Gears of War 3: Perfect Review Scores By Divine Right
(This is another edition of </RANT>, a weekly opinion piece column on GameFront. Check back every week for more. The opinions expressed are those of the author, and do not reflect those of GameFront.)
I hate to harp on about reviews, but as a man whose entire career revolves around reviewing videogames, it’s a subject that tends to be on my mind a lot, and it brings with it no shortage of annoyances that deserve a righteously rambling rant. Last night, I reviewed Gears of War 3 for Destructoid, a review I am very proud of. For a bit of backstory, Microsoft had sent my review copy to the wrong address, and it took two days to resolve the issue. Having lost two days of time and having only fifteen hours left before the embargo broke, I essentially took an entire day out of my week to complete Gears 3, get into some multiplayer, and try both Horde and Beast mode before writing and posting the review.
I was very pleased to not only get the task completed in a single day, but also write a review that I felt was among my most eloquent — and as someone who isn’t fond of self-congratulation, I was certainly pleased enough to allow myself the one indulgence. It was therefore especially disappointing to have the review’s text completely glossed over and tossed out the window in favor of focusing entirely on the review score — which happened to be an eight out of ten.
I’ve been known for harsh review scores in the past, but eight is a great score for what I felt was a great game. Gears of War 3, to me, lacks the unique special “spark” that a title needs in order to achieve a nine or ten. It followed two excellent titles and had a lot to live up to. That it didn’t quite do so is no shameful thing — it only serves to highlight how remarkable the series has been, and how high the bar was set. I concentrated very hard on making sure that my respect and love for the game was made clear, but I felt the criticisms of its multiplayer flaws and the less satisfactory narrative campaign needed to be voiced. A fun, well-made game that has some flaws sounds like an 8/10 experience to me, if we’re going to boil down games to just their numbers.
It didn’t take long for a number of gamers to ignore all the many positive things said about the game and focus on the criticisms. One person claimed I “sucked” at the multiplayer and thus “docked a point” — as if the game started at nine by default and had to be marked down. Another accused me of being petty for mentioning any negativity at all. One said that giving a game 8/10 because it didn’t have a special spark to it was a bad criticism. None of these people mentioned how I lavished praise upon the co-op modes, or reinforced the idea that it was fun. None of these people were satisfied with a 8/10 score — a score that reflected my ultimately congratulatory summary.
Worse than the gamers, however, were a few comments from professional game designers. It was, of all people, David Goldfarb of DICE that called any and all reviews below a 9/10 into question. The Battlefield series lead designer seemed to believe that 8/10 reviews were entirely inconceivable, Tweeting: “8/10 for Gears 3?!” Apparently, a great game getting a great score was beyond belief. It was GEARS OF WAR 3, after all! How on Earth can something from Epic Games ever get anything below a nine or ten!?
The sentiment was echoed by none other than Epic’s own Joe Graf, who responded to Goldfarb with: “A giant WTF IMO.”
Yes, the idea that Gears of War could score below a nine out of ten — a NINE OUT OF TEN — was so utterly alien to him that his only response was “what the f**k?” A giant “what the f**k?”
Finally, we have the press joining in, encouraging this idea that anything below a nine is now unacceptable for Triple-A titles. In its roundup of reviews, UK-based site Computer And Videogames wrote, “There were a phenomenal range of high scores but Destructoid and Eurogamer were two examples that broke away from the pack. They didn’t believe that Gears 3 deserved the high marks that everyone else was dishing out. Still, 8/10 isn’t bad, is it?”
According to CVG, an 8/10 now “breaks away from the pack” of high review scores, despite 80% of 100% being generally considered a very high percentage indeed. What is eight, then, if it’s not a high score? It’s certainly not a middling, average score. It’s definitely not a low one. I cannot, in even the most diseased cell of my brain, find the logic that states 8/10 isn’t high. While I enjoy CVG, I can’t help but feel dismayed that it’s actively encouraging the completely ludicrous notion that 8/10 for a major franchise’s game is somehow not a high score, when fresh IP and more obscure titles would kill for that kind of number. Hell, when I gave Warhammer 40,000: Space Marine an 8/10 earlier this month, THQ couldn’t be happier and gamers couldn’t be more encouraged. Yet, as soon as we bump up the budget and attach a bigger studio’s name, the reviewer is expected to change the game entirely.
It remains utterly, completely, intellectually insulting to me that we’re in an industry that has decided 9/10 is the manifest destiny of certain games. Based on marketing, name value, and sequel number, there are certain games now pre-ordained to receive near-perfect scores and nothing but the most glowing of praise. That I gave Gears of War a great score and said it was a great game means nothing — I broke the seal, I defied the prophecy, I stood before the Gods and challenged their will. Gears of War 3 was destined to receive a 9/10 or above. It was written in the stars, and to deny it this divine right is to deny reality itself.
How disgusting. How utterly, pathetically, disgusting. How greedy, as well. Gears has already received a ton of perfect and near-perfect scores, but for developers to focus on the HANDFUL of reviews that said the game was “great” instead of “perfect” and express some sort of disappointment in that? It reminds me of Scrooge McDuck, furious that he didn’t receive another dime to add to his huge mountain of millions and millions of dollars. To say a game scores 8/10 is to say that the reviewer loved the game — in essence, any developer upset by that is complaining that somebody said they loved their work, and throwing it back in that person’s face. How unfathomably ungrateful.
No game should ever — ever — be considered a lock-in for a certain score before it’s been played. It doesn’t matter what the past games were like, who’s making it, or how much it cost to develop. A game is worth what a game is worth, and external factors of public expectation should never be part of that. I am a little disturbed that my industry includes readers, developers and fellow press who seem to subscribe to the notion that certain games are marked for critical greatness by destiny, rather than merit, and that even if a game is praised, anything short of unflinching, uncritical adoration isn’t good enough.
I think Gears of War 3 is great in a world where just thinking something’s “great” isn’t good enough. How spoiled we truly have become.
Still eager to destroy the Locust Horde? Check out Game Front’s Gears of War 3 text and video walkthrough.