I’ve encouraged readers to use reviews of games to help them determine whether or not that game is right for them. This is a good idea, but with all the positive things I’ve said about reviews, in light of a few recent events we’re going to discuss, it’s time for a better look at this.

The point of a game review is to provide an equal source of criticism for various games, equal and balanced enough that if you look at various reviews from different sources, the best indicator is that they are all similar. Different groups have different methods of reviewing games as well as scoring them. For example, the magazine PC Gamer has a policy of assigning types of games to reviewers who enjoy that type of game. In this way, they are both familiar with the genre material (and thus much better judges) but also you don’t run afoul of the a negative review for a good game based simply on one reviewers preference of disliking the genre. Another policy they adopt is that of making all the reviewers play any game that receives a very high score, thus verifying it with a conclusive group.

This system combined with their effective and easy to understand review grade makes the PC Gamer reviews (in my opinion) especially trustworthy as to the decency of the game. However, as each game review site out there uses different methods for reviewing a game, sometimes reviews are not dependable.

The reason I bring this up is that a recent release was hammered by its first reviewer, IGN, who gave the game a 3.9 out of 10 possible points, and effectively tore the game to shreds. Many people who had purchased the game wrote IGN, claiming that they saw no reason for the game to receive such a low score. I myself purchased the game in question, a new Sonic the Hedgehog title from Sega for the Nintendo Wii titled Sonic and the Black Knight. After playing through the game myself, I am of the opinion that IGN’s review was determined on nothing more than bias against the game itself. Me, I’d give the game a decent 7 out of 10.

So obviously we need to question our trust of the review, but how can we tell whether or not a review is good or bad? Well, one way is experience. Both myself and y friends recognized a biased review the moment we it because the game was put down for using several gameplay techniques that the site had enjoyed in other games. It would be as if a critic declared he enjoyed action movies, only to give one random good movie, say….The Dark Knight, an extremely negative review saying that it was an action movie when it should have been something else.

Another way to realize a bogus review is use common sense and check a few reviews. If you have heard stellar things about a game from other people that have purchased it only to find a terrible review, check a few other reviews of the game before going any further. Going back to our example with a blue hedgehog, if one looks at other reviews of the game, they would find that IGN’s review is far less than the average review. As a matter of fact, metacritic (a great source site that averages all the reviews of a game into one average score) has the game at a 54. A little low? Yes, but not nearly as bad as the initial review suggests.

So who do you throw your trust behind? When it really comes down to it, it’s a matter of personal preference. PC Gamer happens to be my first choice for reviews, but that’s because I’ve found over the years that what I look for in a game and what they look for are fairly similar things. So it’s a rare occurrence that I disagree with their views. So, if you’re looking into games and starting out, or even just shopping around for someone you know, knowing where he gets his interests in the games might be a good idea. If you have a child that that subscribes to, say, X-box magazine and seems to enjoy it, taking a peek at a their reviews to find good game of the genre he enjoys may be better than using a magazine or site that he and his friends always disagree with.

Even with the problem of reviews not always being accurate, I still recommend that reviewing a game before purchase be a vital part of your gaming interest (or gift giving). Some bad apples may exist from time to time, and that’s why it’s important to take a look around, but if you’re informed enough, you should be able to quickly catch the difference between fair and unfair reviews.

Enjoy your week!

Games I’m Currently Playing: Sins of a Solar Empire (PC), Castle Crashers (XBLA), Sonic Megamix (Fan made Sega CD), Sonic and the Black Knight (Wii), Resident Evil 5 (Actually later today, but it must be said) (360)


Stephen said...

I've always thought game reviews to be just like any other type of review--to be taken with not just a grain, but a large block of salt.


Because anybody who plays enough games [or sees enough movies, or reads enough books] is probably a little more critical than your average person. Seriously, how many movies have Siskel and Ebert given thumbs down to that you've thought were just awesome?

Like the author mentioned in the post--everyone has different tastes (see, for example, http://www.gamesradar.com/f/inventions-that-would-make-gaming-better/a-20090305134210875033, scroll to "Infallible robot-head game reviewer").

So I think that while reviews are very helpful in getting a good picture of the game, I think that the only way to see if you like a game is to play it.

Now, if demos were actually designed to give you a good feel for the gameplay.....

Time Enforcer Anubis said...

After Jeff Gerstmann's firing from Gamespot, my trust in reviews dropped sharply, and rightfully so. He was terminated after giving Kane & Lynch a "fair" rating, while Eidos was putting a lot of money into advertising Kane & Lynch, going as far as having Gamespot use a Kane & Lynch theme for a while.

Suspicious, right? I touched on this in my very first post on She's Lost Control, when I explained the reason I decided to get into reviewing. Eidos gave Gamespot a lot of money to advertise this game, and I'm sure they felt betrayed when they saw the review, and I'm sure they "spoke" with Gamespot.

Other than the fact that these companies buckle under advertiser pressure, I've also got a problem with the way reviews are written. Game criticism is different from criticism of movies, books, art, or any other non-interactive media. Adam Sessler(See: http://g4tv.com/thepile/videos/35298/Sesslers_Soapbox_Innovation_Vs_Numeration.html) said this perfectly, I believe. Unlike a game, a book doesn't get harder to read as you go on. Non-interactive media also has standards, where if a book is "rittin lyk dis" it's a bad book universally and there's no disagreeing with that, and, while games have similar standards, they also become more difficult as the player progresses, meaning some reviewers might have a tough time playing the game, which could reflect in their review.

What that means is that they need to be reviewed differently than books and movies are reviewed. A movie can come down to one out of three different grades(Up-up, up-down, down-down) because you just sit back and enjoy it. My belief is that any effort to grade a game hurts it because what it says is pretty much "Despite -this-, which is good about the game, and despite -this-, which is bad about the game, and despite those who may like it regardless, the worth of this game is X," which I'm sure no reviewer actually means, but regardless, that's the message I'm sure a lot of people get.

Personally, and I don't mean to toot my own horn, I believe that the types of reviews written on SLC are ideal for games. My basic structure(For my reviews) is -Preface
-Misc Details
-Contact Info

The fact is, I know some people are gonna like SOCOM: Confrontation, and I know that some people are gonna not like it. If I were to give it, say, a 2/5, the people who like it would be alienated. This is the reason I use a recommendation instead. The analysis of the game's elements and whether they're good or not happens in the reader's head as they read my review. There's no need to say "This is good, this is bad" because the reader draws their own conclusion.

If more reviewers did that, I believe reviews would be a lot more trustworthy than they are now. However, seeing as SLC's only a small blip on the blogosphere radar, and seeing as the blogosphere itself has no standard for journalistic integrity(Though good blogs do exist when it comes to it, The Game Critic and SLC being two) the best we can do until reviews improve is trust fellow gamers.