OMG U R SO BIAS or a discussion of video game reviewing

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So it’s June and we’re starting to see some advance reviews of the PS3’s flagship title Metal Gear Solid 4 trickle in now. Unsurprisingly it’s garnered some pretty high review scores, and this got me thinking about objectivity.

The difficulty with reviewing a game such as MGS4 is that it’s such a heavily plot-centric title that previous experience is necessary, but this in turn means that if the reviewer has played and enjoyed previous titles in a series then it will be difficult for them to provide an unbiased opinion.

Take as an example the IGN UK review of MGS4 that resulted in the horribly pretentious score of 9.9. While I can’t argue with the score, I do question how useful this review would be to an MGS virgin. Talk of tying up loose ends, reprisals of previous characters and locations, being evocative of previous titles, reiterating themes, fan service and Hideo Kojima moments are all meaningless to someone who is picking up an MGS game for the first time.

Clearly at the end of the day a review is just one person’s opinion, but it also serves the purpose of helping a consumer decide whether a game is worth buying. MGS4 is not really being reviewed as a standalone game in this instance; it’s simply being viewed as a part of the whole series.

But what is the solution to this conundrum?

I would suggest that reviews for games such as this should include a ‘second opinion’ review and score from someone who has never played a title in the series before, although I understand there would be difficulties associated with this approach.

So does that mean I think the review scores of all sequels are skewed by the reviewer’s experience of the franchise? No. But MGS is pretty much the vision of one man and the finale of a series with more twists than a pigs tail.

To give a few comparisons – GTA4 requires no prior knowledge, in Halo 3 the plot is very much secondary to the gameplay and can be largely ignored and Mario Galaxy is pick-up-and-play. The enjoyment of these games is largely unaffected by whether you’ve played previous titles.

Would MGS4 get a 9.9 score from an MGS virgin? I can’t say for sure but I’d imagine it’s about as likely as a Kaz Hirai & Shane Kim love-in.

P.S. There are many more important issues regarding review scores in the gaming industry that I may touch upon in future blogs, but reading IGN’s unobjective MGS4 review really kicked off this train of thought.