Why the Hell Do We Still Give Review Scores?

I’ve always been both a fan and proponent of game review scores. While others argue about reducing extensive opinions on works of art to a single number, I set my Chrome homepage to Metacritic (and no, this won’t be one of those articles). They provide an efficient reference point for me, review scores. With an easy glance, I can instantly derive a basic idea of the writer’s enjoyment with a particular game. Should that score intrigue me, the associated text exists to describe its origins. This system worked for me since I started caring about video games at a level beyond them being something to do at sleepovers until the end of pizza-and-soda-induced highs sent us into comas. Thus, I never questioned it.

But thanks to The Last of Us, that’s all gone away.

The Last of Us“Why would you say that, Luke? Why!”

To say I’m a Naughty Dog fan would be an understatement. I own and have completed more products from that studio than any other (well, unless you consider Nintendo, which is basically cheating). Arriving late to the PS2 party, I blew through the Jak trilogy with an absurd amount of quickness for someone with a girlfriend. More recently, the Uncharted series constantly left me in awe at the studio’s ability to create genuinely emotional moments with relatively no time at all between each grandiose release. No individual Naughty Dog title reigns as an absolute favorite, yet I always know that team will deliver an unforgettable experience with everything it touches.

Until now.

A short check-in with the games press will unveil The Last of Us as a game that is as near-perfect as anyone could have expected. With a remarkable amount of perfect scores from a ridiculous number of outlets – like ours!The Last of Us is positioned as a game for everyone. One that everyone should play because everyone will enjoy it every time. As game of the year claims come crashing in for my favorite Sony first-party developer’s latest – especially so soon after the BioShock Infinite fanfare – I’d be stupid not to drop this pen, hit up GameStop, and get my post-apocalyptic game on.

If that’s the case, color me an idiot.

The Last of Us Wallpaper“He isn’t going to play our game, Ellie. Get rid of him.”

I have no desire to play The Last of Us. Ever since I caught sight of its gameplay systems so long ago, all interest was immediately lost. You see, I do not enjoy slow and stealthy mechanics. Neither do I seek out opportunities to survive difficult life-or-death scenarios by the skin of my teeth, particularly when said survival is often the result of countless restarts following multiple failures. It pains me to miss the undoubtedly phenomenal story with its authentic character interactions, but there’s no getting past my disdain for that type of gameplay. Yet reviewers worldwide say The Last of Us is objectively great. What’s wrong here?

Numbers. Review scores. They are our problem. Never has it been so apparent to me how broken their use is. What’s the point of explaining a video game’s quality via a number if personal preferences can make it void? Why attempt to generalize overall thoughts when one unlikable aspect ruins the rest?

Why the hell do we still give review scores?

I thought I’d answered that one with this post’s first paragraph, but The Last of Us proved me wrong. The same way no amount of 10/10s could tempt me to try out the next Starcraft, the same way a landslide of zeroes won’t stop me from sinking my teeth into all that is Kingdom Hearts III, this industry-wide agreement on the greatness of The Last of Us doesn’t change the fact that I know I won’t like it. Review text tells me that. Gameplay footage tells me that. Discussions on this very topic with people who’ve played it tell me that. And numbers don’t say a word.

For the lovers of review scores, allow Jim Sterling to tell you why I’m dumb.


It would’ve sounded pretty selfish to leave you with a declaration that all review scores are worthless simply because one doesn’t directly apply to me. Arrogant, even. To clarify, know that I understand the benefits of such ratings (again, see my first paragraph). They play their role, get the job done, but aren’t perfect. Not nearly, and perhaps the underlying message of this piece expresses my growing frustration with our traditional and – in my opinion – outdated approach to reviewing games. While our medium has drastically changed over the past few decades to something unrecognizable from its infantile form, the typical game review has barely adapted, only shortening its length or adjusting for video to address dwindling attention spans. A better way to cover and critique these things exists, I’m sure of it, though I haven’t a clue what must be done. For now, the idea lives outside of my grasp, elusive as ever, sleeping somewhere beyond the stars. All five-out-of-five of them.

Written by: Luke Frazier

Gaming industry addict. Twitter fiend. Unabashed lover of Kingdom Hearts. Other favorites include The Legend of Zelda, Portal, Bioshock, Journey, and peanut butter & banana sandwiches. Also, oatmeal. Let's be friends. @LukeAFrazier – Steam/PSN: GodAlliz

  • Sean B

    Wait, so rating a game by score is all good and well as long as its the score you want, and as soon as its not you want to change the system? Really?

