Subjective/opinionated game reviews – good or bad?

With the recent releases of many big (or just really hyped) game titles in the last month, Grand Theft Auto IV, Race Driver GRID, Haze, Age of Conan to name a few…the topic of game critics giving fair reviews has become a hot issue.

If one were to browse the forums or comments areas of any game-related news site these days, it becomes quite easy to lose count of the comments saying, “Game X should have gotten better than a 9.6 because two weeks ago Game Y received a 10.0 and no way in hell is it better than this.”

The subject has many people questioning the state of the game media industry. Some are asking if there are publications or sites out there doling out the best scores to the highest bidder. Or is it simpler than that, could it just be that journalists or not, most reviewers are just as human as the average gamer?

Everyone has their own preferences, from first-person shooter to the racing genre, from Xbox 360 to the PlayStation 3, and so on; however, it seems like these days, publicly displaying any minute semblance of one’s personal preference is grounds for being instantly barraged and publicly humiliated online, resulting in being labeled a “fanboy.” If that person happens to be a journalist reviewing a game, they are chastised to no end and threatened with boycott. Are we as gamers taking this a bit too far at times? If we looked inward, would we not find that we all have our own likes and dislikes that, no matter how hard we try, are impossible to completely hide?

So, the question remains, is subjectivity in a game review necessarily a bad thing? That’s what the majority of such intolerant comments online seem to indicate.

What would the alternative be like? Such a review system would need to completely do away with any sort of number scoring that many of us love the convenience of. After all, how can anyone realistically generate an arbitrary number score for something like the quality of graphics without comparing the game side by side with every other game in existence, and then with all other games on platform, and then with all games in the genre, and then with games released only in recent history (so it’s held to the same standard), and so on? What if the graphics are very similar between two titles, but perhaps the game from two months ago made better use of anti-aliasing and lighting effects, while the newer game plays at a higher frame rate? Everyone prefers different things after all, so what is better for some is not for others. There are so many factors like this that it becomes impossible to have a number-based review system and claim to not be subjective at the same time.

For this reason, I think we, the gaming public need to be more patient with our game reviewers, or just resign ourselves to all agreeing on not assigning number scores to game reviews at all. I’m sure that would upset a lot us though, so I don’t see it happening. Without a number system, reviews become very abstract and even harder to make a direct comparison.

I seem to imagine that a game review completely void of the reviewer’s opinion would be so absolutely dry that it would be painful to read; in fact, if the reviewer was unable to display any enthusiasm towards the game at all (to show a lack of bias), I would probably feel equally unenthusiastic about purchasing the game. Seeking out opinionated reviews can be a helpful tool for many of us on making the decision whether or not to buy a game. By reading a variety of reviews on the same game from independent sources, that should yield the best feel for if the game seems to fit what we are looking for.

Well, what do you think? Are opinionated reviews really the problem with the game media industry? Would we be better off without them or are they good just the way they are?