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.
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.
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.
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.