A Note On Review Scores

review scores explained

Review scores are hilarious when you think about them, especially when it comes to video games. They’re completely nonsensical, an attempt to objectively define an incredibly subjective thing for posterity or sanity or capitalism or whatever. They can be useful in some ways, though, as long as the criteria for these often seemingly arbitrary numbers are clear. One person’s 7/10 may not be the same as their neighbour’s, which isn’t a problem. Unless you start to take review aggregators into account, that is. On one hand, review scores are aimed at publishers and developers who rely on these figures as a measure of a game’s quality beyond simple sales figures or time spent in-game. On the other, having a set of guidelines to help assess a game’s quality can be useful for a critic with several games to review a week.

But we gamers are people rather than data sets. Gaming preferences, even those of seasoned critics are based on formative experiences and tastes inextricable from personal history and subjective context. The best thing to do, in my humble opinion of course, is simply to be honest about your predilections. Understanding a critic gives you a better understanding of their critique, after all, and I say that as a person who likes to read the opinions of others as well as broadcasting my own.

Back to the numbers, though… as a reader I’m often turned off by review scores, especially when there’s a discrepancy between the number at the end and the way the actual review is written. ‘Reads like a 7 but you’ve given it a 9’, or similar comments, are not exactly rarities. As an editor and a writer, however, sometimes these little numbers can be a useful tool for managing and co-ordinating your thoughts, making sure that a review is useful rather than critical waffling. There’s always a risk that essays of opinion can turn into naval-gazing from people who like the sound and shape of their voice a little too much.

Hell, we’re all guilty of that sometimes.

But as a reader, sometimes it’s a useful starting point for conversation. They’re not vital (beyond the importance we give them, that is) but review scores are familiar catalysts. Though the details may change from site to site and critic to critic, there’s a near-universal understanding of a spectrum where a low score is bad and a high one is good. I no longer write for a particular publication or audience, and although I do write for myself in the sense of keeping in practice and personal posterity, there is a hope that others find some use in my words. To that end, and for those who do like a number at the end of critical ramblings, here’s a little breakdown of how the reviews on this site have been scored.

A few general notes…

  • I’ve never understood why people can’t use the full scale of 1-10 (or whatever equivalent) when it comes to review scores.
  • To me, 5 is an average score, not 7.
  • Just because a game runs, and manages to be mechanically competent, that doesn’t have much of a bearing on the score. A working existence isn’t proof of quality. A solid, okayish game will nearly always score somewhere between 4-6.
  • Ideas and innovation can be just as important (if not more so) as production values.
  • Equally, visual design can absolutely make a game. Spectacle has value, but it’s all about balance.
  • I really value story in games. And that doesn’t necessarily have to mean the script, but rather the unique opportunities that interactive entertainment can offer when it comes to enjoying a narrative, whether pre-determined or emergent.
  • Pricing is important.
  • Hopefully, if I’ve done this right, there won’t be much of a gap between the words and the numbers based on the criteria below.

10 | PHENOMENAL: These are fundamentally must-own titles for anyone with an interest in gaming, with the highest quality in terms of design, gameplay and vision. A masterclass in execution and innovation. Scores as high as this should never be handed out lightly. Ever. These are the games that define generations.

9 – 9.9 | EXCELLENT: Only the exceptional need apply here. There might be one or two slight blemishes, but overall games that score in this ballpark should be genre-leaders: must-have titles with perhaps the odd imperfection. You won’t be wasting a single penny in buying a game that scores this high. A few games of this calibre will make it worth spending hundreds on a console or powerful enough PC. Killer apps, indeed.

8 – 8.9 | GREAT: They might not be transcendental titles, but Great games typically provide cracking production values with a degree of innovation, personality and soul that’s sometimes absent in titles that score lower. Or even just exceptional raw value on top of competent execution. Purchase with confidence.

7 – 7.9 | GOOD: 7 and up is an indication of a pretty good game. Enjoyable and fun; no they might not change the world, but certainly worth a look at launch. These games are a far cry from average, though there’ll usually be a little something to stop games like these from reaching the very top – innovative but slightly flawed, fun but not truly groundbreaking, perhaps.

6 – 6.9 | CAPABLE: Above-average. Reliable yet perhaps unsurprising. The gaming equivalent of a Subway Melt.

5 – 5.9 | AVERAGE: Average games are exactly that. Not particularly good or bad, some clever ideas have probably been marred by patchy execution, or strong mechanics let down by a lack of scope, new ideas or ambition. Here we might find shrugs, but no stinkers.

4 – 4.9 | MEDIOCRE: It starts going downhill here. Maybe there are some clever ideas here marred by risible execution, but more often than not this band of scoring will be the fate of hasty film tie-ins, skeletal repetition farms geared towards intense monetisation, with only the hint of the trend it attempted to plagiarise saving it from damnation. That said, a sudden drop in price might just shift the balance enough to warrant a purchase, if only for padding one’s Gamerscore.

3 – 3.9 | POOR:  Glaring flaws, a lack of enjoyment,and a dearth of ideas are what we’ll find here. There may have been something of interest to come from these games once, but certainly not any more.

2 – 2.9 | BAD: It’s here that we move from poorly made games into actively alienating experiences. These are the games that start to actively push you away with their awfulness, and should really come with health warnings and temporary TV/controller insurance. No price in the world can make these games worthwhile purchases.

1 – 1.9 – OFFENSIVE: These are games so offensively bad that you’d buy one from a bargain bin just to blow it up in a microwave with a banger. If games like these walked, you’d punch them in the nether regions. Games that score down here are beyond any merit.

0 – 0.9 | RUN!: I don’t really believe there are any games that are quite this apocalyptically awful any more, but just in case… almost as rare as a 10, someone has clearly worked really hard to ensure that this sucks more than a Dyson hoover. The world is a little bit worse because games that score this low exist. Unfathomably, insultingly awful, you might need brain surgery to remove all traces of the memory that you ever played this. Wars have been initiated for less.

This is how I’ll be breaking things down here on FuzzyPixels.net. But, these are all just starting points for conversations, debates, and so on. Let me know what you think in the comments. You can find all of my games reviews here. I’m also a listed contributor over on OpenCritic, and you can check out my profile here.