Weekend Hot Topic, part 1: Worst video game reviews

Readers name the video game reviews they’ve disagreed with the most, including Doom and Deadly Premonition.

The subject for this week’s Hot Topic was suggested by reader Simon Ashworth, who asked what review – either one of ours of from somewhere else – sticks out to you as being either too harsh or too lenient?

We had lots of different suggestions, most of them perfectly understandable, but by far the most common complaint was that Red Dead Redemption 2 was overrated by almost everyone.

A discouraging word
One of the easiest responses to give… Red Dead Redemption 2. I don’t think I’ve ever played a game so at odds with the scores given. How IGN, GameSpot, Eurogamer, Edge, Easy Allies, Giant Bomb, PushSquare, Guardian, Telegraph, all the others (and most saddening of all GameCentral) failed to inform the meek and mild gaming community of the terribly average gunplay, the six actions per button game world interactions, the forced weapon load out, the laughably bad mission structure, the bloated narrative, the endless – and I do mean endless – epilogue that was just so totally unnecessary and excruciating.

The sheer hubris of Rockstar’s attention to detail in areas that are completely meaningless and add absolutely nothing to the game (contracting horse testicles for gads sake) and all the other issues are either due to their fear of upsetting the lords of all creation Rockstar themselves or, sorry to say GC, simply buying into the hype train.

I have no issue with gamers or indeed reviewers who enjoyed it but if you re-return to the reviews on Metacritic and read them there is barely a bad word about any of these rather notable problems. It only was picked upon by people who bought it and made their voices heard, which in turn led to a few people in the industry saying that they didn’t enjoy it as much. It’s not a terrible game, and in parts it’s excellent, but it is also a highly flawed game that in my opinion should’ve got a 6 and certainly no more than a 7.
GC: It’s a fair complaint and we certainly soured on the game when we came to play it a second time for the PC review.

Take a chance
N64 Magazine’s 95% score for Turok 2, way back in 1998, sticks out. Tim Weaver, the reviewer, was generally excellent but this was a definite low point; he even described it as ‘better than GoldenEye’, if I recall. It wasn’t a bad game but he must have been experiencing severe denial to ignore the game’s atrocious level design, sign-posting. and pacing.

There’s seldom been a verdict by GC that I’ve found especially questionable, but the one for Doom (2016) does come to mind. I found the tone a bit dismissive and criticism of its campaign and graphics, both of which I found excellent, a tad perplexing.

Back in the day, I used to concern myself a lot more with the review scores of major titles I was anticipating; those from magazines I read avidly, such as Edge and the aforementioned N64 magazine, having a considerable impact on my decision to buy a title. Now I see what GC thinks and a couple of others and try and make an informed decision, but I don’t attach as much weight to them as I used to.

I think having a higher disposable income these days means I’m more willing to take a chance on a title now; when I could only afford one or two a year, reviews could make the difference between Blast Corps and getting stuck with, god forbid, ClayFighter 64 1/3.
Mark Fitz

GC: In defence of our Doom review we’d point out that the director essentially agreed with us when we interviewed him about Doom Eternal – which fixed almost all the problems we had with the reboot.

Prey for a higher score
Words in reviews are often more important than the score given for a game. A well written review helps you understand that you might like or dislike the game even if you disagree with the reviewer’s conclusions. I tend to use a couple of review sites I find reliable, along with friends’ recommendations, and knowledge of my own preferences when deciding to get a game. If you only want to rely on your own opinion (based only on speculation) you can just buy the game, but very few of us have that kind of money to burn!

I generally find your reviews helpful. Probably the main example of a game that I thought you judged too harshly was Prey, which you gave a 6/10. For me it was a modern classic up the there with Dishonored in the handful of modern ‘immersive sim’ genre games.

I felt the game managed to juggle puzzle, exploration, combat, stealth, and survival horror elements really well, though I think you felt that it was overly punishing and that while it was trying to do a lot of things, it ultimately achieved none of them. While I disagreed there, I definitely agreed that the visuals looked somewhat last gen.
Matt (he_who_runs_away)

GC: We wanted to enjoy Prey, but we really had no fun with it at all.

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Official propaganda
Not one review in particular but I just remember in my younger days when I would get the official Nintendo and PlayStation magazines and they would give passing grades to some absolute turkeys.

I’ve a vague memory of Official Nintendo Magazine giving Superman 64 something above 50% when almost everyone else was hailing it as a worst game of all time contender, and Official PlayStation Magazine seemed to give anything that had been on the cover at least an 8 out of 10 regardless of quality. I didn’t really grasp what was going on there until later in life but hopefully I’m much more discerning now.

