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March 19, 2014

How Much Should We Trust Reviews?

Now here’s a vaguely interesting question.

A few weeks back, The Escapist’s esteemed webcomic Critical Miss made a strip about what it would be like if car reviewers were treated like game reviewers.  It had hilarious results, as you’d expect.  I suspect that part of what made it so funny was that there was more than a little truth behind it; the comments sections of many, many, many reviews have turned out…well, let’s call it “poorly” and leave it at that. 

It should go without saying, but it seems like there’s a pretty big gulf between the reviewer and the consumer (and if anything, that gulf has gotten bigger).  This isn’t just an issue related to video games, either.  Rate a movie too high, and there’s backlash.  Rate a movie too low, and there’s backlash.  I’d bet that reviews can be outright cast aside, at least in the case of my brother; despite Resident Evil 6 earning a 3 out of 10 from Destructoid -- and similar low scores elsewhere, and being bad enough to eventually make several Worst of the Year lists, he made a mad dash to grab a copy.  It didn’t end well.

As always, this isn’t exactly an issue that can be sorted out with one all-encompassing answer.  But there are at least a few things I can say on the subject.  Just don’t give me a low score for my opinion.  It’ll break my heart.

I’ve seen pretty much every comment here on Cross-Up, and I’m glad I’ve gotten my fair share of responses.  But one thing I’ve noticed is that in some of my posts, people will say something like “great review”…and I can’t help but cringe a little.  I’d like to think that the posts that go up (The Let’s Discuss posts, especially) aren’t really “reviews” in a conventional sense; considering that I’m willing to spoil the better part of most games for the sake of making a statement, I’d say I’m taking out some of the mystery and chance for enjoyment. 

That’s probably why you’ll never see a straight-up score/rating from me.  How do you quantify strengths and faults?  How do you average elements for a basic number value?  I’m not saying it’s impossible or wrong; I’m just saying that I don’t know how to do it.  And since I’m one of those terrible people that actually reads reviews instead of just skimming for a score, I’d say that giving those scary words a look can save a person from some heartbreak.

That all said, there’s one phrase I’ve got to bring back from the grave: reviews are a suggestion of quality, not a confirmation of it.  Even if you consider the stuff I post here as reviews, they’re just the result of my opinion, consideration, and tastes.  I’m just one person, and one voice out of a solid eleventy zaptillion.  In most cases, I’ve found that the best route is to read multiple reviews, and see what multiple people are saying.  So when there are a bunch of reviewers giving Beyond: Two Souls the kind of numbers you wouldn’t want on your report card under penalty of parent-induced death, that’s a pretty good signal that something has gone wrong and you should pay attention.

Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaand on the flip-side, there are times when reviewer tastes and personal tastes clash like peanut butter and asphalt.  In terms of trusting a single reviewer, I can remember a time when MovieBob wholly recommended Cloud Atlas, and that ended up being the worst movie I saw that year, for true-true.  In terms of trusting what’s effectively a parade of reviews, The Last of Us has been treated like the second coming, despite it being distinctly…well, let’s just say it was not and leave it at that.  (To say nothing of critics at large loving DmC and gamers at large thinking it a disgrace.  And gamers will never forget IGN’s God Hand review -- for a game which is apparently "not funny". )  

In terms of game reviews, I think it has to do with a matter of pride; why should a gamer trust someone else’s opinions and instincts when their instincts have guided them through so many fights and stages?  Speaking personally, I’ve been wary of reviewers in the past because I’ve feared that they’re not allowed to be -- or are incapable of being -- critical enough.  Or alternatively, they might be critical for all the wrong reasons.  Like how plenty of JRPG previews -- and even a fair share of reviews -- lambast the game or the genre for being cliché.  And in some cases, that strikes me as missing the point.

Like I said, this isn’t exactly a black-and-white situation.  And that’s exactly why I’m opening the floor for you readers.  Feel free to weigh in at your leisure, and tackle the question at hand: How much should we trust the opinions (and scores) of reviewers?  Or if you’re feeling a little saucy, how much stock do you put in reviews? 

God or demon?  Are their words the gospel, or a herald of catastrophe?

So, you know what comes next, don't you?  You know what you're after?  Hunting for a TENOUTTATEN?  Well, it's that time again.  Ready?  Set?  Comment!

…Out of five.

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