It’s not very often that I actually read a game review. Over the years I’ve realized it saves a lot of time to just check Metacritic’s aggregated score, or maybe read the excerpts that it lists.
Why don’t I actually read what the reviewers have to say? Because their score is all they have to say. It was a while ago when I first realized that all their words are only there to validate that number. I don’t think anyone cares if the reviewer has something to say about a game, it’s the final percentage that matters.
Reviewers get their fair share of criticism though, and a lot of resounding complaints. Are they being objective? Are they getting paid by the publishers? Is the score fair? I have my own to throw in. Is the reviewer a talented writer with something interesting to say? The answer is almost always “no.”
I don’t dislike reading reviews. For example I love Roger Ebert’s reviews. I like him not because he’s not getting paid to advertise, or because his scores are completely fair, or because his perspective is unbiased. It’s because for every movie he reviews he has something insightful to say. I’ll read reviews of his movies that I don’t plan to ever watch because he’s simply a good and intelligent writer. His tastes are often completely different from my own, and he’s certainly biased, but that doesn’t stop him from being worth reading.
Reviews can be very good and even popular. Books of reviews are published and widely read. Imagine that! Ebert has published plenty due to his popularity, and there are other good ones like Harlan Ellison’s Watching. Why would someone pay money to read a review for a movie that they’ve already seen? Because the reviews are interesting and thought provoking, and simply well written. Can you imagine paying money for a volume of IGN’s reviews from over the years? It’s bad enough reading them one at a time for free.
Not all game reviews are bad. I enjoy “indie” reviews such as those by my colleagues here on videolamer. Zero Punctuation is one of my favorites because of the way it makes entertaining and intelligent comments about games and the industry as a whole, even if it completely misses the point of the game it’s reviewing. Reviews don’t have to be 100% objective and methodically evaluate every aspect of game design. Games aren’t a math equation with a variable for graphics and controls and so on.
If games want to be taken seriously as an art then their reviews need to be a serious art. Stilted uninteresting reviews make the game they’re reviewing look bad by association. If you want me to actually read what you have to say, then say something worth reading.