Focusing on if a game is “objectively good” or not in a review serves more to hinder than help the culture around games, and that’s why Intelligame reviews will be a bit different than the reviews you find at many sites: we won’t use review scores.
For many people, game websites exist for pretty basic reasons: inform the public about when games are coming out, talk about what’s happening as the game develops, then review the game once it comes out and possibly talk about the game some more if it’s really interesting. Let’s face it: with tons of games coming out on a regular basis across multiple platforms, it’s hard to know where to invest your time or money. But our experiences with games can vary radically from person to person, and though we may trust friends to lead us in right direction, even they can be wrong about our final opinions on a game’s quality. So how can we assume game journalists will their evaluations right every time for us?
Usually when people ask me what I do, I tell them that I’m a game journalist (I actually tend to think of myself as something a little different, but we’ll save that for another post). A few sentences later, I’ll get asked what my favorite game is…though I’ve got a few, one of my more consistent responses is Final Fantasy XIII. The common response from people who are frequent gamers to that answer: “Really? I heard that game wasn’t very good.”What does good mean, anyway? And let’s pretend that FFXIII “isn’t good:” does that mean that I shouldn’t have played it? Is there something wrong with my taste? Or maybe something wrong with my head? In contrast, let’s say that FFXIII “is good:” are all the people who criticized the game wrong? Is there an industry conspiracy at hand?
Let me tell you about one of my other favorite games: Deadly Premonition. It’s reached cult-classic status now because of its Twin Peaks-style intrigue and it’s overall random nature, but when it released in 2011 it did virtually nothing but confuse the press. Destructoid gave the game a perfect score, while IGN gave it a 2/10, essentially saying the title wasn’t worth the plastic the disc was printed with. Who was right? Was either group giving the “correct” score to its readership? Would every Destructoid reader cherish the game, while every IGN reader would use it for skeet shooting in the backyard? And, since neither of those scores reflect my personal thoughts on the game, should I brush both review off of my radar?
I never reviewed Deadly Premonition, but I did review Final Fantasy XIII (forgive the broken images; I’m not sure what’s happened with the site since I left years ago). I’ve used review scores in one way or another for all of the outlets I’ve worked with, and I hate feeling more weight resting on the number at the end of the post than the hundreds of words I’ve placed before it. The truth of the matter is that, no matter how many “2 out of 5s” or “9 out of 10s” a game gets, reviews are simply a matter of opinion. Even within the same outlet, games can receive wildly different scores simply based on who happened to be assigned the review. Sure, the odds that some games will wow players are higher than others, but the drive to “objectively rate” a game with a concrete metric inspires us to nitpick and compare apples to oranges. How do I know if a game is a 3.75, or a 4? Is a 7 game “average?” An 8? A 5?
I’ve been in game journalism for years, and to tell you the truth, I don’t know the answers to those questions. I can tell you that I’ve wracked my brain over giving a 7.5 or an 8 because I’ve turned down games I might have loved when I looked up a review in-store and saw a 7.5. I can tell you that contractual bonuses have been denied to game creators based on Metacritic scores, like Fallout: New Vegas’ 84/100. I can tell you that accusations have been made to outlets because they gave some number that people didn’t agree with, calling the review bought out. And I can tell you that I’ve seen too many comments and discussion threads argue about whether or not (insert game here) “really deserved a ___.” It’s not my job to put my heart on my sleeve for game creators, and I don’t want a world where nobody disagrees with a reviewer’s opinion, but this scoring model doesn’t serve us well as a community.
At Intelligame, for the reasons above and more, we won’t use review scores. Instead, our reviews will discuss the content of the game, and include Play If and Don’t Play If recommendations. These are meant to be suggestions that aren’t directly implied from the game; for instance, “Play if you like sports games” is a waste of everyone’s time when the review is for NBA 2K16. Still, it should be up to you, the reader, to determine whether or not a game is right for you and if you should or shouldn’t play it.
These things said, it goes without saying that some games will stand out from the crowd due to to their quality. Some will discuss tough issues that are relevant and timely in society, others will shock or excite in unexpected way. Some will be brilliantly designed, have gorgeous visuals, or amazing voice acting. Some will just be outright outlandishly fun. I’m working on a way to recognize those games that stand out from the rest, and more will be released about that later. Also, I hope we’ll stretch in to mobile, card, and board games as well as other media connected to gaming.
Intelligame reviews are meant to be more than purchasing suggestions; they’re meant to inspire discussion, create space for reflection, and help you better understand a person’s overall experience with a game. I hope that we’ll be able to point you towards some great games you might not have tried otherwise, and create conversation about games that could have been better than they were.