Once every few months a video game website, like this one, posts a story about why they're important. A story detailing just why video game critics are needed to sort through the whiteout that results from the massive avalanche of games which are released every year. But that's not the point here. Today the finger is pointed back at you, the people, and the state of reviews on Steam. So you can make up your own mind if crowd-sourcing reviews is better than sticking to the critics.
Steam, the PC and Mac gaming service – which is now expanding to Linux and small, console-like PCs, Steam Machines – opened the floodgates when it introduced reviews for anyone who owned or had played a game on the service in late 2013. A would-be reviewer had to have played the game either by purchasing, sharing, or participating in one of many “free play weekends.” The result is overwhelming in quantity, varying in quality and incredibly mixed.
While reviews being mixed isn't necessarily a bad thing, more often than not the reasoning behind the review isn't explained at all. The difference being for every BioShock: Infinite gloat-piece that a game magazine author wrote with a tear in his eye while getting a tattoo of Elizabeth in nothing but stockings, you can find an equal amount of reviews tearing the game down as the worst thing ever made. However it is usually explained, no matter how rational or irrational. Steam reviews on the other had are 90-percent one-liners, but do offer some comedic relief. Let's take a look shall we?
First off let's look at Banished, a quaint little survival game where a group of villagers are – you guessed it – banished from a town and they have to make their way in the harsh world.
These are actually pretty helpful reviews, if not trying to be all-encompassing, but after reading about 400 of these you can definitely get a sense that this is a difficult game where in you will surely fail. An in fact, this game about starving to death is basically unwinnable. When your town doesn't have kids, they will all just die of old age.
The recently released Goat Simulator, which fittingly dropped on April Fools' Day, has some great reviews on Steam. Mainly because of the wonderfully simple mechanics of the game. You are a goat, you lick things and run around. In this instance a smaller game with straight forward gameplay is perfect for the Steam reviewing community.
Now let's go back to the ever-controversial BioShock: Infinite. The game scored very high with most critics but had some first-person shooter fans complaining that it was far too easy and the storyline got in the way of what should have been a bigger, more challenging bloodbath.
Interspersed with these small snippets of game reviews are actual long reviews and some of them are good, in a sense that they are spelled mostly correct – no small feat - and equally distributed between gushing and hate which is usually a good sign.
My argument here isn't against Steam reviews, but in my experience of reading thousands of them I've found that they are - at least the vast majority - completely useless reading before you buy a game. Mostly they are descriptions of what happens during the game, which is certainly part of a review but isn't explained enough to give anyone without inside knowledge an idea of what the hell is going on.
Steam reviews however are quite useful after you've purchased a game, it's become more of a tips-n-tricks section that the community-minded developer Valve is set on letting the gamers drive. In six months I hope to see some seriously good reviewers stand out of the crowd, but for now Steam's review section is confusing white-noise punctuated equally with very promising humorists and psychopaths. I leave you with this gem:
[all images via Steam Reviews]