When trying to determine if a particular product worth checking out, I tend to look at online reviews not so much as a deciding factor but rather something to give me a better idea of what I might be getting into. For music and movies, I rarely look at critical reviews since tastes are so subjective that I can only decide for myself, but this is not so much the case for video games. The risk that comes with buying a $10 DVD or CD is minimal compared to blowing $60 in what could be a substandard game, so checking reviews is often a necessary evil.
So what value do video game reviews have to the average consumer? Simple, they break down elements of the game and present them in a way that is intended to give the viewer an idea of the gameplay, graphics, mechanics and any associated bugs, glitches and gameplay shortfalls. In this area, not all reviewers are equal and there are some sources I trust more than others. It’s important to remember that a review is a subjective opinion of one person, so buying a game based strictly on a 5-star review is not always wise. What constitutes an excellent game in the eyes of Gamespot or IGN might not sit as well with me, as was the case with many highly rated titles like Red Dead Redemption, Grand Theft Auto IV and Halo: Reach. I see why people like these games and I want to like them as well, but in the end I find them to be overrated and grossly over-hyped. On the flip-side, I have found many games that received marginal reviews but I turned out enjoying immensely, such as Nier, God Hand and Viking: Battle for Asgard. This leads me to approach reviews with some degree of scepticism, however the value comes in determining if there are any serious issues with a game. Broken controls, game-ending bugs and glitches, poor camera and imprecise hit detection are difficult to forgive for any gamer, so this is the kind of stuff I want to know when reading or watching a review. Hearing the reviewer gush about how much of a masterpiece the game is, I tend to be less interested in that. When it comes to game reviews, objectivity is more useful the fanfare and I try to follow this logic when writing reviews of my own.
User reviews are an entirely different matter. I currently post reviews on Amazon.com as a hobby and I am amazed at the variances in the quality of the user reviews they allow to be posted. Some are very well thought out, intelligently written and full of useful information that proves helpful because it’s from an actual gamer. On the other hand, the good reviews often get buried under useless, one-sentence fanboy/hater reviews that provide little in the way of substance. For example, the page for Call of Duty: Black Ops is full of people who gushed over the game without insight into why it’s good, while others hated it simply because it wasn’t Modern Warfare 2 and they couldn’t get past their disliking for Treyarch. Other titles, the majority of them in fact, have the same problem. None of these reviews were helpful and I think it boils down to the fact that user reviews are often based on emotion rather than logic. Someone getting overly excited about a game will lead to a 5-star “Best Game Ever!” review, while a bad experience in an otherwise solid game leads someone to posting a 1-star diatribe about how much the game sucks. This makes user reviews dubious and unreliable at the best of times, so approach the opinions of others with caution.
Many people I know would consider being a game reviewer to be their dream job, but to be honest, there are many aspects of their job that I don’t envy in the least. Having to play tons of games, many of which are terrible, and having to be hyper-analytical can wear you down, plus there is the backlash from game fans who slam the reviewer if they happen to disagree with their score. Watching a video from Gamespot, IGN or even a non-professional reviewer and viewing the comments section will give you a good idea of what I mean, with loads of ignorant comments from people who can’t accept the fact that the reviewer didn’t jive with their fanfare or hatred of a particular game. What these people overlook is that the job of a critic is to analyze a game and present the viewer with a balanced view of a title’s strengths and weaknesses. Their job is not to kiss the asses of gamers and give token scores to games based on popularity, although there have been unsubstantiated accusations towards Gamespot and IGN for giving favourable reviews to game companies who advertise more on their site.
At the end of the day, it’s important that people rely on their own taste and judgment when purchasing anything, especially games that cost upwards of $60. A high recommendation from a gaming site is reason to be intrigued but not the sole reason to purchase a title, since hype can lead you down the wrong alley and you’ll end up with a game you don’t like. I think reviews have a place and they can be useful, but people tend to take them too seriously in either following their word mindlessly or getting belligerent when they disagree. At the end of the day, it’s all a matter of opinion and it should be treated as such.