Aug 132009

Castle Crashers; it's a fun party game. But is that worth 5 stars?

With the new summer dashboard update for the XBox 360, it’s interesting to note they’ve finally added one of the features I’d suggested a while ago – some kind of game review ratings system on XBox Live. Whilst the feature is still far from the way I would’ve implemented it, it’s a nice start. There is an obvious immediate flaw, as many have pointed out, that you can “Rate” any content without even buying it or even downloading a demo. I also noticed you could ‘Rate’ non-downloadable games that were in your disk drive; but there doesn’t seem to be any way for anyone else to see those ratings yet.

I actually don’t see the ‘rate it without playing it’ as an especially a huge issue really, far bigger problems are the natural bias of these type of user reviews, and the fact you can only see the median average score. Many people get very attached to games they enjoy & the classic ‘fanboy review’ problem is an obvious one – or even ‘hater reviews’ too. It’s why I’d much rather see the ratings of a trusted friend, or group of friends, than these “aggregated figures”. People are far more inclined to both to even leave a review for a game they really love or really hate, and I’ve noticed the vast majority of games I looked at so far had an average score of over 4 stars, and the worst rated games I saw were still over 3!

Absolutely top-tier at everything :D

Absolutely top-tier at everything 😀

However when I came to try to ‘review’ a few games myself, it made me consider that it really is a difficult task to apply fairly & come out with a simplistic score. What really matters when it comes to a game? Does quality count more than quantity? How do you really classify quantity? How do you ‘finish’ a game anyway? When you’ve finished all the levels, when you’ve got all the Achievements? When you’re ranked#1 in the world? Do you take the price of a title into account… but again, prices change over time with discounts and 2nd-hand games etc. What about the community and online features surrounding a game? This is something that is starting to matter almost more than the game itself for me at times. For example King of Fighters 98 Ultimate Match. If I was reviewing that as an offline title, I’d be leaning towards a 4 or a 5 star rating as I find it a lot of fun, although I’m not sure about the character balance at this point. However these days, it’s poor netcode renders it a pale shadow of an online fighting game compared to a game with good netcode and a good lobby system like SSF2T HD Remix. But should KOF98UM get marked down for that? For me, the netcode matters a vast amount, but if I had a huge group of skilled offline players available to play with it wouldn’t nearly so much. How can a review reflect your own community situation which may differ from others? There’s also the main fact that most reviewers, especially professional reviewers review games far too quickly for my liking. Until I really know all the ins & outs & true depths of the game, I can’t honestly say. For many games this takes years of play, not only by yourself, but by a larger community. But how many games do I even have time to play to this degree? Only a small handful. For example, for the first year or so of it’s release, I absolutely loved Street Fighter 3 3rd Strike. However today, when it’s character balance has proven to be very lacking, it’s a game I don’t rate so highly for my own tastes. So I tend to look at things on a very long term view. A true classic game ought to stand the test of time & still be great even today (and provided you overlook character balance, SF3 3s still passes that test anyway!). What about ongoing support? When Starcraft or Team Fortress 2 receives a patch that improves the game, doesn’t that require a re-review?

In the end I feel almost all games reviews are pretty lacking, and very few are even transparent about the criteria they use for a review score. I think they work ok for the big generic ‘play through this once’ type of games that fill the ‘mainstream’ (at least for gamer hobbyists), & as a general comparison between similar titles, and to see what’s “got hype”. But for games where you want to take your play to another level, especially competitive multiplayer titles which form the staple of many agoners’ gaming diets, all you can really get even from even a ‘good’ review is limited factual information about display rates and netcode etc. For example I’ve cancelled my pre-order of KOF12, with great disappointment, based on reviews universally complaining about it’s netcode, but I’ve ignored most of the taste-based comments about its gameplay engine, as for me, there’s really no review I can trust out there online. I’d have to go to a specialist website like shoryuken and trawl the forums to find players who seem to be my type of player to listen to, but much more likely I’ll simply have to play it enough for myself to really find out. Because outside of anyone who’s played this a huge amount in Far Eastern arcades; no-one really knows yet. The basic problem with reviewing a game is that it’s interactive entertainment. Whilst the ‘observer’ is a huge piece of the puzzle when any kind of entertainment or art is reviewed, with games, the player’s own conceptions, knowledge, emotions & attitude are all magnified that much more due to their actual interaction with the piece.

With all this said, I did review one game. Adding to the fanboy review problem myself, I gave SSF2T HD Remix a glowing 5 stars. I did this simply because based on any criteria imaginable, this is probably as close to a perfect game as I’ve ever seen. So I feel it’s a ‘safe’ one to review. Almost every other game I find myself leaning towards a score rating yet wanting to write a “but…” caveat.

turdOverall, I’d give the XBox Live game reviewing system my highest ever review score: one turd.

How ironic.

  One Response to “The Ironic Review Review”

  1. Insomnia takes the link from my first thoughts on this here and extends and explains the current situation to it’s ultimate conclusion here:

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