Anyone who knows me well is probably aware that I am obsessed with reviews. It doesn’t matter whether I am considering buying an interesting new indie title or a new toaster; I will be reading reviews. Of course, reviews are incredibly important in the gaming industry. They provide vital information to the consumer on the overall quality of a game and allow people to make an informed decision regarding a title. Does it contain gameplay elements that I am a fan of? Does it have a gripping narrative? Does it have good replay value? These are all questions that gamers ask themselves before deciding to spend money on a game. Without reviews, we would be left to believe statements from the developers or publisher itself, which can often be dubious at best. Imagine the No Man’s Sky catastrophe if we didn’t have accurate reviews to reply upon. No thanks.
However, I also believe too much weight is often given to game reviews. People base their whole opinion on a game on what they have read or heard in reviews, often without ever even playing the game! What they fail to acknowledge is that they may enjoy the game despite its flaws, and that perhaps they are missing out on a worthwhile experience. They fail to acknowledge that the reviewer is only one individual, with expectations and desires that may differ from themselves. What one person may laud in a game, another may despise. In addition, what those who place great emphasis on reviews may forget is that a game does not have to be perfect to be fun. And ultimately, I think, that’s all that really matters. I must admit I am guilty of this myself, often deciding not to purchase a title I had previously been eying simply due to a few negative reviews. In other words, I let others dictate my enjoyment.
Recently, I have made attempts towards curbing my reliance on game reviews. With a lot of… free time on my hands as of late I’ve had more opportunities to sit down and simply enjoy some video games. I could have squandered this time reading review upon review, or I also could have used my time more effectively to cut down on my towering backlog of unplayed games. In the end however, I decided to… replay some games I have already played. The tower grows ever larger.
I had the most fun with Need for Speed: Most Wanted. Not the 2005 release from EA, but rather the 2012 Criterion reboot. The game has you blasting around the open world of Fairhaven city, collecting ‘speed points’ by completing events and performing stunts. As you amass points, you gain the ability to race and beat ten of the city’s top drivers to gain access to their cars and become Fairhaven’s Most Wanted. There are a plethora of different cars to choose from, all of which (barring the 10 most elite) can be accessed from the beginning, simply by finding them scattered around the map. However, I must say the differences between the cars do not extend far beyond their appearances. While the game garnered plenty of positive reviews from critics, it was received unfavourably by many fans of the original, and with good reason. Many of the features found in the original were dropped from the reboot released seven years on. Customisation for each car was reduced to a few simple options for each of the car’s components such as for the transmission, chassis, and tyres etc. Worse still, these ‘modifications’ are identical for each class of car, with very few ‘sidegrades’, leading to few choices in practice. Additionally, they are unlocked so quickly its hardly a challenge at all. Manual transmission has also been removed entirely with automatic now the only way to play, and for reasons beyond my comprehension they removed any trace of a narrative, leaving players to create their own motivations. All these changes lead to a watered-down version of the original, leaving the player wondering what Criterion were thinking in creating the reboot.
However, despite the removal of features and the simplification of gameplay elements, I still loved the game. Ignoring current worldly issues for a time, and speeding around Fairhaven City in a souped-up Lancia Delta, before hopping in a Bugatti Veyron and launching myself through a billboard was a delight. I never played the original, nor did I read any reviews for the reboot, given I had purchased the game about 5 years prior, and so I was blissfully unaware of the many complaints that fans of the series had to throw at the game. I strongly believe had this not been the case, my experience with the game would have been affected.
None of this is to say that I believe we should do away with game reviews, but rather to remind ourselves of what we should ultimately care the most about– fun.