Reviews In Review: Replayability = Worthless?
The first in a series of opinion pieces on flaws, inconsistencies and oddities in the gaming media.
What do you think a review means by replay value? It’s often cited as pivotal to a game’s overall quality. Many publications offer a replay value or “Lasting Appeal” rating that contributes to the final score. Whether they have a separate rating for it or not, you always get users commenting on replayability and how it affects their purchasing decisions. The length of a game’s single player campaign is always brought up, usually with someone saying “$60 for a 6 hour campaign!?” or similar. This is a complex and unusual review criteria for a number of reasons.
People enjoy doing different things in a game. Using Uncharted 3 as an example; Some have been excited about treasure hunting in the single player campaign. Most reviews give features like this little focus because they’re secondary to the main story. A common complaint about the latest game is how it has no unlockable extras (in the single player mode) like skins and special features, both of which were in it’s predecessors. The majority of players aren’t likely to care much about that, but if you got enjoyment from them before then their absence may be missed.
Then you get reviewers complaining about the linearity and lack of player choice. This is a fair point but it doesn’t inherently reduce replay value. Look at it this way; If games are becoming more cinematic (which they undoubtably are) then should we be judging replayability at all? It’s not as if you’d mention rewatchability in a review of a movie. Movies are completely linear, and it doesn’t detract from that medium.
I’ve watched the Indiana Jones films, Star Wars etc countless times. Later it was Aliens, Evil Dead, The Thing, Phantasm and so on. Each of those only has a 1.5(ish) hour running time. I enjoy rewatching and still notice or appreciate different details each time. The same applies to games, but it’s completely subjective and arbitrary whether anyone would want to do this. Some will play the same short single-player campaigns many times. Some sink hundreds of hours into open-world games like Oblivion, others just skirt through the main quests to finish it ASAP. Others insist a game isn’t complete until you’ve cleared all of it’s achievements/trophies. Some will happily play Sudoku, Minesweeper or Patience for thousands of hours. Or Tiny Tower. Most gamers didn’t even finish Red Dead Redemption’s campaign – what does that say about long games and the value of sprawling content? (I have no idea, it’s perplexing)
It also brings up problems for entire genres. Namely, arcade ones – beat-em-ups, shooters, gun games, rhythm games. The main draw of many of these is self-betterment, beating your own and other people’s scores, mastering a complex system of movement and attack. It also applies to games like Sonic, where to one person the single player mode is “too easy” while to others trying to shave milliseconds from a run and collect all the mcguffins can be a long and rewarding challenge.
Puzzle games like Bejewelled, Tetris, etc. have potentially infinite replay value in some players hands, but I feel that if Tetris was to be reviewed in the current climate it would receive terrible scores. Surely that’s indicative of a problem.
Then there’s the fact that a large portion of people rent games or buy them with the intention to trade them in for their next game – long term appeal obviously doesn’t matter as much to some players, and companies aiming for that sort of consumer’s money might have to design games differently to accommodate that.
So could we just ditch the idea that someone can realistically estimate how much entertainment can be wrung from a game? Reviewers rarely have the time to experience multiplayer longevity or know whether they’ll want to come back to a single player game after completion. They’re simply guessing based on their own preferences and how the gameplay fits around their lives. Should guesswork play any significant role in the scoring of games?
What’s your opinion? Do you put any consideration into these sub-scores? Does it really matter? Do you only pay attention to the overall scores or ignore review scores all-together? If so, good for you!