Talking Point: Do We Pay Too Much Attention to Review Scores?
Posted by Sammy Barker
The review embargo for God of War: Ascension lifted yesterday, prompting a cavalcade of forum posts regarding the status of Sony Santa Monica’s savage Spartan series. The title scored lower than previous entries, resulting in a Metacritic rating of 79 at the time of writing. According to the aggregate’s scale, that number suggests that the game received “generally favourable reviews” across the board. So, why are people acting like it’s the worst game of the year?
It’s true that the franchise has posted higher scores in the past. The first title in the series received universal acclaim, leading to an impressive Metacritic rating of 94. Meanwhile, even 2010’s likeable PlayStation Portable prequel God of War: Ghost of Sparta attained a solid 86. But does that really mean that the most recent release is the weakest in the series? It all depends on perspective.
We scored the impending PlayStation 3 entry an eight in our review yesterday. According to our metric, that number constitutes a game that can simply be described as ‘very good’. Our scoring policy explains: “If we award a game an eight, you can be sure if you like the genre this is a sound buy for you. Minor niggling factors or a badly judged difficulty spike may have made this game fall short of a nine, but it is not to be dismissed lightly.”
God of War: Ascension is a great game, then. But it needs to be taken in context. While the title refines previous entries, it’s not a colossal step-forward for the series overall, and it feels familiar as a result. If you’ve never played any of the previous titles in the franchise, we wouldn’t be surprised if it absolutely blew you away. But, for as impressive as the opening battle against the Hecatonchires is, it’s not necessarily an enormous improvement over God of War III’s spectacular Poseidon boss fight. And that same criticism can be attributed to almost every aspect of the game.
However, it still doesn’t mean that the release is bad. A similar debate cropped up in 2011 when Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception garnered a handful of scores lower than its predecessor. Naughty Dog’s sophomore outing delivered such a groundbreaking adventure that its sequel couldn’t quite live up to the expectations of its forerunner, and it ended up falling short as a result. But does it really matter?
In a recent review we scored Let’s Fish: Hooked On a three, describing it as “monotonous” in our conclusion. But while it’s far from a good game, and we don’t necessarily recommend it, there is at least the basis of an appealing product there if you’re a fan of fishing titles. The fact is that no assessment should be taken as a conclusive evaluation of a product’s qualities, because you have to make up your own mind on these things. Read the text and ask yourself, “Does this appeal to me?”
So, why is the score there in the first place? Like everything else, it’s a guideline. You can roughly summarise a thousand words of text with a simple number, and if you’re in a hurry, that can be enough. But the impetus is on both readers and reviewers to translate those figures correctly, and that’s something that both sides need to do better. It’s down to us to make sure that we’re always using five as an average, and it’s down to you to remember that a seven is not the end of the world.
The numbers serve a purpose, as do reviews in general – but never forget that your opinion, your tastes, and your judgement are the most important factors when it comes to buying advice. And while we’ll always strive to give you an accurate appraisal of every game that we cover, we can’t simply tell you what you should and shouldn't like – especially not with a number.
Have you ever been put off a game by a review score? What do you base your purchasing decisions on? Let us know in the comments section below.