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Game Reviews – Are ‘Perfect’ Scores Ruining the Media’s Credibility?

With my 40th birthday fast approaching (a little too quickly for my liking I might add), I think it would be fair to say that I’ve been playing video games for a pretty long time now. Ever since, in fact, I was 4-years-old and first managed to get my hands on our family’s Acorn Electron. – Looking back at gaming during that time, however, it was significantly more of a roulette wheel than it is today. Yes, there were gaming magazines with reviews in them that could help influence your decision. By and large though, the choice of what you spent your (mostly) hard-earned pocket money on boiled down, usually, to two factors. What you’d heard about it in the playground and how pretty the box looked. And trust me when I say that back in the 1980s, video game art took a lot of liberties with what the actual content looked like!

With the advent of the internet, however, we were no longer restricted to finding out just how good or bad a video game was simply by buying it. We suddenly had masses of reviews, opinions, and, more recently, playthrough videos that strongly indicated whether what we were thinking of buying was a gem or a total dud.

Over the last few years though, I have started to note a rather disturbing trend among many of the more popular mainstream game review websites. And, indeed, the media in general. Put simply, we’re seeing a lot of gaming titles given ‘perfect’ 10 out of 10 scores. – How can this be possible though? Surely there is no such thing as the ‘perfect’ game, right?… Well, I’m going to attempt to explain how I think this hyperbole, and yes, I do think it’s hyperbole, might ultimately end up being the death of the credibility of the ‘professional’ gaming review.

Gaming Reviews – There’s Been an Awful Lot of ‘Perfect’ Titles Recently!

I should start by noting that I think that there are a lot of excellent videos games out there. Too many, in fact, for me to even bother to start listing here. In all my many years of gaming, however, have I ever encountered a game I considered absolutely perfect? A full-blown 10 out of 10? In a word, no. Death Stranding was, without a doubt, one of the best games I played last year on PC. In fact, it’s possibly one of the best games I’ve encountered within the last 5 years. Would I give it a 10 out of 10 though? Absolutely not!

Taking this a step further though, and being quite frank, I don’t think there could ever be an absolutely flawless game. For me, it’s an impossibility. While some may disagree with this opinion, let me try and break down why this is the case into some brief bullet points:

  • Gaming tastes differ. Some love point and clicks, some love first-person-shooters. Not everyone likes everything (and that’s a good thing), but by that mere proxy alone, there can never be a ‘suit all tastes’ perfect video game.
  • There are absolutely fantastic games that have, over time, aged poorly. If it’s not as playable today as it was 20 years ago, or even 20 years into the future, how can it be perfect? I’m don’t know for a fact that titles like Silent Hill 1 or 2 got full marks with reviewers (although I daresay it probably did with some), but for as great as they were at the time, if you were to play it today you’d probably, taking the rose-tinted glasses off, have to mark it down a little
  • For every game I absolutely adore, I can easily reel off 3-5 ‘problems’ it has. And if you can do that too, then does it really deserve a 10 out of 10?

The bottom line is that no matter the guise it comes under; a 10 out of 10, 100%, A+, etc., if this is applied in a gaming review, then ultimately, the system has to be flawed. It suggests that a game is going to be loved by all and comes without any flaws, issues, or bugs whatsoever.

Just to bring this issue into focus, however, let’s take a look at a number of video games that have, over the last few years, been given a ‘perfect’ score by a major online publication. And no, I’m not going to name them, because this is not a hit piece on a particular company or organisation. I’m simply attempting to highlight a problem the gaming review industry has in giving top marks to games, that while many I love, I do not consider flawless!

What They Say – And What I Think!

I’m going to try and keep this nice and simple by showcasing a number of games below that were given, as noted above, a ‘perfect’ score by a major mainstream gaming review website. These will all largely represent titles released within the last 5 years and I will attempt to explain, in my own opinion, how the award of a perfect score is unwarranted. And I feel the need to mention, before I start, that I love pretty much all of the games on this list.

Undertale

Might as well kick this off with a controversial pick because I’ll immediately start by conceding that I absolutely love this game. The music is brilliant, the story evocative, and the interface is surprisingly effective in its simplicity. Despite all this though, it’s not a game I consider flawless:

  • It targets a very specific genre. People who enjoy narrative driven games. Some will, ultimately, find this boring
  • The opening 20 minutes of gameplay is painfully slow making it the worst part of the largely hugely enjoyable replay factor
  • Exceptionally frustrating at time. And yes, I know that being ‘determined’ is a key factor of this title

Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain

Yes, I’m not kidding, many publications gave Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain a perfect 10 out of 10 review score! While the reasons for my disagreeing with this, I hope, should be obvious to those of you who have also played it, I’m going to list them nonetheless.

  • It wasn’t finished! – The second ‘half’ of the game is simply a repeat of the first. Whoever reviewed this and scored it as ‘perfect’ clearly never got more than 10 hours into it (and that’s presuming they ignored those all so tempting side-missions)
  • I’ve felt very little desire to ever replay this game again (since I’ve already done that in my first playthrough)

The Last of Us: Part 2

Released at a time where pandering to certain demographics was very popular (a trend that unfortunately hasn’t disappeared), it’s easy to see in retrospect why many professional reviewers were terrified to give this anything other than a perfect score. Having played it myself though, while it was a beautiful Swan Song to the PS4 (as the first was to the PS3), this game still had problems:

  • Exceptionally controversial narrative decisions (don’t worry no spoilers)
  • A plot that was, ultimately, somewhat clichéd and with more than a few holes
  • Some might argue a triumph of surface over substance
  • The fact that this game devided the community so much should’ve invalidated a perfect score in the first place!

