Clarification on my Game Scoring

I don’t like to give scores in my reviews because I think that what I have to say is generally more significant and definable than any abstract number concept could be.  What does a 7 out of ten really tell you about a game?  Is that average?  Is 5 average?  When a reviewer gives a game an “average” score does that mean the game was bland and unremarkable, or does it mean that there was a lot of good and a lot of bad that brought the game right back to where it started?  You never know, and that’s why I always recommend that you actually read a review rather than skipping to its score.  I love to use websites like Metacritic to get an idea about how a game is doing, but if I want to form an accurate opinion on something that I don’t own yet I know that I need to open a few positive, neutral, and negative reviews to see what each critic liked and didn’t like.  Something that I hated about a game could be something that you don’t give a damn about, which would change the meaning of my score.  At the same time I could be absolutely in love with something that you find annoying.

I think that Sucker Punch was a good movie and that Dynasty Warriors 7 is a five star game.  You probably don’t!  At the same time I can’t stand Borderlands or Adjustment Bureau, a game and a movie that other critics seem to love.

But enough of that ranting, you want to know what my scores mean.  When I rate something I always start in the middle, meaning a three out of five stars or a 5/10.  From there I look at what I liked and what I didn’t like about the game, and adjust the score accordingly.

A one star game managed to seriously piss me off.  I don’t mean it was difficult,  I mean it wasn’t fun.  The controls could be frustrating or unresponsive. The gameplay could feel tedious or unfair. The levels may feel like little to no thought was put into them.  The story could be painfully stupid with annoying characters and a nonsensical plot.  This is the pit of hell where I send games like Yaris, Homefront, Alpha Protocol, and Altered Beast.

A two star game is one that I either didn’t have fun with or that I see as being severely flawed, but I can’t damn it outright.  Maybe it just isn’t that bad, or maybe it has some redeeming quality that makes it worth a look.  If I see a game as a failed experiment that had interesting Ideas I’ll usually put it in here.  Some good examples would be Rock Revolution, Bloody Good Time, Harm’s Way, Space Giraffe, and Flock.

A three star game either failed to make an impact for better or for worse, or it had just enough flaws and good parts to even itself out.  Either way, it somehow ended up as a game that I cannot recommend or completely bash.  This score usually means that I felt it was just a game.   A competently made, fully functional game, but nothing more.  It’s like the cheap vintage action flick you watch on TV late at night to burn some time.  I might have had some fun with it, but I could have probably had about as much fun doing anything else.  Say hello to Legendary, Wanted, Godfather II, Dante’s Inferno, and Rock of the Dead.

A four star game did something special.  I had some genuine fun and was happy that I played the game.  It’s not perfect, but I must have enjoyed the gameplay.  Maybe I really liked the story and characters, or maybe it just did something new and unique that really worked.  Something is holding this game back, though.  There’s either some elephant-in-the-room flaw that bugged the hell out of me, or it simply wasn’t that good.  Unfortunately I have to measure a slight amount of bad or an unfortunately lack of good on the same scale.  This is often the score given to good games that I feel missed their opportunity to be great.  Mafia II, Gears of War, The Darkness, Nier, and Scott Pilgrim vs the World.

A five star game is great fantastic.  It left some sort of lasting impact on me in one way or another.  A fantastic story?  Deep, addictive, and fun gameplay?  A great innovation that was done perfectly?  Who knows, but this is a game that I was impressed by and feel honored to have gotten to play.  No game is perfect, but these are close enough for me.  These are games that I will remember to be among the best of their respective years, if not all time.  Mass Effect, Halo Reach, Rock Band 3, Prototype, Bioshock, and Portal 2.

Not all scoring systems use the 1-5 star scale, but with a little thought anyone should be able to figure out the rough equivalent.  Or you could, you know, just read the review itself.  You took the time to read this, after all!


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