  • Dan

    Wow what a stupid article. No crap if you hate a genre your not going to like a game. That goes for every form of entertainment and hobbies. Oh you like football here try pole vaulting since you said you like sports. By the way if your whining about missing the story play it on easy. There will be plenty of ammo and melee weapons to make it more fast paced.

  • Jay Curtis

    Personally, I feel like review scores are needed to give a quick summary of the writer’s thoughts of the game. Mass Effect 3 was my GOTY last year, and I don’t regret my decision at all. That being said, I did not like Mass Effect 3 when I initially played it. It wasn’t my favorite game of the year. There were actually several games that I liked better, but I still felt like Mass Effect 3 was the best game released in 2012. It wasn’t to my personal taste, but the combination of gameplay and story with an emphasis on player choice made it stand out last year. It wasn’t my favorite, but I thought it was probably the best.

  • Rich

    God, you should never visit No Fuss Reviews then, all they do is provide scores (no text reviews).

    • KingSigy

      That sounds like a nightmare.

  • extermin8or2

    Gotta be said if you play the game in easy you won’t actually have to play all stealthy like… That’s only really necessary on the higher difficulties and even of you are doing stealth the pacing means that the game is never slow etc honestly I’ve completed it in normal where I needed up fighting most groups of enemies even when I tried to stealth but I didn’t die all that much and now I’ve done it in survival difficulty… That’s was a challenge and a half I had to master the stealth vs humans and stealth vs infected and If I got spotted I had to really think and plan how to take out every enemy. I think you shouldn’t dismiss the game unless you’ve actually played from the start for about two hours. I understand your concerns but seriously somehow get hold of a copy rent it, borrow it from a friend or something and just try it… You’ll be surprised. I mean the game feels totally different to uncharted yet at the same time there are parts of the gameplay mechanics and how the games story is told etc that really remind me of uncharted. The review scores aren’t there to say everyone will like the game-review scores aren’t opinion they are supposed to be based on the pros and cons of the game and its quality and the last of us hands down deserves tens… People may not enjoy the game out of personal preference however they should be able to see why despite that it deserves tens.

    • Really wish I had a PS3 for this game, but only an Xbox 360 or Wii.

  • Dakan45

    Yeah why the hell do people even give review scores if you gonna rate a game with 10/10 like it revolutionized gamign with the best graphics and most innovative and nteresting gameplay in existance?

    Nor this or bioshock infinite are the best games outhere. Id Argue that we have seen games with beter graphics, or more innovative gameplay, or better ai, or more complex gameplay, or less feaking repettive campaigns.

    To give games like these two 10s, means that you think that the focus other games have are pretty much a waste of their time. Eg the last 2 bioshock games had more complex gameplay and more nonlinear maps, however infinite was more linear and dumbed down, can you seriously say its for the better? Same case with the last of us, uncharted 3 had better shooting mechanics, is that to say that the last of us is better on everything?

    it seems we dont review objectively anymore, so we can go on ahead and give games like angry birds 10/10 for no reason other that we thought they were that good rather comparing them with other games.

    • extermin8or2

      BioShock infinite was good but I’d say its a 9/10, the last of us however does deserve tens and I’d love some examples of these games that are all round better? In every department objectively-not just a ‘I prefer the story on this game’ I mean some people prefer the graphics on mine craft… Doesn’t mean they are better than crysis 3s because they aren’t-they are worse in an objective sense however that doesn’t mean someone can’t prefer them.

      • Dakan45

        I wouldnt give a 9.0 to Call of boreshock: infinite repetion even for a joke. Id give a 9 to system shock 2, to bioshock even, maybe a 8.5 to bioshock 2 since in some ways it was better than the first one.

        But why should infinie get a 9.0?

        Is it a true sequel to bioshock? Nope instead it takes the same road as resident evil 6 and turns into a linear generic shooter and kills the bioshock formula.

        Does it do soemthing innovative or revolutionize gaming? Nope

        Does it at the very least stay true to the E3 demos and the crapazillions of interviews even tv that hyped the game to hell and beyond? Nope.

        Infact “WINNER OF OVER 80 AWARDS” on the box, despite that NOTHING of what was shown in E3 made it in the game. Yet people whine about colonial marines. Also ken levine said it wont be dumbed down. So you might wanna add false advertizing on that one.

        So is the game good on its own? Well i have played so many linear fps and i know how its done. You put a variety of areas, advanced enemy types and better weapons later on, good pacing and variety of objectives ,good bossbatles. Sadly bioshock infinite doesnt have any of these its pretty much a circle of arena fights followed by money looting and upgrading with more arena fights. Kinda feels like i am playing borderlands instead of a linear immersive story fps.

