Pete's Perspective: Episode 3
The power of video game reviews can truly be an amazing thing. Some gamers have their own specific websites or game magazines that they absolutely swear by, and it’s interesting to think about how many games are overlooked simply because one particular reviewer at one particular publication didn’t care for it. I’d like to think that I wield a bit of that power here at PSX Extreme, but when I really think about it for a few minutes, maybe it’s not as good a thing as I’d like it to be.
For many readers, it’s all about the score that a reviewer gives a game. Never mind the 1,000+ word explanation of why reviewers like myself gave the game that particular score—if it isn’t high enough, according to each individual reader’s criteria, the reader won’t even look twice at the game in question. Of course, each individual reader has his (or her, to be fair) MSC. Oh yeah… that’s short for minimum score criteria. Reader A, for example, thinks that anything less than an 8.5 is a complete waste of time. Reader B might be more forgiving, and set his MSC to 8. Reader C might think that anything less than a 9 isn’t worthy of being considered a stellar title. Of course, reviewers might have their reasons for not handing out high scores—and those reasons might be covered in the body of the review that we’re obligated to write for you all to read. Still, what’s written doesn’t matter in many cases. Scores are concrete and don’t have to be analyzed.
“So, Pete gave NHL 2003 a 7? Wow, that’s disappointing. I’ll pass, although I really liked last year’s game.”
While I’d certainly like to consider myself to be all-knowing, and would like to be able to point to my 25+ years of experience as a gamer as a credibility symbol, the fact of the matter is that it’s my own opinion. My opinion isn’t necessarily going to match your opinion, if you were to play the same game. Perhaps you might find the needlessly humorous banter between Jim Hughson and Don Taylor in NHL 2003 as a positive thing. Maybe you enjoy a faster game of hockey than the norm. There are a bunch of variables that you, the reader, and myself, the reviewer, might not see eye-to-eye on. It’d be a great thing if we did agree on everything—but we likely don’t.
There might also be times when reviewers might seem to score a bit on the high side, in your opinion. Antonio, who posts in our forums, astutely pointed out the example of Super Mario Sunshine. Many reviewers gave it high scores, while the select few who gave it lower scores were looked upon as Nintendo haters, initially. That was until more and more people took the general review scores to heart and sank $50 into what can basically be dubbed Super Mario 64, version 1.5. Again, readers simply judged by scores alone instead of reading the actual game review, and didn’t really know what they were in for.
The arguments for and against scoring Metal Gear Solid 2 so high are also interesting. In my case, when I reviewed MGS2 for another website, I scored the game highly based on several factors, including the in-depth story, the amazing visuals, the great music, and what I thought was some really solid gameplay. MGS2 naysayers have countered with the “weakness” of the Raiden character, the seemingly endless cut-scenes which don’t allow for much gameplay (thus the “It’s like watching a movie and not like playing a game” argument), and other quibbles. To this day, some 20 months or so later, I still stand by the 9.8 score that I gave the game. However, just because I really liked the game, it doesn’t automatically mean that everyone who spent the $50 on it back in November of 2001 will agree with my opinions regarding the game.
The idea here is that, in order to best make buying decisions, it’s important to reevaluate how you approach reading game reviews. Here are some ideas:
- Read the entire review: Yeah, I know this sounds like a lot of work. Still, if you read the review in its entirety, you’ll see the reasoning behind the scores and may find out certain things about the game the scores can’t tell you. Maybe a game isn’t all that strong in the graphics department, but has some addictive gameplay elements that you could miss out on if you just judge the overall score to be too low. Scores don’t tell you about a reviewer’s experience with a certain game—the actual review does.
- Read multiple reviews of the same game: Here we go—more work. Before you start making angry faces at me, hear me out. Each review is only one person’s opinion. Perhaps it’s the prevailing opinion of that particular game, or perhaps not. If you read more reviews, you can get multiple views about the game and see if there’s consistency. Pay particular attention to dissenting reviews and see if you can pinpoint where the dissention takes place.
- Rent, rent, rent: Put game reviews to the test. Take the time to actually try out a few games that you read reviews for—even if they’re considered “flops” by scoring standards—and see which reviewers (if any) that you agree with. This lets you identify with certain reviewers and perhaps can forge a “bond of trust” between you and those reviewers whom you agree most with.
I certainly hope that I’m on my way to establishing that “bond of trust” with many of you. We’re certainly not going to agree on everything, but I’m notoriously a tough scorer who gives out very few 9s. You’ve probably noticed that. Still, I shoot straight from the hip and give you my honest-to-goodness opinion about whichever game I am covering. If I don’t like it, you’ll hear it. If I do like it, you’ll pick that up almost immediately. I don’t shy away from disagreements, either. I’ve got e-mail and instant messaging options available and am always willing to hear your side of things. Do you think that I scored Enter the Matrix too high? Tell me so.
With that, it’s time to bring another Pete’s Perspective column to a close. Again, props go to Antonio from our forums for planting the seed for this week’s column. As always, I welcome your feedback—you can post in the Pete’s Perspective thread in our forums or you can drop me a line. Feel free to agree or disagree with anything I say, or perhaps even suggest ideas for a future column—much like Antonio did. In the meantime, it’s off to nab some monkeys with Ape Escape 2. I’ve got to agree with OPM’s Gary Steinman: Monkeys with pants rule. See you next week.
7/1/2003 Peter Skerritt