Can You Trust Video Game Reviews?

Let’s face it; buying a new game can be expensive and often does require a significant time-investment from the player. With so many games having been plagued by issues on release in the past, it really is no surprise that many gamers have come to rely on some sort of review system as a method through which to determine the worth of newly released video games.

Yes, one is able to look at gameplay trailers and sneak peeks publishers make available prior to the release of the game, but it should always be kept in mind that these are the weapons in a publisher’s arsenal to sell the public on a new product.

A lot of players do believe that the only way to get an honest appraisal of a new video game is to look at game reviews.

Recently, a few events surrounding game reviews, such as a games journalist struggling with Cuphead’s tutorial and players review bombing games on the basis of a publisher’s questionable business practices as opposed to the actual content of the game, has led to many gamers discussing just how trustworthy games reviews actually are.

Basically, with so many different factors being able to affect a person’s ability to provide a truthful appraisal of a game, is it even possible to trust game reviews, nowadays?

In an attempt to answer this question, I think it’s important to look at the process of the traditional review system and how the integrity of reviews from gaming media outlets (such as news websites or YouTubers) can be corrupted by various different factors.

A Brief Look At The Review System

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So, how does the review system actually work?

Generally, publishers provide gaming media outlets with early copies of new games in order to ensure that a review of said game will be available before it’s released to the general public. The public is then able to make a decision on whether to buy a title on the basis of this opinion.

In these instances, game reviewers act as gatekeepers in this particular area by disseminating information about a new game to the public, choosing what information to include and which information to ignore in their reviews.

It is for this reason that gamers place such a high value on journalistic integrity in the games media industry, particularly within this area, as ultimately reviews have the potential to make you aware of games that you should play and those that you should avoid.

So, How Are Reviews Dishonest Or Misleading At Times?

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Is this shit for real?

There are several different issues with regards to the review system that have been highlighted in past discussions regarding the reliability and integrity of game reviews of any variety. This piece will focus on three of the most popular areas of discussion related to game reviews.

1. Publishers Paying For Good Reviews

Probably, the most frequently mentioned issue is the idea of publishers paying for one of their titles to receive good reviews from reputable gaming news sources. While it is definitely not the only factor in determining the sales of a new game, there is no denying that positive or negative reviews have the ability to bolster or reduce a game’s revenue.

There have been several rumours over the past few years of major traditional gaming publications being paid to write good reviews for new video games and even a confirmed case of a publication firing a journalist for providing a game with a negative review score – look up the Gamespot Kane & Lynch controversy.

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Kane and Lynch 2: Dog Days. (Credit: Square Enix)

Some YouTube reviewers have also previously stated that publishers have in the past attempted to coerce them into giving their new title a positive score by allowing them early access to new games thus allowing them to potentially increase their viewer count by providing unseen footage of a new game.

The truth about the situation is that one will never really know if a review providing a game with high praise was paid for in some manner, unless the game really is a steaming hot pile of trash. People will always have different opinions of whether a game is great or only good and thus sometimes it will only be a simple personal preference affecting the review score as opposed to some whole major conspiracy.

2. Reviewers Not Spending Enough Time With A Game To Make An Accurate Appraisal Of It

A common question that often comes up with reviews is whether the reviewer actually spent enough time playing a game in order to make an accurate appraisal of it.

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This game has 200 hours of content. How much content did each reviewer cover? (The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, Credit: CD Projekt Red.)

This is especially the case when people discuss longer-type games, for example, many open-world games, such as The Witcher 3 and GTA V, take hours upon hours to gather a rather well-defined experience of the game-world and perhaps even then, one still hasn’t experienced everything on offer.

Many do believe that there are many reviews out there where it is quite clear that the reviewer did not spend enough time with the game to make an accurate appraisal of it. The reason that some may choose to release an incomplete review is to get the traffic from being the first user to have a review of the game available.

These reviews may miss important details about the game that may then lead both the reviewer and the users reading the review to make the incorrect conclusion with regards to whether or not to buy the game and have led to some gamer distrusting the review system overall.

3. Do Game Reviewers Need To Be Good At Video Games?

A couple of months ago, the question of whether video game journalists actually do need to be good at video games was brought to the attention of the gaming community, after a video of video game journalist, Dean Takahashi, struggling to complete the Cuphead tutorial emerged.

Obviously, when it seems as if one struggles to grasp the basic elements of a game that has a very simple tutorial, it is very hard to take that person’s opinion about any sort of game very seriously as one will start to think about whether this person was actually able to complete the game in a competent manner.

This has been an issue discussed quite widely with many people displaying different viewpoints on the matter. There are many who do believe that gaming journalists do need to be very skilled at video games in order to be able to review them properly and then there are those who believe that journalists simply need to be of an average standard because it is perhaps more representative of the average gamer.

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Enough to finish a video game at least.

In both of these viewpoints, the fact remains that the journalist should at least be familiar with video games overall in order to make an informed opinion about the game that they are reviewing.

When videos such as that of Takahashi’s experience with Cuphead are released, it really does make some question whether they are able to trust the opinion of reviewers in general.

4. Reviewers Allowing Emotion To Cloud Their Judgement

I have already discussed this idea quite thoroughly before and thus I will not really go into depth about it here.

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Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice. (Credit: Ninja Theory)

Basically, there have been some instances in the past where reviewers may have encountered a rare bug in a game that may halt their progress within the game.

The game in question may have been a really good experience up until that point, but the sheer anger at having to start the game again may lead the reviewer to provide it with a very bad review in retaliation to the unjust circumstance.

Games with a load of game-breaking bugs should be reviewed badly, but many do feel that a game with a very rare game-breaking bug should not.

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The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim. (Credit: Bethesda)

A lot of people really do question whether or not they should trust reviews when reviewers do land up giving a game with these rare bugs bad reviews because they are often in contrast with what others have suggested about the game.

So, Can You Trust Video Game Reviews?

There are many reasons that one could find not to trust any reviews because at the end of the day each and every review is influenced by some element of bias, even if it is something that isn’t necessarily malicious or trying to scam the poor consumer, such as personal preference.

Personally, I feel that it’s very hard to trust a single review unless you are very familiar with the reviewer’s habits and thus it is always important to read many different reviews in order to get a true understanding of what a game actually is. In this way, perhaps, one is also able to negate some of the bias elements in many professional reviews.

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Do I trust this review?

Many also do feel that user reviews may be more useful than professional video game reviews because they are less susceptible to being influenced by some of these factors, but then again can one also really say that user reviews are more honest in explaining a game when an action such as review bombing is kept in mind?

At the end of the day, only you will really know whether or not you will like a particular game because you know what you like. A person doesn’t always have to agree with the general consensus of a game, but that also doesn’t mean that the integrity of the game’s reviews should be questioned.

So, what do you think? Do you trust video game reviews? Please share in the comments down below.

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