        So you got a game like darksiders 2 with great story, pacing and combat getting trashed for a short campaign and bioshock infinite copy and pasting the same gameplay enough times to reach enough hours to justify 60 bucks price and gets a free pass like the actulaly had a good campaign and not the same thing from start to finish.

        Felt to me like i was playing alan wake, like i was suffering through garbage and repettive combat just to get the story, instead of that, how about a 4 hour game for a lower price? Its But they are not gonna change the 60 bucks pricetag, so…yeah. I dont want to suffer through long and bag gameplay just for story. Giving that game 9 or higher is like saying “hey we like it when you are lazy and make inferior games” In case you dont know the game has been in development hell and was scrapped multiple times, they should lose points for their bad project management not gain for doing cheap work to reach the release date deadline (which was delayed 2-3 times)

        In the end there are so many things wrong with this game that it should just get an 8 for visuals and story, not 9.5s and 10s.

        “the last of us however does deserve tens”

        NOTHING deserves 10s. We gave too many high ratings these days and developers whine when we dont give em highratings, eg cliffy b was angry about the “hate reviews” that gears of war 3 got. What are hate reviews you ask? 8 out of 10.

        I really dont get how reviewers do their damn reviews, some sites take up the reviews and the stuff rates the game accordingly to keep consisting ratings.

        so i see in gamespot crysis 3 getting a 7 and proteus getting an 8.

        Which means that proteus> crysis 3.

        Crysis 3 was an expenssive game with alot of gameplay and immersion, proteus isnt even a freaking game.

        So after that, just like the author said WHY do we even give scores anymore? The world will be better off without them.

        • extermin8or2

          Well I disagree the last of us does deserve a ten as for the too many games are given too high a rating these days-yes I agree there the games rating system hasn’t really adapted to take into account the money and higher production values most AAA games have now days, and that those alone can’t make a great game. Bioshock Infinite was a breath of fresh air as far as fps’s go as was borderlands 2-was it ground breaking? not really, was it ground breaking ivs the market flooded with military shooters and call of duty and it’s clones… yes, yes it was. It felt like an old school shooter from the days of the ps2 etc the nostalgia there helped it at least in my eyes and the majority of other people in my view i’d scale the ratings systems as this- the last of us is a 10 because the very few flaws it has can be completely ignored due to how good the game really is. No game is ever going to be perfect-however the last of us is probably as close as can be for the moment. I’d give Bioshock an 8-8.5, crysis 3 a 7.5 infamous 1: an 8, infamous 2 a 7, (im brining other games in just as refrences) uncharted 1:8,uncharted 2: 9.5 uncharted 3: 8.75 Assassins creed 3: 7.5 Rayman Origins: 9 alien colonial marines: 2, borderlands 2: 8.5 Batman Arkham Asylum and Batman Arkham City:9.5’s each although the 2nd is in my opinion a better game the the time in which the second is released and the fact that for a sequel you can’t just do the same as before and expect the same score doesn’t work like that. COD 4: 9, MW2: 7.5 MW3:4, Black ops 1: 8 black ops 2:8.5 (it did new stuff that worked well and was a better game so it deserves a higher score..and it wasn’t fundamentally broken or overpowered online at launch although I think if a game has a single player longer than about 7 hours it needs to be given seperate scores for it’s multiplayer and singleplayer.)

          • Dakan45

            “the last of us deserves a 10”


            “Bioshock Infinite was a breath of fresh air

            Sure, 2 weaponss an hitponit regen in linear maps with repettive combat and garbage gunplay is such an unsual and intersting aspect not seen in this era.


            “It felt like an old school shooter from the days of the ps2′

            Not for a freaking second, those games allowed you to carry more guns, and have far far far far bette campaigns and not the cheap ass copy paste infinite is.

            ” I’d give Bioshock an 8-8.5, crysis 3 a 7.5 ”

            So those 2 games that have better gameplay mechanics and pacing than bioshock infinite you give em 8 and 7s?


            uncharted 2: 9.5

            black ops 2:8.5

            So you like linear simplistic shooters than games with actual gameplay?

            “alien colonial marines: 2,’

            Which was far worse than the above because? That game didnt deserve 2, nor the highly bashed resident evil 6, you cant just give 10s and 9.5s to simplistic shooters and kill colonial marines with 2, sure it was unpolished, but you havent seen games that actually worthy 2, i have however, check “chernobyl commando” Hell i still wouldnt say it worth 2, more like 4.

