Up For Debate – Are game review scores too predictable?
For a little while now, I’ve been jotting down my predicted review scores for games. There are a ton of games which come and go and I certainly can’t play them all, nor can I have a review ready for most at launch. But I quite enjoy trying to predict what their scores are going to be. These are games I’ve never even played. It’s entirely based on trailers, the prevailing narrative that surrounds them, and generally just reading the room.
And, well, it’s led me to some sort of conclusion that the actual review scores themselves are massively predictable. I don’t make any claim to being some sort of Nostradamus, it’s just that AAA games appear to turn up and be entirely formulaic in how they’re reviewed. There could be a general bias towards certain franchises; nostalgia plays a big part, or it might just be that some games are simply too big to fail. The end result though is that we’re seldom surprised when a game arrives. They rarely overperform or underperform compared to everyone’s expectations.
I’ll just give you some examples. These are some of the bigger games from earlier this year and my predicted scores based on the attitudes around them. The big outlier here is Anthem, which at 61% managed to fall well below what I expected. I never thought it would achieve greatness, that’s for sure, but based on Mass Effect Andromeda’s scoring I thought a figure in the 70’s was a safe bet.
|My Prediction||Actual Aggregated Score|
|Super Smash Bros Ultimate||94||92|
|Resident Evil 2||93||92|
|Kingdom Hearts III||86||85|
|Far Cry New Dawn||75||74|
Aside from this outlier though, my worst prediction was for Crackdown 3, and yet I was just 4% off its aggregated review score based off of watching a few E3 trailers and judging the hype. For the rest of them, I was just 1-3% off of nailing the exact scores. That doesn’t seem right, does it? Something odd’s going on there. Maybe it’s just down to being shown so much of games these days before they arrive that knowing a score is just second nature. It’s all very different to how it was 20-odd years ago when I was poring over blurry screenshots in magazines and trying to imagine what these games even were.
Nowadays, these things are obvious from a mile out. Doom Eternal? That’s an 86. Cyberpunk 2077? It’s a 93, of course. Ghost Recon Breakpoint? That’s going to fall a little short with 77. Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order? That’s got 84 written all over it. Come back and check, I bet they’re not far off.
It’s why there’s always such a big argument for dropping review scores entirely. They don’t accurately convey the strengths and weaknesses of a game. They’re the reduction of a complex answer into a single digit. It also feels as if certain scores are railroaded. Outliers are quite rare and, when they do happen, low scores are trolls and high scores have been given backhanders. We end up with the sort of conformity that I don’t often see in other media. Music and movie scores can all over the place, while it feels as if there’s a consensus on games before they’re even in our hands. They need to go well and truly above and beyond to break out of their predefined score, or be an absolute stinker to fall below.
When we can tell how well a game is going to score based almost entirely on trailers and our knowledge of the developer, something’s probably up. I’m not particularly wise to what it is, although it feels as if we’ve long set the precedents for what makes a game a 7 rather than an 8, or a 10 rather than a 9, and the end result is a fairly homogenous blob of scores. We’ve ended up with reviews of games being quantitative rather than qualitative. We’re not dealing with facts here, this is potentially hundreds of people who should all have different emotional reactions.
Most great art divides opinion rather than unifies. It shouldn’t be trying to please everyone as a slice of art. Surely a few people played Breath of the Wild and hated it, for example. Where are the scores to reflect this? I’m a huge fan of Zelda, right, but Skyward Sword averaging 93% on Metacritic? That’s mental. I think Breath of the Wild is hugely deserving of its success but Skyward Sword? That’s the brand name automatically cashing in great reviews.
I don’t know where these meandering thoughts are taking me, to be honest, but I would certainly love to hear thoughts on the current state of reviews. Do you think the scores are too predictable? Are big-budget games automatically over-rated? Let us know what you think below!