Reviewing Reviews: Making Sense of the Madness

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| November 22, 2023

18th October 2023: the day the review embargo for Marvel’s Spider-Man 2 was lifted. It was also the day I chose to say, “Review scores are fecking pointless, right?” in a group chat. 

I didn’t really mean that. It was borne out of frustration for widely varied review scores across different platforms for multiple games this year. Take Lords of the Fallen, for example. IGN gave it an 8/10, calling it a “great soulslike”, but GameSpot gave it a 5/10, saying its “meandering level design and slogging encounters turn challenge into tedium, leaving a feeling that getting up and doing something else would be time better spent.” These are by no means the extremities of reviews, either. 

Rightfully so, I was called out on my bullshit by none other than fellow CouchSoup Contributor Dan Morris (say hi Dan). Review scores are not pointless. They’re an indicator of how a reviewer judges their subject, usually deciding on multiple factors. These can be graphics, gameplay, sound design, innovation, or hell, just plain enjoyment! Or other things I’ve not even considered. 

So, with all of the noise and variation, how do you sort through the chaos and find the information you need to make an informed decision? 

Well, aside from your trusty CouchSoup review, of course *wink*.

Scores Aren’t Everything

White numbers scattered on a red background

0, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10.

It’s a discrete scale. Publications vary in style, using half points or percentages, but in essence, reviewers all tend to score in this way. It can be a really good indicator of how much a reviewer enjoyed the subject, a quantitative statistic showing their opinion of its quality. But the score should just be that: an indicator.

I reviewed Zool: Redimensioned earlier this year and gave it a 7 (a damn decent score). I also reviewed AEW: Fight Forever earlier this year and gave it a 6.5. Now, in all honesty, do I think that the retro platformer remaster is a better game than the wrestling game? No. But read the content of the article to tell you why I scored them in that way. 

I thought Zool: Redimensioned was a pretty cool remaster that added to the base game and improved the graphics and gameplay immensely. But it’s a remaster of a game from 1992. I thought AEW: Fight Forever was a really fun arcade-y wrestling game that suffered from a limited roster and a dated create-a-wrestler mode. The game is a waste of tremendous potential. 

So, a score is just a score. There’s so much more to learn from reading or consuming the full review!

Know Your Reviewer

Kaa from the jungle book uses his hypnosis eyes. The words “Trust In Me” are displayed in grey

I’ve gone on record saying that I’m not the biggest fan of open-world RPGs. In fact, I’ve done that twice! I will never play Elden Ring because I don’t have the patience for such a massive game with a Soulslike twist (I still haven’t played it). I also said I shouldn’t be the person to review The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom for similar open-world fatigue reasons. So, if I was chosen to review the new Avatar: Frontiers of Pandora game, I think there’d be a few raised eyebrows. 

How could you possibly trust that review? A sprawling RPG from Ubisoft is reviewed by the guy who becomes dizzy at the scale of a map. If I don’t like it, the genre could be the reason I give it a low score. If I do like it, lovers of this style of game should have concerns as to why. Why this game? It’s a double-edged sword. 

Conversely, if Maria reviewed the latest Boomer Shooter, you could put your faith in that review. She knows the genre like the back of her hand. If I were someone looking for a recommendation in the first-person retro-inspired shooter department, I’d go to her (and you should too!)

Find people who look at the world in the same way as you and add more weight to their opinions than others. I know I do!

Are You Comparing Apples With Apples?

An orange and a red apple laying on a red surface. The words “These are the same… right?” are displayed

The problem with review scores is that everything is on the same scale. You have a number in a defined discrete range. But there’s no specific scale for video games, movies, TV shows, hardware, chili recipes (10 out of 10 for my mum’s), etc. So what’s to stop you from comparing two completely different subjects because they’re ranked in the same way?

On a more granular level, is it fair to compare scores from PC games and Nintendo games? You can definitely directly compare how fun a game is and how much you enjoyed the experience. When it comes to graphics, however, you can’t expect the same fidelity on a Switch as your Intel 3042992432 graphics card (I totally know my PC stuff). 

Let me be clear, though: I don’t think there should be separate scales for different platforms. It’s far too confusing to the consumer. But just adjust expectations. Pretty graphics on the Switch may be more cell-shaded, colorful, and easier to render than its next-gen ultra-realistic ray-traced counterparts.

You do have to be mindful of the limitations of the hardware the game is being played on. When it’s the same game running on different platforms, often they are scored separately. For example, Cyberpunk 2077 has separate Metacritic scores for all of the platforms it’s available on. Smart, considering it’s barely playable on PS4! 

Look for the platform that the reviewer has played it on.

Be Mindful of the Publication

The right hand side of a grey balancing scale is being pushed down by a large finger

A word of warning: know your publication. It’s not about the individual viewer here but about the website or channel you’re consuming the review on. 

Would you go to a far-right, misogynistic, racist publication for their view on The Marvels or Heartstopper? I’m guessing not. Because you know exactly what they’re going to say before you go there. They’re going to be pretty scathing about the subject matter and give the show a 1 or 2 out of 10, right, bandying around terms like “woke bullsh*t” and “political correctness gone mad.” *sigh*

But I also wouldn’t go to them for a review of the latest Steven Seagal movie, either. They’re going to love it and co-opt it as their Citizen Kane, probably. I dunno, I don’t want to ruin my algorithm by actually clicking on their reviews. 

It’s the same for console wars. I wouldn’t go to a PlayStation publication for an Xbox exclusive review and vice versa. Neither would I completely trust their views on their own platform’s exclusives. I’m sure the content is great, but it can come across as inherently biased. 

Find a neutral party. Like CouchSoup, for instance!

In Conclusion

A bruised and bloody Rambo puts his thumbs up in agreement. The words “Feel Better?” are displayed at the top of the picture

Reviews are not pointless. Review scores are not pointless. But it can be hard to sort the wheat from the chaff. There are so many different review publications out there with so many varied opinions that it’s difficult to glean genuinely useful information.

Just remember these three things to keep in mind when reading a review: 

  • numbers are just numbers
  • content is king
  • know your source 

And if all else fails, we here at CouchSoup have got you!

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