            Its unclear to me how some games can get such high scores and others getting such low. At one hand you say “hey this game was grea, have a 9.5” and then you say “hey this game is bad, have a 2.0” It doesnt feel as if there is much of middle ground, if you can go easy on games and give em such high ratings, you should atleast respect the work put into a game and not give it a 2.0, 5 i could understand even 4, but 2? What do facebook games get then?

          • extermin8or2

            See I’d bother replying to your comment properly but having just recognised your name and seeing that most comments you make on articles are similarly negative about… everything. What you fail to understand is that game can be linear, they can be based on stuff that others have done before-but the game can still easily be better than alot of other games released and lacking polish is certainly a reason to give a game such a low score. The thing costs $60/£40 and as such should be fucking perfect. I’d say the unpatched skyrim on ps3 deserves about a 3 because of all the fucking bugs. But I can’t b bothered to explain these simple concepts to you any longer-clearly the majority of gamers do actually understand this even if you don’t… how “long a development” studio spent on their game doesn’t make it worthy of a higher score. They could spend 20 years on it but if when I play it, the voice acting si dodgy, the story is crap, and isn’t told in a way that makes it any more interesting, the gameplay feels boring, the graphics aren’t great either and the whole thing feels bad it shouldn’t be being given a higher score because “the reviewer understands how long it took” look at duke nukem forever… there was a game that really really should have been canned like YEARS before release.

          • Dakan45

            “What you fail to understand is that game can be linear, they can be
            based on stuff that others have done before-but the game can still
            easily be better than alot of other games released and lacking polish”

            The precisize reason why i have played a crapazilion better linear shooter than bioshock infinite. On polish? You have not seen games that are fundementaly broken riddled with bugs and broken sound and stuttering, i have. No matter how much you polish a generic game, its a generic game, you shouldnt get 10-20 points more for polish. ps Colonial marines is all patched up now and actually looks like the demo, atleast on pc.

            “. I’d say the unpatched skyrim on ps3 deserves about a 3 because of all the fucking bugs”

            Forget i said anything.

            “But I can’t b bothered to explain these simple concepts to you any
            longer-clearly the majority of gamers do actually understand this even
            if you don’t.”

            The majority of gamers are RETARDS and let me give you a simple concept that all gamers understand.

            Complex game with alot of gameplay>Simplistic game

            To say a simplistic piece of crap is better than skyrim is just fuckign RETARDED.

            Everyone should reallize that concept so we can stop playing movie game crap and play actual GAMES with gameplay mechanics not QTE crap that this industry is turning into.

            “They could spend 20 years on it but if when I play it, the voice acting
            si dodgy, the story is crap, and isn’t told in a way that makes it any
            more interesting, the gameplay feels boring, the graphics aren’t great
            either and the whole thing feels bad it shouldn’t be being given a
            higher score because “the reviewer understands how long it took””

            Yet when bioshock infinite came out with so many things removed after 5 years of development and videos that advertize the game and put the award list of those videos on the box, were NOT in the game, apparently it deserves a free pass and no one rates it accordingly. It proves that the so called “Critics” dont know much about gamedevelopment or the awful practises they encourage, but hey like you said it costs alot , it gotta be perfect.

            I guess that explains why cod gets hirh ratins, its super duper polished despite gameplay being average.

          • extermin8or2

            Look Bioshock infinite was fun- the story was decent and the twist at the end was a surprise (well to an extent) it wasn’t a buggy mess like many games are on release these days… and tbh I didn’t watch all of the videos for the years before it’s release-hyping yourself up like that generally ruins your experience come the day you get the game in your hands, clearly you made this mistake…also I don’t think you can really compare an open world RPG like skyrim to a linear shooter? And depending on how bad the bugs and how unpolished the game is you can dock or give 10 points easily-skyrim was pretty much unplayable the more you played it on ps3, it shouldn’t have been released in that state and they knew because they didn’t send a single ps3 review copy out… anyway unfortunately when it comes to giving games awards and whether a game can be considered a masterpiece or not etc is infact down to the majority of gamers… so therefore you’re opinion may differ from everyone else’s-there’s a reason for that and if you want to try and say everyone else is wrong feel free but at the end of the day if your one of a minority opposing it then… you are the one left looking like the retard not everyone else after all what is a retard but someone considered to have a mental capacity or mental capacities below/different from the normal…The normal is a quantity set by the majority.

