Revisiting Review Scores

I started doing short game reviews about a year and a half ago as a way to log my thoughts and to challenge my own opinions on the games that I play.  By committing a score to a game  I was going to force myself to evaluate them consistently or re-evaluate them entirely.  I know this is serious business, but it’s something that I enjoy spending some of my free time on.  So the first question I had for myself was “If I’m going to commit to a scoring system, what should it be?”  I more or less want a reader to approach my scores in the exact opposite fashion as Destructoid’s scores: any and all comparisons between the score one game makes and any other is entirely valid and welcome.  I don’t have any interest in segregating games based on genre and am willing to make a case on why game X is better (or worse) than games Y and Z.  That being said, it’s only my opinion, and my only goal is to be consistent in hopes of learning something about games myself or, the far less likely scenario, the reader learns something about their own opinions toward games.

If that’s the way it’s going to be I’m going to have to understand why I would give a game a 9/10 versus a 10/10.  The reason for that should be consistent no matter what game it is, and for all possible scores.  Honestly though, I don’t know what the difference between a 9/10 and a 10/10 is.  I’m sure you can pick out a reason why a game is imperfect and determining it only deserves 9/10, but does that logic carry to other games as well?  What about a 9/10 versus an 8/10?  Or a 7/10?  The line blurs pretty quickly.  The score is ball parked on a scale of terrible, OK, good, or awesome, and then tweaked based on details that are cherry picked from the game.  That first part is the most important, and the second part makes it very difficult to score games consistently since you are arbitrarily selecting aspects of a game to reward or punish it by.  (This is how I’ve felt about game reviews anyhow, and it may not be a fair judgement.)  So I judge a game on a scale from 0 to 4, and I try my best to judge the aspects that I believe are most central to soliciting interaction from the audience.  I’m not as concerned with how good it looks or what spin it puts on a genre of games.  The only thing that games can do uniquely well is make an audience feel like they need, or want, to do interact with something that has no bearing or consequence in reality.  Here’s what I work with in terms of scoring a game.

0/4: There are no redeeming qualities to this game.  Nothing is worth salvaging and carrying into a new game, and whatever might be good about it is concocted in the player’s own mind and mistakenly attributed to the game.  My prime example is Dirge of Cerberus.  That game utilized poorly designed gun play and told a fan-fiction quality story.  There was nothing particularly novel about it.

1/4: There is a good idea in this game some place, but it was almost done on mistake.  Whatever is good about the game is totally is entirely dragged down by the rest of the game, but the good is worth mentioning never the less.  The idea could still be developed into something better.  Mirror’s Edge serves as a good example of a 1/4 game for me: it was frustrating to play and failed to deliver any sort of compelling narrative, but the game play and visual styles were novel and could be better utilized in a new game.

2/4: Good ideas that live in this game aren’t being smothered by the bad aspects of the game, but it doesn’t exactly shine either.  However the game is on to something and it’s not impossible to see how it could be turned into something much more compelling.  A 2/4 is gaming limbo.  Devil May Cry 4 works well as an example of a 2/4: while it had entertaining game play and characters, but repetitive level design held those traits back from truly shining.

3/4: This game’s good ideas out weight the bad, but the bad are still present.  They are not easily ignored and deserve to be mentioned.  Otherwise the game is excellent to play and recommended.  Vagrant Story, for instance, had an excellent story, a deep game play system, and beautiful designs, but it was terribly inaccessible.  How exactly you’re supposed to play isn’t very clear at all, but overcoming that obstacle yields a great game play experience.

4/4: This game represents the best that games in general have to offer.  Audience interaction is obtained effortlessly on the game’s part, and the audience does not need to think about what exactly the game is asking them to do.  They want to do what is required without having to be told so by the game.  Final Fantasy Tactics serves as my example of a 4/4 game.  The player could endlessly explore the world building characters with different combinations of skills, testing those strategies in all sorts of battles.  There was a great deal to explore, and having a well composed story wrapped around it made it a very compelling experience.

Those are the rules that I’m playing by, and if I can’t justify the case for a game’s score, or the aspects of that I determine to be most important are incorrect, then I’d be inclined to re-adjust it appropriately.  I’ve done it twice so far for games that I later felt I had judged too harshly.  And there are still a couple that I would consider knocking down a peg too.  Feel free to play along.

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