The purpose of reviewing is a tricky issue faced by all gaming writers, from those who have a 10-page glossy spread in a mag to the forum-goer who drops the occasional piece in the user review section. It’s something I have to consider all over again for every review that I do. Am I meant to inform, entertain, stir up debate or find a unique position? Should I try to uncover some sort of objective truth in games and lay these facts before the reader, or present my own experiences and forget about the unrealistic goal of impartiality? It’s a topic that I could get a lot of words out of, but that’s for another time.
The catalyst for this little post was a review of Shogun 2, the latest of Creative Assembly’s Total War games, on my favourite web haunt The Escapist. Not having played the full game yet (fun demo though) I can’t judge its accuracy, but I found 99% of it to be quality work, conveying the author’s enthusiasm for the series but unafraid to point out its errors. The only problem I had with it was the score.
Whatever you use, be it a 0-10 scale, stars or some other system, scoring is flawed. It’s probably the most arbitrary section of the review, but when put onto Metacritic it becomes the ultimate barometer of a game’s success, with the aggregated scores from across the gaming press supposedly coming as close to objectivity as is realistically possible. Personally, I dislike scoring. In recent reviews for Gamedot, I gave Magicka an eight out of ten whilst scoring Test Drive Unlimited 2 as a seven. Guess which one I vastly prefer? Test Drive, obviously: I’ll rack up so many more enjoyable hours cruising around Ibiza in my Aston Martin DBS than I will zapping monsters with a fire-lightning-arcane beam (despite its destructive awesomeness). I don’t see this discrepancy as my failure to score things correctly, but as the unfortunate, inevitable result of utilising scoring in the first place.
The Escapist’s Shogun 2 reviewer, despite raising flaws from ‘inconsistent performance to terrible pathfinding to late-game overload’, awarded the game five stars out of five. I’ve no problem with this as such, since the site has always leant to the side of subjectivity, but the review will now be posted as a perfect 100 score on Metacritic, giving a thin veneer of perfection to the game and possibly misleading consumers looking to advice on what to buy. The only way to remove these problems once and for all is to ditch scoring altogether.