Using Game Reviews

I have previously recommended trusting others’ experiences over your own expectations because the preponderance of the data suggests that your expectations are about as high quality as you would expect from a social primate born into an information age. I have recently been going through the many games that have come with Humble Bundles and Steam packs, and I am finding Metacritic really valuable.

Example: Guardians of Middle-earth. “I like Tolkien, that sounds interesting. I missed the LotR games that came out when the movies did.” Click from Library to Store page to see what it’s all about. “Hmm, a MOBA. I don’t know if I need another of those, but LotR DotA could be…” Metacritic: 56%. “Holy crap.”

A useful application of Bayes’ theorem is that sometimes an indicator in one direction means a lot more than an indicator in the other direction. There are classic examples, but gaming journalism provides another: negative reviews mean a lot more than positive reviews, particularly for major studio releases. High scores are the default and low scores on advertisers tend to be rare and dangerous. Games with bugs that would format your hard drive have gotten scores on the standard 7-9 scale. So a 56%? Holy crap. Okay, next game…

: Zubon

Update: commenters mention going beyond scores. Agreed.

3 thoughts on “Using Game Reviews”

  1. More so than the pure score, I like the collection of review summaries on Metacritic’s site. They allow me to figure out whether the reasons that lead to a bad review affect me or not. I think in the past, I’ve bought games with so-so reviews (though not quite 56%) because I realized that I didn’t care about the things that the reviewers based their scores on.

    In your example, it is also very telling: it’s a console port (strike 1), it’s a “beginner’s game” in the genre (strike 2, if you are a MOBA fan), and there are better free alternatives (strike 3).

  2. As a rule I tend to read reviews and ignore scores – a well written review gives me the information to make my mind up for myself, while the score almost always reflects the reviewer’s personal tastes. A low-ish Metacritic score could be for a buggy POS, or it could be for a good but very niche game. There’s also the EA effect, where games from big companies get marked down in the user reviews by the vocal faction who believe that big games publishers are the most evil companies EVAH and spend their profits on having orphans in Africa rounded up and shot.

    Of course, this means being careful about where I look for my reviews. Pro journalists and the better breed of blogger tend to be good for information; JoeRandomGuy9967’s 5 star (or 1 star) review on, not so much.

  3. I fully agree that meta critic has become an essential aid to sorting through the overwhelming bounty of games available in bundle sales these games. It has become something of a hobby of mine however to try and find overlooked gems. Games that received mediocre reviews but are actually very enjoyable. Tell tale signals that a game may rise above its meta-critic score are:

    1. A game in a genre that I like with an aggregate score (critics or users) above 60 may be worth considering. An aggregate score below 60 from both groups is likely to be irretrievable.

    2. After Meta-critic Steam forums are my second port of call. If a game is on sale there will invariably be someone asking “Is it worth it?” on the relevant steam forum. You will get a bunch of uninformed opinion but often users who have clearly played the game will give honest and helpful reviews. Amazon user reviews can equally be helpful.

    3. I look for games with a significant discrepancy between user score and critic score. Sometimes, particularly with less well known games, users have a better appreciation of the full game particularly after it has been patched. On the other hand you need to be very wary of fanboys and political campaigns polluting user scores: ” I am down voting this game because the president of EA said something I don’t like”.

    4. Games that have been patched heavily since release. Some games get poor scores on release because they are buggy or unfinished. Sometimes the developer (or even the modding community) fix these issues in later patches.

    5. Games from lesser publishers especially Eastern European ones rarely fare well with Western reviewers. However if you can look behind a lack of polish and are prepared to put up with some dodgy translation you can find some superb gaming experiences.

    6. On the other hand some AAA releases suffer from comparison with their better known rivals or precursors. Reviewers can be particularly harsh on sequels that don’t live up to the high expectations set by earlier games even when the sequel is a perfectly enjoyable game in its own right.

    7. It is always worth checking whether or not a game has a supportive following on the web. A game with a following of users has to be good for something and even a single wiki can greatly improve the playing experience of a poorly documented game.

    These methods don’t always work and I have certainly acquired my share of awful games but more often than not I have found some gems. Over the last few months I have greatly enjoyed the following games despite their mediocre scores:

    Viking Battle for Asgard (Metacritic 65)
    Warlock Master of the Arcane (71)
    XIII Century (62)
    The Lord of The Rings War in the North (66)
    Expeditions Conquistador (77)
    FEAR 3 (74)
    Crysis 3 (76)
    Dark Messiah of Might and Magic (72)

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