18 February 2010

100%, 10/10, 5 Stars and Two Thumbs Up

I'm sure you are interested in finding out why I am still yet to post the Mass Effect 2 review I promised last month. I have been working on it between playing the game and it is progressing well. However, I am not trying to do something original but at least different in terms of the review itself. I suppose it is quite hard to produce a unique review in a mass of hundreds of others.

The majority of Mass Effect 2 reviews are unanimous in hailing the game an absolute wonder and a (very) early contender for Game of the Year 2010. So, my problem is, one month later, writing a review that can still be considered interesting and not just retreading old ground. I am not in any way attempting to recreate something the likes of a Zero Punctuation video review but would like to divert from the current video game review formula. The majority of video game reviews today I feel focus far too much on two areas; isolating specific elements of a game and numerical scoring. These are the two issues I would like to address here.

The phrase, 'specific elements' could use a better description. By 'specific elements' I mean the sub-headings that are used to isolate certain areas that are involved in the construction of a video game. The graphics, sound, story, gameplay etc. I have a strong issue with games being reviewed in this way and then scored for each section individually to provide an average overall score. In some cases one of the sub-headings may not apply to a particular game, such as 'story' in Rock Band. Instead of retaining a level of consistency the review simply omits the 'story' section. This leads to review scores being averaged by fewer numbers potentially boosting the overall score. This is simply unfair reviewing, the game should be given a one in these situations so every game is scored equally.

Another sub-heading that I find trivial is 'graphics'. I have constant arguments with one of my housemates about graphics in video games. He loves them and whenever he sees a new game the first comment will almost always relate to the graphics; whether they are incredible or terrible. He has even said to me that if a game's graphics are so bad he will be unable to play the game. Where has this ridiculous fixation on graphics arisen from? Discounting so many games because of their bad graphics leads to ignoring so many fantastic games of new and old. It is as foolish as assuming all black and white films are slow and boring. The not so recently released Mega Man 9 is proof that many gamers see graphics as a small aesthetic pleasure rather than a focal point. Therefore in my review of Mass Effect 2 and those to come I will never include sub-headings. I may refer to specific elements of a game but they will be related to the game as a whole and never will they be judged or scored individually.

This leads onto the other of my gripes - numerical (or in some cases alphabetical) scoring in reviews. Reviewers describe to a great extent their thoughts on a game and then attempt to summarise those two-three pages of argument with a numerical conclusion. This of course leads to many gamers who are just in a rush to find out a game's quality jumping straight to the score at the end, potentially missing many important points the reviewer has made. Sites such as Metacritic have not helped this fixation by bringing together all of the scores a game has been given. Yet, many sites use different scoring systems and so they are all adapted to fit with Metacritic's leading to a number of potential mistranslations in the scores.

For example, 1up uses an alphabetised scoring system including pluses and minuses - how is that translated into Metacritic's numerical system? We can see an A+ equals 100%, A equals 95%, A- equals 90% and then continue in that pattern. This is taken from their website:

'1UP rates games on a scale of A+ through F. Anything we score in the A+ through A- range is considered excellent, B+ through B- is good, C+ through C- is average, D+ through D- is bad, and F is terrible.'

A game rated C, which is scaled as average, then achieves 65% according to Metacritic's scale but surely average should be considered as 50%. Currently a bad game is given 50% which is a unfairly favourable translation. In addition, if everything scored A+ through A- is considered excellent; what is the point of having all three if they all mean the same thing? This is creating unnecessary confusion, yet the pluses and minuses are nothing compared to what's next.

Gametrailers.com take the farce of review scoring to the next level with the inclusion of decimals in their scores. What is the point of awarding a game a 8.7 instead of an 8.6!? What aspect/s of the game lead it to being awarded that extra 0.1 of a score? How do these reviewers generate these numbers? In my opinion it is a complete joke.

So, I have more or less ranted for a few paragraphs now without offering any kind of suggestion of improvement. Unfortunately, it looks like numerical scoring is here to stay, especially thanks to Metacritic. The Escapist, an excellent video game website, has decided to include a scoring system on it's reviews now and...has decided to go with a five star system. Fantastic, more confusion! To be fair to The Escapist team they do not appear too happy about using a scoring system and debated extensively before including one. However, as long as I remain independent I will never use numbers, letters, stars, hats, ticks, thumbs or iguanas to score games. Hopefully my opinions will come through well enough in the text so that no number is needed. You can always comment that it, 'sounds like a 7 to me' if you want. I won't mind; I'll just set my Mabari War Hound on you...