Video Game Reviews: Reading Between The Lines

Depending on where you turn for gaming information, game review scores can vary quite a bit. Although some games are almost universally applauded, (Halo 3 comes to mind) most games receive a wide range of scores from various media outlets that it can be difficult for gamers to know who to believe. While most gamers tend to rely on a small stable of trusted journalists to tell them what to buy, rent, or pass on, it’s hard to find any reviewer that one agrees with 100% of the time. If one places all their trust in one source, they not only run the risk of missing out on games they may have otherwise enjoyed, they could conversely jump onto the wrong bandwagon, wasting their time and money. 
Sites like gamerankings.com help the consumer sort through several reviews and get a deeper understanding of a game that they are interested in.  However, upon visiting the site, which shows numerous different reviews for a particular game, it quickly becomes apparent that many reviews vary to such a degree that one wonders who to believe.  
When people review games, they are comparing them to all the video games they have ever played before. Since every individual gamer has been exposed to a different selection of content in their lifetime, they each possess a unique perspective and have differing points of comparison when judging a new title.  Take the following review snippets, for example:    
 
 
Heavenly Sword
Gamrankings average = 81/100
Highest score = 100/100 
Lowest score =  50/100
"Medicore…"
 “…the most artful, poetic and stunningly beautiful game I think I have ever played."
Blue Dragon
Gamerankings average = 77/100
Higest score = 95/100
Lowest score = 50/100
“I was blown away by the magical and wondrous experience that was Blue Dragon.”
“…a very poor introduction to the genre for Xbox owners.”
 
Wario Ware: Smooth Moves
Gamerankings average 82/100
Higest score given = 100/100
Lowest score given = 56/100
 “This game isn’t worth $50…it’ll be up on Ebay pretty soon.” 
“… a great addition to any Wii library and is among the top games currently available for the system.”
Of course, sites like gamerankings.com simplifying matters somewhat by providing readers with an average of all the various reviews. And although one could easily just accept with this mainstream consensus, it is important to realize that your own perspective is just as valid as John Q. Reviewer’s… even if your opinion doesn’t happen to fall near the center of the bell curve. Every game that you’ve ever hated was somebody’s favorite, and every game that you’ve ever adored was almost certainly despised by someone. Therefore it’s not enough to just glance at a game’s review score and make up your mind without delving a bit deeper into the text… reading between the lines. The next time you read a review, pay special attention to WHY the reviewer gave it the score they did. 
 
I absolutely love Shadowrun, depite all the negative press it recieved.  And I may not have ever given it a chance if I’d listened to the critics. 
Several games I now treasure (Shadowrun, for example) were given embarrassingly low ratings by respected journalists, and as a result I nearly missed out on what ended up being a wonderful experience. The main reason I ended up buying such diamonds in the rough was the fact that they had playable demos, allowing me to form my own opinions independent of the critical buzz looming on the internets. Although these opinions could have just as easily co-opted from the major media outlets sight unseen, it’s hard to value word of mouth above your own experiences. 
I have tried and tried, but Final Fantasy just isn’t my thing.
Unfortunately, games aren’t always preceded by demos. And no matter how many times I tell myself I don’t like JRPGs, I always seem to go with the flow of unanimous praise and give each and every Final Fantasy game a shot despite the fact that I’ve never played any of them even half way through, and usually end up abandoning them far sooner. I guess I’m a sucker for the gorgeous cut scenes, and always like to believe, “This is the Final Fantasy that’s going to win me over. The critics all seem to love it, so I’d better give the series another shot.” No, I shouldn’t . That’s just stinkin’ thinkin’. Despite having played dozens of them, I’ve never enjoyed a JRPG, even the ones that were universally embraced by the press. It seems you have to approach game critiques with a modicum of self awareness.
So let’s all try not to forget that not only are games subjective, so are their reviews. Although journalists assign numeric values to games, in the end, the reviewer is saying as much about themselves and their taste as they are the games they are ostensibly evaluating. Try and keep an open mind the next time you read a game review. You could totally disagree with the reviewer, and ultimately there’s only one way to find out: playing it yourself. 
Thank God for demos and rentals.
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