I think this thread is a fairly good sampling of why game reviews are hard to get right.
A lot of people mention the number scores, which are a part of the review which is extremely frequently focused on, but extremely low value. What does a 9/10 game mean? What does a 5/10 game mean? What if I would love one 9/10 game but hate another 9/10 game? I've played 5/10 games and had a ball with them. So what is this number for? It certainly doesn't tell me if I personally am going to be moved, challenged, entertained, or tickled by the game. Heck, it rarely even does a good job of capturing all those things for the general audience. The number conflates production values, pacing, mechanics, mood, and many other things. But yet, it's the most popular part of reviews.
Do people just want to be told what to buy from reviews, hence the desire for these numbers, or do they want to use them as some kind of measuring stick to see which game is 'winning'? Given the outpouring of anger in the worthless "comments" section of most game review sites, I'd bet a large number of people are just using it as a proxy for opinion validation. And where's the value in that?
Of those who want more than a number, they frequently want to be told enough to decide whether to buy it or not. That's a pretty valid desire from a review. But this is typically structured in a pretty awful way. Graphics: good, Music: great, Combat: so/so. Story: pretty good. Okay well, conveying those things is probably something you should do in the review, but what about the synthesis of them? How effective is the game? What works well vs what doesn't work well?
Basically when I look at game reviews, I compare them to reviews of other popular mediums: books, movies, music, plays. When I read those I get a sense of the tone, the context, the message, how the various aspects work together well or don't. I get a sense of cultural relevance if only by accident. I *also* learn whether I'd enjoy it, but largely from making that mapping myself from the themes, content, focus, tone to those I know I enjoy. In games the only mapping I can typically do is of the mechanics: Oh another JPRG with lots of hidden variables; pass.
But complaining about the missing depth from game reviews / criticism is something that's rarely done outside of academia or certain clusters of like-minded individuals. "Film buffs" are generally interested in this kind of depth, while "hard core gamers" are not.
So I posit that we (collectively) actually want shallow, uninteresting reviews, that tell us very little except whether to buy it or not. At that point you're not encouraging much of a profession and when they suggest buying something that you don't want, you can feel betrayed, but it's not like the medium has much of a way to convey the correct answer to the correct people.
And without any internal integrity over a good work, pride suffers, and thus integrity. No shock there.
Oh, and as a coda: that doesn't get into how complex games are. As the number of dimensions of a work increase, and the number of different things the audience is looking for tends to stray away from each other, it becomes harder to write a good coherent review that speaks to the audience.
Post edited April 16, 2012 by jsjrodman