There’s a weird trend in video game reviews for the sheer numbers to become more important than any actual discussion. Fans of a series cling to Metacritic, outraged that the new masterpiece earns anything less than a perfect rating, verbally attacking or even sending death threats to reviewers for an 8/10 score on what they see as the second coming. Which means ignoring that an 8/10 is a very good score and a high recommendation. Numbers become gospel, and an average score of 95 is interpreted as the game being objectively better than one with a 94. People skip entire reviews and instead use the number at the end to determine whether or not something is good, innovative but flawed games get ignored, and we usher in a whole new era of homogenized mediocrity.
Or maybe I’m exaggerating. Nonetheless, game review scores are some of the most unreliable and skewed things you’ll ever see. There’s a huge bias towards inflated scores, there are weirdly specific numbers complete with decimals, and somehow wildly subjective opinions get squeezed into a precise score and somehow expected to make sense. Games that get rated highly are done so because the reviewer enjoyed it a lot despite flaws, games that have great ideas but considerable flaws get shuffled down into the numbers where people ignore them. The dreaded 7/10, or worse, 79/100 is for many the point of no return.
With all this in mind, I try to stick to a four-point rating system at all times. No half scores allowed, ever. Even at that level, it’s still cheating a little bit. The most pure rating system is a simple yes/no, or thumbs up or down, but I think that has a few flaws that need clarification. ‘Yes’ can apply to many things, from a decent fun romp to a masterpiece, and ‘no’ can be said in absolute terms, or as a ‘probably not’ to all but the fans who eat up that kind of game. A negative review isn’t going to stop someone who’s very interested in the game, and a positive one isn’t necessarily going to persuade anyone who isn’t. With that in mind, my preferred rating system looks something like this:
4: Highly Recommended
Either an all-around excellent game with quality in all areas, and minimal flaws, or just a game that does one or two things so exceptionally well it transcends its own flaws. This category can include the usual 95/100 on Metacritic, classic for the ages, AAA titles, or it can include something so innovative and passionate that it simply needs to be played. Games with this score are by no means perfect, and may even still contain major flaws, but there’s something about them so distinct and memorable that I consider them essential for anyone with an interest in games.
Batman Arkham Asylum – An absolute classic that nails every single part of its design and makes the most of its license, overall one of the very few games out there that’s exceptional in every area.
Hotline Miami – A weird, niche-appeal, experimental game that is so memorable, so unusual that it absolutely must be played, even if you end up hating it.
Either a good game that doesn’t quite amaze me, or a great game with such major flaws as to keep it from achieving full marks. Games in this category can vary wildly in “actual” quality, from the all-around solid experiences that do everything well but aren’t huge standouts, to the ambitious but rough projects that didn’t quite work, but earn a recommendation to experience what pieces they did get right. A lot of very good games are going to get this score, even some of my most-played games, because while they might do a lot of things right, they’re not incredible to the point that I would gush about them to anyone looking for a game to play.
Alan Wake: Fun ideas and some great segments make for an enjoyable experience, even if there are some bumps along the road in terms of gameplay and story.
Vampire The Masquerade: Bloodlines: A very messy game that didn’t quite get finished, it’s one of the most involving, atmospheric action-rpgs out there and while gameplay is clunky and imbalanced as hell, it’s so damn stylish I still love and recommend it.
2: Not Recommended
This is actually quite a broad category and isn’t necessarily even a ‘no’. These are the games that have something good about them but don’t succeed at an overall pleasant experience. These are the bad games that tried. If it’s here, there are some redeeming qualities that will be noted, but not enough to earn my recommendation. Those who are strongly interested in the content or the genre will quite possibly be able to see through the flaws and enjoy it anyway.
Anna: A messy but pretty horror game with some memorable scares and interesting ideas, but a very clumsy overall execution that lacks direction.
Clive Barker’s Jericho: A truly embarrassing game with some terrible design choices, ugly visuals, and poor AI that is still a weird amount of fun just for being unique and creative in a stupid kind of way.
Exactly as it sounds. It takes a lot for a game to fall into this category, and I’m not going to give out this score lightly. A game I didn’t like, that has huge design issues, or that simply isn’t very fun isn’t going to get a 1. No, this score is reserved for the games so bad they feel actively malicious. Be they cash-ins, ripoffs, awful mobile ports, or simply games that aren’t what they say they are, these are the games I can’t recommend to anyone. They accomplish nothing, they offer nothing, and the only reason to spend time with them is to see how bad they really are.
Examples: And Yet it Moves, inMomentum, Bad Hotel, and various other excruciatingly bad games that probably infiltrated your collection via Humble Bundle or other means.
With all that said, stay tuned as I now tackle the grotesque, writhing behemoth that is my Steam library, with many reviews to follow.