Thu. Jun 13th, 2024

Key Takeaways

  • Video game scores are inflated.
  • Find reviewers who like games you do, read reviews not scores.
  • Watch gameplay on YouTube, try demos or game trials before purchasing.

Video game review scores are meant to give you a good way to quickly judge if a game is worth looking into further, but thanks to grade inflation or “gradeflation” video game scores don’t really help that much anymore.

This is the same sort of thing that’s happened with ratings of all kinds. If you’ve ever used a service like Uber, you know that giving a driver five out of five stars is the right score for a perfectly average job. Logically, you’d think three stars would be the average, but the driver needs to literally set ou on fire to deserve a score that “low.” This skewing of scores seems to have kicked in with games as well. In the 90s, a video game magazine would give a score of 50% to a game that was basically OK, but nothing special. Now that’s a 70. Getting an 80% score in the old days meant it was a genre-leading game. Now an 80 just means “good”. Effectively, the real scale only runs from 70 to 100.

So, if a video game score doesn’t help you figure out where to spend your money, is there another way?

Find a Reviewer Who Likes Games You Already Like

Reviews are subjective, and attaching a score to them without a clear and consistent rubric might not be that smart to begin with. There are plenty of incredibly high-scoring games that I think are boring (Breath of the Wild) or barely games (Red Dead Redemption 2), which would make me an iconoclast in some cases. However, tehre are reviewers who have similar tastes to mine, so instead of worrying about an average score on Metacritic or what mainstream reviewers think of a game, try to find a reviewer who has given good scores to games you already love. Then look for games they’ve reviewed well to get an idea of what you should play next.

Read the Reviews, Not the Scores

A screenshot of a virtual tattooed woman from the game "Cyberpunk 2077."
Cianna Garrison / How-To Geek

“Cyberpunk 2077”

A review score can give you an at-a-glance idea of how good the reviewer thinks a game is overall, but there’s really not a lot of information there. They might have disliked a game for reasons that mean nothing to you. They might have liked a game for something that you abhor. Unless you actually read the review, you don’t really know what the score means, or whether you should mentally adjust it upwards or downwards according to your own preferences.

If you’re reading reviews by other players, rather than professional reviewers, it’s also worth looking at circumstantial information to get some context on their reviews. Did they post a gushing review five hours into a 100 hour game? Are they console warring in the review? Again, the substance of the review matters as well as some of what’s between the lines.

Watch YouTube Gameplay

There are tons of third-party gameplay videos of just about every game on YouTube. You may even prefer to watch clips with no commentary at all, so you can get an idea of what the minute-to-minute experience is like, without someone’s opinion affecting you. Just be careful not to spoil the game for yourself. You may want to look for footage that’s specifically labeled as spoiler-free, or that doesn’t contain story content. It may also be a good idea to look at footage of the first hour of gameplay only, if you don’t want any spoilers.

Try a Demo or Play on a Subscription Service

You can’t always tell if a game plays well by just watching it. It may have poor controls, or feel unresponsive. The good news is that there are several ways you can try a game for little or no money. While game demos have become rather rare, some games still have them. In which case, you can download the demo and play a section of the game for yourself. These days, demos even have the option to continue from your demo save in some cases.

Depending on the platform, you may also have access to game trials. This lets you play the full game for a set time limit. If you like it, you can buy the full game and just keep playing. Usually, this is part of a subscription service, such as certain tiers of the PlayStation Plus service.

Speaking of those subscription services, if a game is on one of these services, and you already subscribe to it, you can just play it for yourself and see if you like it. You can even finish the game, and then decide if it’s worth owning permanently.

Finally, while I don’t recommend anyone to do this on a regular basis, you can refund games on certain platforms if you haven’t played for more than an hour or two. So, if there’s really no other way to get a good impression of the title, you can buy it and then refund it if you don’t like it. Just make sure you know the refund policy for your platform. A Steam refund is easy, a Nintendo or PlayStation refund is basically impossible.

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By John P.

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