Debate Club: In Defense of Reviews

So I’m going to let you guys in on a little secret, pull back the magical curtain that is the Chi-Scroller.  Here it comes, are you ready?  When Chris and I do debate club we don’t always believe our opinions wholeheartedly.  Most times we’re fairly staunch about our positions and we field our topics ahead of time, making sure that our positions are opposed enough that there is room for some healthy debate.  I say all of this because this week I’m extremely torn.  It was my turn to suggest a debate club topic and I wanted to debate the validity of game reviews.  I’m going to argue for them but I’m admitting up front that I’m not sure I’m right about this one.

So…game reviews.  They’re a good thing and they help promote a healthy game industry.  They’re certainly not perfect in every way, and there are certain things that reviews simply cannot convey, but they are an unquestionably useful tool for any gamer.

Reviews protect your pocket.

Game reviews can act as a great buffer for your pocketbook.  Every game, especially the major triple A releases, all have marketing budgets large enough to inundate you as the consumer with positive hype.  Trailers, commercials, banner ads, etc… all point you and your money towards buying the newest releases.  The thing is, we all know that you can’t trust marketing hype.  If you did that you would assume that every single movie, game, etc… was going to be amazing.  Reviews, when done right, cut through all of the marketing that’s shoved down our throats and give us an objective view of the product (or at least closer than the marketing material).

Reviews are fast (at least now).

Reviews are arguably more useful now than they’ve ever been in the past.  Back when I was in high school my primary means of getting access to game reviews was through print magazines, which were released once per month.  This presented me with two really lame options in cases where games were released before the review was out; I could buy the game without the review and hope it didn’t suck or I could wait until the magazine came out, languishing over that shiny new game at Best Buy.  Nowadays it’s much more efficient than that.

Between the web, and digital purchases, you can get a review of a game about 5 minutes after it’s release, and based on that information, you can choose to purchase the game digitally and start downloading it immediately.  The problem of waiting for reviews, or hoping for the best is over, you can have your cake and eat it too.

Reviews create consensus.

I’m afraid I might lose you here, but I’m about to defend Metacritic.  It’s absolutely true that Metacritic reduces everything to some number.  All of the art, the sound, the gameplay, the blood sweat and tears by developers, the marketing, all of it gets turned into an 87, or a 46.  But while it might be somewhat unfair to slap some number on a game and call it a day, it’s not incredibly inaccurate.

It’s my understanding that Metacritic is based on an average.  They take all the review scores from the sources they have available, average them together, and that’s the number presented.  So when Metal Gear Solid: Ground Zeroes gets a Metacritic score of 80, it’s because the average of all the reputable game review sites averaged out to be an 80.  The number isn’t arbitrary, it’s consensus by all of the reviews out there, pulling from reviewers with varied points of view, gaming likes and dislikes, experience levels, etc…  What you get from Metacritic is a quick, down and dirty look at what you can expect from a game.  Does it have a 20 on Metacritic?  If so, it was probably universally panned.

Reviewers are good at their jobs.

Segueing into my final point; if a game gets universally panned, does that mean it’s bad?  In my opinion, yes, or rather, more than likely, yes.  The men and women who review games professionally do so because they enjoy gaming, enjoy critical analysis, and for the most part, care about what they’re doing.  They most likely play more games than you, and view the games they play with a harsher critical eye than you do.  That is to say that for most of us, game reviewers are better equipped to objectively review a game than we are, so if they entire lot of them thinks a game is garbage, then It’s more than likely garbage.

Reviews are more than just scores.

Metacritic is definitely useful, but when you want more than a score, reviews are often chock full of useful information to help guide you to making the right purchase.  For one, good reviews are about more than just what made a game good or bad, but also about what makes a game attractive to a certain style of gamer.  Many times I’ve read or watched a review for a game that got a good score, but decided not to purchase the game because the gameplay style was not up my alley.  Good reviews convey more than just the score, and with so many reviewers out there doing good work, it’s easy to find one that shares your taste in games.

In conclusion.

Reviews can never ensure that you’re going to make the right purchase.  I’ve bought games that got great reviews that I didn’t care for, and vice versa.  Reviews can however, point consumers toward products in the correct general direction.  They make buying feel less risky, and they educate consumers and, to a certain degree, guide the industry.  Bad games get bad reviews, which affect sales numbers, and ultimately help the cream rise to the top.