Final Fantasy 7 Remake

For many, the Final Fantasy 7 Remake was the perfect testament to one of gaming’s most classic and revered titles. It looked fantastic and allowed for a lot more character development than the original ever did. Again though, despite this being a great game, it was still not perfect!

  • A lot of needless bloat in the plot. It felt like a lot of things were added simply to stretch this out into a 20-30 hour experience to warrant the full price retail cost
  • Unfair and unpredictable difficulty curves – Unlike the original which progressed in challenge largely as you benignly levelled up, the remake had some hugely tricky spikes. It almost reminded me of (in the original) going to do the Yuffie side quest way before you were ready!

Microsoft Flight Simulator 2020

Graphically glorious to behold and everything that fans of the last edition in the franchise were hoping for. Was it absolutely perfect though? I think not!

  • A ridiculously powerful PC was (and in many respects, despite updates, still is) necessary to get the best out of this game
  • The roster of aircraft in the ‘standard’ version is quite limited. As you might expect, there are plenty of things out there behind a paywall though!
  • Even on a SSD, initial load times are painfully slow

The Witness

An amazing beautiful puzzle game that simply had to have been inspired, at least in part, by Myst. Like Myst though, this wasn’t a game that came without its issues:

  • Despite being one of the most innovative puzzle games ever created, many of them required the patience and logic that most gamers either do not have or can not be bothered to learn!
  • At times, very repetitive
  • Like Myst, it is often obtuse as to exactly what you’re supposed to be doing and what your goal is
  • A game that some love, and other play, put down, and never return to after just 10 minutes

Grand Theft Auto IV

Another controversial pick, but I hope that at least some of you will agree with my points as to why this game, while fantastic, was not flawless:

  • The driving – Overall, I felt that despite driving being a key factor in this game, the cars felt sluggish and uninspiring. Driving in GTA IV was barely more thrilling for me than popping to the shops for a loaf of bread
  • A lot of tedius missions – Play it again now if you don’t believe me!

The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild

Again, I feel the need to say that I absolutely adored this game. In fact, I think I probably pumped about 200 hours into it (on both the Wii U and Switch) before I finally put it down and moved on to other things. While it is arguably one of the greatest Zelda games ever made though, I still found some fault with its overall execution:

  • A feather weight plot largely successfully hidden behind masses of things to do and places to explore
  • The weapon durability system. Ohhhhhhhh the weapon durability system! A good idea, but so poorly executed!
  • Bland NPCs – Even as I write this I can’t remember any character names other than Link, Zelda, and (Calamity) Ganon

Deathloop

The 10 out of 10 score that prompted me to write this in the first place. Deathloop is a great game, and arguably one of the first to really glorify itself on the PlayStation 5’s shiny new hardware. Having already pumped about 10 hours into it so far though, I can say, without any need to create controversy, that this game is NOT going to be for everyone!

  • AI that is easily manipulated removes one of the key challenges of this title
  • A game this innovative in concept deserved to be a lot less linear
  • Repetitive – Yes, a key mechanic of the game, but it soon begins to wear thin when the frustration kicks in

And just to hammer the point home with this one, nearly 20 publications gave this a ‘perfect’ 10 out of 10 and/or 100/100 score!

Things Need to Change!

In more recent times, many review publications have (somewhat quietly) adjusted their remit as to what a ’10 out of 10′ score really means. Some now say that this is simply a declaration that the game is worth playing by all. A pretty lofty claim in itself. If that is the case though, then how the hell does that work? It’s, at best, a tame excuse for an overinflated score, and at worst, a ‘get out of jail free’ card. – Yes, a review is merely, or at least often, a single person’s opinion. And, as the expression goes, like arseholes, we all have one of them! A good review though should be capable of ignoring any preconceptions you personally have for it and be delivered in an informative and unbiased manner. For a game to be perfect, that means that it has to be perfect for everyone and not just yourself!

Even if we do, for one moment, accept this new modern definition of a ’10 out of 10′, even that remit fails because while all the games I mentioned above are definitely worth playing in my opinion, not everyone is going to agree with that. Why? Because we don’t all like the same things! There is no such thing as a perfect game and I just wish we could get back to the days where review scores acknowledged that rather than giving out top marks to the next big thing in AAA gaming!

These days, I think I actually tend to prefer the ‘reviewers’ who break down their scores into more generic means. Such reviews, largely found on YouTube from smaller but highly decent channels, now conclude their thoughts with ‘scores’ such as ‘Buy it now’/’Wait for a sale’/’Borrow a friends copy’/’Avoid like the plague’. This is far easier to understand and avoids the total hyperbole we see today of games getting impossibly high ratings.

The more these websites and ‘professional’ reviewers continue to hand out perfect scores like candy, the more they diminish the significance, and, perhaps more importantly, the definition of what it really means. I’m predicting it now that, sooner or later, they’ll have given out so many 10’s that they’re going to have to start (in the spirit of Spinal Tap) start taking things up to 11! If everything is ‘perfect’ what the hell do you do, and where the hell do you go when something tops it?…

Remember too, you might think I’m wrong in my opinion/s of many of the above games I highlighted. Can you honestly say though that you think the points I make about every single one of them are unfair? Because unless you do feel that way (and you’re welcome to have that opinion), you are, in effect, agreeing with me that one, or more, or perhaps all of them, are not perfect games and didn’t deserve a perfect score!

In conclusion, when it comes to modern video game journalism, I don’t trust the mainstream reviews anymore. There is, however, still time to fix this if they are willing to give honest and unbiased accounts of just how good or bad games are. If they don’t though, and soon, well… All I can say is that they’re only digging the virtual grave they’ll eventually find themselves, their credibility, and their internet traffic, residing in.

Mike Sanders

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