          • Dakan45

            “the twist at the end was a surprise”

            Really? I wonder why, propably becasue all the dialogues were cryptic as hell and had 1/5 of the logs that the previous 2 games has and the rest was filler gameplay that made you forget about the story.

            So yeah in the end you couldnt possible see it coming. Thas a horrible plot mechanic, on the other hand the logs explaining the world and characters in the previosu games were great.

            Go check E3 2009 and E3 2011 demos, you will see it was a great game back then and not this oversimplified repettive crap we got, with simplistic level design and underwelming narrative.

            So yeah bioshock infintie was polished, good point but its not hard to polish a simplistic game with copy and pasted scripts. There isnt much that can go wrong.

            “whether a game can be considered a masterpiece or not etc is infact
            down to the majority of gamers… so therefore you’re opinion may differ
            from everyone else’s-there’s a reason for that and if you want to try
            and say everyone else is wrong feel free but at the end of the day if
            your one of a minority opposing it then… you are the one left looking
            like the retard”

            ok then call of duty best game ever. Majority agrees.

            That is your logic.

            Those retards may think me as an idiot, but they dont have any idea what they do to the industry, games are becoming simplier and focus alot more on graphics and character interactions with believable facial animations rather actual gameplay. You see it happening, games are less about gameplay and more about story and graphics.

            For that reason they become easier and alot more movie focused with less innovation to get more sales. They basicly selling 60 bucks interatcive movies that require 5 million+ to be profitable, the industry cant keep going like that, the cots become to high to polish those simplistic games and pay off actors, games need to start focus on gameplay again.

            Also more games are becoming online with hardly a singleplayer campaign. Titanfall, division. new nfs game or destiny.

            They basicly try to get as many sales as possible.

            This is what the “majority” is doing to the industry, thanks dumb majority.

          • extermin8or2

            I can’t argue with you about COD, although The division from it’s gameplay I thought looked promising, Destiny i’m still on the fence about I’ll wait for the finished product to make my mind up about that I have no issue with some games having online only aslong as the singleplayer games still exist and it’s not the new nfs that’s done that but that new IP “the crew” (unless the new nfs as done it aswell…) although EA are pushing always online as a means of DRM any excuse possible-at least ubisofts games are actually using online only when necessary-games like farcry, watch dogs and AC4 show that they don’t seem to be abandoning traditional singleplayer anytime soon 🙂 but we’ve moved off topic-OK majority of ‘core’ gamers and by core I mean the people that buy many games a year not just COD and fiffa. Infact I doubt many COD fans bought Bioshock infinite… it was very different to how COD plays and didn’t have online something I do actually commend them for not shoehorning in and a feature COD fans tend to go mad over.

          • Dakan45

            “. it was very different to how COD plays”

            Please dont say crap like that. The first bioshock was very diffirent than cod. Infintie has 2 weapons, iron sights and form of hit point regeneration on linear maps, its not far from call of duty. far cry 3, dishonored, deus ex, those are far.

            Its annoying how you dont see it? What else you want them to do to reallize it? Hell if you think about it vigors thad no place in there. it was just becuase bioshock had plasmids. Bioshock story was all about plasmids. Vigors are just THERE they are not well integrated to the world and story. Like i said it had very few logs in it.

            So what else does it take? Do they have to remove logs and vigors too? What will it be then? Please dont say “very diffirent” its ridiculus.

            If you gonna go and repeat the same gameplay for 15 hours, id be better off with mp, id still get the same experiance but with less grinding. Darkness 2 was litteraly trashed for a short campaign,but the pacing and the experiance was so much better than infinite. This is the logic behind it, to shovel subpar repettive gameplay in a story focused game just to make it longer and not better. Just like alan wake.

            You didnt get my point on online. As developers have said, they want the singleplayer to go away, they want games to be always online. They want to control everything. Xbone was trashed for this but atleast it was honest, all those games are mentioned are lying to you, telling you its an online experiance when in realltiy they did that to enforce drm and constant connectivity, this is where the industry is heading. THey know EXACTLY what they doing, they simpliy singleplayer so no one will like it and use it as an excuse to kill off singleplayer of more complicated multiplayer. The few singleplayer games that will remain will be like ryse, la noire and qunatic dream crap.

            Just wait 2-3 years and you will see.

  • Man you hit the proverbial nail on the head. I know what I like and no amount of 5’s 10’s or zeroes can change it.

    • extermin8or2

      The scores aren’t there to be about what everyone will like… Look at dark souls etc gruellingly hard,so hard even alot of people will despise it but that doesn’t make it a bad game-thats not a reason to bring down its score…