The Last of Us Part II is currently enjoying huge commercial success, but is making headlines for a more sinister reason. Currently sitting at a measly 3.7 at the time of writing, Metacritic user reviews for the game are unfavourable. This is in stark contrast to the critic reviews, which award the game a whopping 95, making it the joint best game on the PS4 alongside Persona 5 Royal. This difference in scores is unsurprising, but perfectly highlights the problems with review aggregate sites and user reviews.
Review Score Controversies
Before we get into the problems with user reviews, it’s important to remember how review scores affect the games industry. There have been a number of instances where Metacritic has contributed to gaming related controversies. One of the more infamous examples is when Obsidian were denied royalties for Fallout: New Vegas. The game garnered an impressive score of 84 on Metacritic, but the studio were denied further payments from Bethesda as they didn’t meet their previously agreed upon score of 85. At the time, Obsidian were a studio on the verge of collapse, and missing out on crucial funding by a single point was a punch to the gut.
Another notable controversy surrounding user reviews was concerning Mass Effect 3. Whilst I didn’t mind the conclusion myself, many people found the original ending of Mass Effect 3 to be lacking. Despite commercial success and a score of 93 on Metacritic, user reviews were significantly worse. The backlash pressured BioWare into creating an option to ignore the game’s intended ending with an “Extended Cut” DLC package. However, by then, the damage had already been done. To this day, you’ll find people still arguing over which ending is better, and the game’s Metacritic page will always be tarnished with subpar user review scores as a result.
Review Bombing: When Gamers Get Vocal
This sort of fan backlash is what makes user reviews so unreliable. “Review bombing” allows anybody with an opinion to score a game 0 with little reasoning or explanation. It’s been made easier by sites like Metacritic, who have seemingly no entry requirements to leave reviews on products. If a studio does something controversial, the first thing people do is head to a game’s Metacritic page and leave a scathing review. It can be a useful tool to give players a voice when a studio does something genuinely anti-consumer. However, The Last of Us Part II is a prime example of people using Metacritic user reviews to attack something they don’t agree with.
And this is where the real issues begin. Many claim that video games are apolitical, but political issues end up contributing to low user review scores. People have labelled The Last of Us Part II as an “SJW” game for simply having a lesbian main character. In fact, any game where there has been controversy over a homosexual/woman character being included, you can bet your life savings that the game has been “review bombed” on Metacritic. Games like Gone Home and Battlefield V (that dared to offer a bit of inclusion) have ridiculously low user review scores compared to the critics. This vast difference is because people preemptively brand these games as “SJW”.
It’s because of this that vitriol buries all of the genuine reviews. Metacritic does very little to try and curb these obviously bogus reviews, and it hinders the site. I genuinely enjoy Metacritic, but have become increasingly distant due to the site allowing anybody and their mothers to post a review whether they have legitimate criticism or not. This is almost certainly the case with The Last of Us Part II.
Metacritic Need To Vet User Reviews
With a title as controversial as The Last of Us Part II, everybody saw the “review bomb” coming. As soon as we learned that the game would centre on Ellie and Dina’s relationship, people were going to give the game an “SJW” branding. I understand that Metacritic most likely benefits from these controversial stories with increased traffic, yet it needs to do more if the site is to be taken seriously. Some form of screening process or manual reviews need to be implemented. “Players” submitted over 5000 negative user reviews just six hours after launch. Unless the thousands of speed-runners pre-ordered the game, these reviews are clearly bogus.
There needs to be some form of vetting in place, not just for fans, but for the developers, as well. Imagine spending six years of your life working on something, only to have it preemptively tarnished with a ridiculously low user review score. Steam may have other issues, but the way they handle user reviews is the best solution. People can’t write a review of a game they haven’t played, and the total hours played is clearly visible. It wouldn’t kill Metacritic to help people come to an informed decision about whether to purchase a game or not.
Why So Serious?
These are all issues that Metacritic need to address, but there’s one problem they can’t solve. People need to stop taking review aggregate sites so seriously. Metacritic is just a site that collects every review of a particular product and gives that product a fixed number. The site itself should probably make this clearer, but the number is a collection of different people’s opinions. Just because lots of professional outlets agree doesn’t mean The Last of Us Part II is an objectively brilliant game. There are even some outlets that have criticised the game like Kotaku and Polygon, but appear on Metacritic as “unscored”, as they don’t use review scores.
Media is subjective and more people need to realise this. Different people can have different tastes, and that’s fine. Trying to put a definitive number on something and basing your judgement on that is foolish. Instead of putting so much faith in a Metacritic number, find someone who has similar tastes to you. There are thousands of critics and YouTubers out there that will have similar opinions to you. Read reviews and watch videos so you can make an informed decision whether or not to buy a game. But individuals who give a game a 0 simply because it has lesbians in it shouldn’t be taken seriously. Hopefully, Metacritic will do something about them in the future.