I am pretty big on looking at reviews in the main, I’ve always got a backlog and I’ve always got other things I need to spend my money on, so I only really want to play the best games. Also I’m happy to wait until after the initial launch window and just gauge whether any revisionism is creeping in (Red Dead Redemption 2 just for example off the top of my head).

It’s easy for something to get a rash of 8-10 out of 10 scores on release because it’s well made and ticks the right boxes, but then for whatever reason not end up being hugely beloved (e.g. the Assassin’s Creed games, Horizon Zero Dawn or even Super Mario Sunshine going back a bit further), so I am happy to wait and see what ends up on end of year lists and things like that to try and single out the games that really resonated with people before I get involved.

Ignore us
A while ago you reviewed My Time In Portia and, got to be honest, I am glad I didn’t listen to your score as this game is amazing now on my second playthrough.

The reviews on Steam mainly positive as well, it’s only GOG that had bad reviews, not for the game play but simply because it hadn’t been updated in a long time.

After a bit of digging turns out it was because of COVID-19. (The game’s now up to date with another update due and a second game on the way.

Anyway, regarding reviews in general I do like to read what others think, mainly to get idea of what it is I am buying but if a game’s cheap and still has bad review I’m quite happy to least try them.

But sorry guys, gotta say I totally disagreed with the review. Okay, there’s a lot of grinding in the game but one thing that stood out for me was the characters as they did have some depth to them and also full voices, which was cool. But of course, to see that depth you had to play for a long time so I guess that be Catch-22!

Not everyone gets Zach
This one’s easy: the 2 out of 10 that IGN gave Deadly Premonition, whereas GC hailed it as one of the best games of the year and a classic piece of video game storytelling. I think that says it all really, in terms of the difference between the two sites.

The worst thing was when they then got the UK version of the site (which I didn’t even know they had till then) to review it and suddenly it got a 7.5 out of 10, once everyone started to realise how amazing it was.

Carried away
For reviews by GC, Zelda: Skyward Sword’s 10 out of 10 might be the one I’d see as most questionable in hindsight. I can’t remember if the remaster’s release is what prompted the Hot Topic question but I do recall GC was noble enough to post an alternative take by a colleague and I felt the disappointment expressed in that was relatable, if something of a buzzkill.

The biggest problems were the relatively narrow, linear environments that weren’t very enjoyable to explore, an equally unremarkable overworld, the hand-holding notification system, and slow-moving dialogue often killing any sense of pace. The Imprisoned boss was also often infuriating and I had to fight him six times to get 100%.

Ultimately, the 3D Zelda games were beginning to feel stuck in a rut and this one had some nice structural ideas but never followed through enough with them. It’s to the developer’s great credit that all the gushing reviews at the time didn’t deter them from basically making the direct antithesis, in Zelda terms, as a follow-up.

But what needs to be remembered is by 2011, five years into the Wii’s life, there still hadn’t been that dream games involving swords or lightsabers that popped into everyone’s heads as soon as the controller was revealed. When Skyward Sword finally turned up and those one-to-one sword controls actually worked, that was mind blowing for many of us, which does risk a more… intense honeymoon period. I remember insisting for ages after finishing it that it was at least a 9 because the obvious flaws were easily papered over by those sword controls.

Anyway, I do put a lot of stock in GC’s reviews. I think they’re one of the few critics that don’t just give everything that has a high profile a score from 8-10.

A GC 8 is enough to get me to sit up, a 9 or 10 is a must-play unless I have a specific aversion to the genre, and I’ll often consider something as low as a 7 if I’m really keen on the type of game. Marvel’s Spider-Man and Ratchet & Clank being recent examples, although I generally agree with GC’s verdict on the former and I’ve still to play the latter.

Games tend to demand so much of our time nowadays, which makes me harsher in my own judgement. That means the issue I most regularly take with reviews is they’re too generous, but then it’s something of a self-fulfilling prophesy when I’m likely to be put off by games that get low scores so I never find out if I disagree as a result.
PS: I won’t go into detail as I’ve gone on too long again, but other GC scores that I think in hindsight were a bit too generous were L.A. Noire, Red Dead Redemption 2, and Super Mario 3D World, all of which got a 9, although I appreciate disagreeing with that last one is probably a bit controversial (and again, its immediate successor was the antithesis I was looking for from Nintendo).

GC: You’re probably right about all of those, except Super Mario 3D World. We felt the Switch version was still worth an easy nine, especially with the bonus of Bowser’s Fury.

E-mail your comments to: [email protected]

The small print
New Inbox updates appear every weekday morning, with special Hot Topic Inboxes at the weekend. Readers’ letters are used on merit and may be edited for length and content.

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