After much hemming and hawing, I finally got around to revising our review policy this week and, in a way, I was talked off of the precipice by my level-headed compatriots. I had intended for a fairly significant overhaul of the review process, but really it boils down to two changes. The first is that a game’s “final verdict” will no longer necessarily be tied to the rest of the categories. This will give the reviewer the freedom to rate a game higher (or lower) if it is better (or worse) than the sum of its parts.
I will encourage my reviewers to use this sparingly as, as our own resident grumpypants skeptic James Schumacher rightly pointed out, having the game’s final score tied to the rest of the categories, in a way, keeps us honest. It’s hard to be better than the sum of your parts, and there’s a strong temptation, I think, to completely disregard the other categories when writing review scores and to inflate the score – which, in turn, makes it meaningless. I think it’s important to have this tool in our toolbox, but my intention is for it to be used sparingly.
Secondly, I have revised our reviewing criteria – specifically what each score means. This, to me, was the most important change as it clearly defines what it means when we give a score to a game, which, at the end of the day, is probably the most important thing. For you, the reader, to know what we mean when we give a game a score is of paramount importance, and I think this will solve a lot of problems that our reviewers (myself in particular) have been having with our review policy.
I will post this as a separate document – to be linked along with every review we write for easy access – once it’s had some more eyes on it, but here’s our first pass. As always, I encourage you to leave your thoughts, concerns, and praise (mostly praise) in the comments below. These are written from the perspective of our “categories” of review – which will remain the same, gameplay, graphics, sound and story – but are also relevant for our overall “final verdict” score of a game as well.
1 – Unplayable: This aspect of the game has rendered it all but unplayable, whether it’s a story that abruptly ceases or otherwise fails to deliver a satisfying play experience or completely broken mechanics that make it so you can no longer play the game (like numerous game-breaking and unavoidable bugs).This game is not just bad, it shouldn’t have been released in its current state. Very few games should receive this dubious distinction, but if you see a 1 in any category, it’s a pretty clear sign to avoid this game completely.
2 – Abysmal: While not broken in the strictest sense, a game that receives a two in any category has more than its share of significant problems. Mechanics that routinely break down and fail to work, a story that makes absolutely no sense or gets completely derailed, a soundtrack that is nothing but shrieking cats, whatever category received a 2 was an incredibly huge detractor for the game experience at all points during the game, to the point that it simply could not be ignored.
3 – Bad: This category is unequivocally and noticeably bad. Maybe it doesn’t eject you out of the game experience at every point of the game, but at no point could it ever be considered “good.” This category may have a few moments of not being absolute drek and it may not be “broken” in the strictest sense, but, for the most part, it failed to perform well throughout the entire experience.
4 – Below Average: Have you ever played a game that just didn’t feel right for some reason? Maybe you couldn’t quite put your finger on it, but something about it just didn’t seem to be working just right and even though you managed to finish it, you couldn’t shake that something about the game just didn’t work. That game might receive a 4. Receiving a 4 in a category shouldn’t be a deal-breaker for a game and sometimes you may not notice or be able to articulate exactly what’s wrong with it…but something is definitely not up to snuff and whatever category got this score was definitely not up to par with what we expect in a modern game.
5 – Average: This category is decidedly average. It pushes no envelopes and shatters no expectation, but it functions. Coupled with a few higher-rating categories, this game might even be pretty enjoyable, but coupled with a few lower scores the game may be best avoided. The category that receives a 5 does not stand out in any way whatsoever, either good or bad. Please note: a five is a perfectly functional score and should not be an indicator, on its own, that a game must be avoided at all costs or fails in any way. We are not the American education system.
6 – Above Average: Have you ever played a game that just felt right for some reason? Maybe you couldn’t quite put your finger on it, but something about it just seemed to fall into place and when you finished the game, you couldn’t help but nod in appreciation even though you couldn’t quite identify what it was that worked? That game might receive a 6. Receiving a six is a small triumph for a game. While the category that received it doesn’t stand out as a paragon example of gaming in any way, it worked, and the game was moderately better for its implementation.
7 – Good: This category just worked well. It left us feeling good about having played it for whatever reason – maybe you were tempted to replay it again just for the mechanics, or maybe you were humming the soundtrack for a couple days. Whatever the case, this game has something pretty nice going for it, even if there are a few noticeable flaws here and there.
8 – Great: Whatever category receives an eight stands out as pretty darn great. The game isn’t perfect (you’ll be hearing that a lot), and you may notice a flaw here and there, but its imperfections do little to detract from the overall game experience and they’re easy to wave off when faced with the totality of what this game has done right.
9 – Amazing: This category stands as a testament to gaming. This is the sort of game that wins game of the year awards and you can expect it mentioned frequently at the end of the year in ours. While it’s not perfect (no games are), we’re hard pressed to articulate exactly what about it isn’t. Its flaws are few and nearly impossible to notice.
10 – Near Perfection: To receive a 10 in any category is a feat few games can accomplish. No game is perfect, but if a game receives a score of 10, it means that, functionally, this game might as well be. If a game receives a 10 in any category, it’s a pretty clear indicator that you should check it out, even if it’s not a genre or franchise you generally don’t seek out. To reiterate: very few games will receive this score. If a game has a 10 anywhere in its review, it is absolutely something special. Far from being game of the year, this is the sort of game that is remembered for generations and is truly revolutionary and will be played for generations to come.
As I mentioned before, this is honestly not a huge change to our review policy, it simply clarifies what we mean when we give a score. It’s meant to be more clear for you, and us, what each score means.
A few points to mention, however: I hope for a score of 1 and 10 to mean something. Very few games should receive these scores and I am making it my policy to make every reviewer defend such scores to me if they choose to give them, so if you see a game get the highest or lowest score, you know that we’re saying something very significant about the game.
Secondly, as I highlighted above, we are not the American education system. A score of five is essentially a passing score. It is unremarkable and unimpressive, but functional. I’m trying not to succumb to “score inflation” here where anything with less than a seven isn’t worth your time. So keep that in mind as you peruse our reviews in the future.
It is my hope that this will clarify and strengthen our reviews going forward. Keep an eye out for our Uncharted 4 review, which will be the first review written with these guidelines in place.
In other OSP business, our features team has been preparing for the future more than writing in the present, so keep your eyes open for some great articles coming out in the next few weeks. I’d also like to welcome a few great new writers to our staff: Daniel Spina (Features), Joshua Stewart (News), Anthony Dees (Media), Mitchell Akhurst (Editorial), and Kalian May (News). I’ve been very impressed with each and every one of them so far and I look forward to working with them.
I’d also like to point out a few great reviews by our very own Gareth Newnham, for no other reason than I simply enjoyed editing/reading them, so make sure you check them out. Check out his Severed review here and his review of Star Fox Zero here. At the risk of sound self-promoting, you should also check out our latest Boss Tunes article by yours truly featuring the wonderfully eclectic stylings of the OneUps. You can check it out here.
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