The curious joys of the 7/10 video game

Being as I am A Man Who Writes About Games On The Internet, I’m well-versed in the typical reactions readers have to Words Written About Games. And there’s one in particular that I find disappointing. It’s not in the uninformed cries of corruption when a high score is awarded to a game someone has decided not to like, or even in the related pre-release diatribes of a title’s quality long before the public have got to play it. No, what frustrates me most is this ‘9/10 or GTFO’ mentality.

It’s not just that it exacerbates the ridiculous review culture that gaming has developed over the last few years, where the power of the full scoring scale is reduced to a lumpen and desperately misrepresentative four-point system where ratings really start at 7. 

Above and beyond that lunacy, I’m frustrated by this thinking because it just plain limits the kind of fun people can have. My reaction at seeing another seven or eight-scoring game disregarded as worthless is not a maddening frustration at this newfound score-snobbery, nor is it an arm-waving fury at the public’s futile attempt to excise the perfectly good, age-old method of counting. Rather, I simply think, “Boy, you guys are missing out”. Then I stare out of a rain-slicked window for a while, and muse reflectively upon the folly of man.

Some of my best friends are 7/10 games. But before I get onto the winsome, quirky charms of those awkward, well-meaning freaks, I’d like to explain why the muscular, slick-hair jocks of gaming shouldn’t comprise your whole social circle. You see, while there are certainly plenty of unique, innovative, high-scoring games in the AAA bracket, the safest hunting ground for Metacritic’s kings of the castle is still upon the well-trodden plains of Olde Franchise Kingdom.

This is an iterative medium we’re talking about here. It’s rarely one of full-blown, overnight revolution. In much the same way that any great novel you read dances atop the well-covered graves of a great many failed and not-quite-there draughts, high-scoring games are frequently the product of years of practice. They’re sequels. They’re reboots and remakes. They’re – less explicitly – reworked, retooled and improved versions of ideas first innovated by other, unrelated games, sometimes years earlier.

Obviously that makes for great, polished games, drawing upon a great deal of source material and experience. But it can also make for tiredness, as ideas get refined a few too many times to be healthy. It can make for homogeneity, as the ‘right’ set of components and treatments gets locked down, and implanted into too many releases in way too short a period of time (*cough*Assassin’s Creed of Persia: A Far Cry to the Watch Dogs*cough*). In extreme cases, it can even lead to the reduction of player agency, as developers become so sure of the experience they want you to have that they leave little room for you to mess around with it and find new angles of enjoyment.

But what of the ideas? What about the games that originate the seeds of all this later, monolithic, blockbuster stuff? Often, before all of the buffing, and the preening, and the cross-pollinating, the true sire of a 9/10 megafranchise happens to be, well, the kind of seven or eight-scoring loser that a lot of gamers wouldn’t poke with a shitty stick. Or rather would, but only to get shit on it, as punishment for not being perfect.

They’re the trial runs. The ones that have something new to show, but don’t get it entirely right the first time. It doesn’t make them bad – let’s not forget that mathematically, 7/10 is almost three-quarters perfect – it just means that their fun, exciting gifts are wrapped in slightly crappy paper. Like a Christmas present from caring but lazy and slightly tasteless relative. You’d be forgiving of a shoddily wrapped Autobot Cthulhu, so why not a game? And you should be. Obviously not every 7/10 is worth your time, but a certain sub-set of them are delightful.

Of course, there are plenty of unremarkable, bland sevens out there, the joyless products of developers shackled by the bleeding wrists to dread industrial contraptions and production lines, burning their dead colleagues as fuel to pump out yet another annual helping of hot, steaming Spongebob.

And almost more depressingly, there are the fallen AAAs, the faltering, would-be megatons made with too much money and too little inspiration, dressed for a party but utterly, soullessly unable to dance. But there are great ones too. The ‘aspirational sevens’, as I call them. The ones whose ambitions outstretch their resources or their developers’ experience. The ones whose ideas are too mad to work, but who make a damn good go of nearly getting there.

They’re the Asura’s Wraths, and the Tokyo Jungles, and the Enslaveds, and the Earth Defence Forces. The Niers, and the Brutal Legends, and the Mercenaries 2s. They’re the plucky, don’t-give-a-fuck upstarts who romp ahead with their goofy ideas and swirling creative dreams, muddling through on self-belief and spirit, and refusing to be brought down by such mundane, unimaginative ideas as realism, constraints, or marketability.

I don’t know about you, but I’d rather play a thousand scrappy-but-cool games over any slick-but-forgettable, 9/10 ‘masterpiece’. I’d much rather play a game who’s devs have propped up a ‘failing’ idea with vim and vigour than explore a towering but emotionally empty construct built of tried-and-true, off-the-shelf parts, and bolted together according to the industry-standard blueprint.

But if you stick to the games that tickle the top two digits of our laughably inefficient scoring scale, you’ll hardly have any of that fun. And let’s face it, what is a review score anyway? It’s simply a neat way of roughly surmising the subjective words and feelings of the reviewer. Little more than grammar, really. So stop getting so hung up on numbers. Are you so perfect anyway? Of course you’re bloody not. Look at your shoes. They’re a disgrace. But does that make you a bad person? Does it mean that we should stop talking to you? No it does not. So play Deadly Premonition. 

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  • chriszewski - December 2, 2014 2:09 p.m.

    This article should be posted as a "box blurb" on sooo many damn games.
  • Evilsafetyboy - December 2, 2014 10:05 a.m.

    I have a really good collection of 7s and 8s, even some 6s all dear to me. My biggest issue is as I get older, things like work, family, chores, etc. make me very picky with my time. The ratings are a way of discerning, in cold numbers (or stars), whether something is worth what little spare time I have. The "free" games of Playstation Plus have helped alot, as have the used-game sales at Gamestop and BestBuy, so risking that $60 can be tempered with patience.
  • FriedPi - December 2, 2014 7:18 a.m.

    Overall I think the cream rises to the top. Most gamers are pretty discerning about what they like and what they buy. A few times paying sixty dollars for a crappy game cures most of us pretty quickly. My most recent purchase was a preorder of FC4. Generally I avoid preordering, but all the buzz around the game and early gameplay convinced me it would likely be as good or better than FC3. It is. My most recent "burn" was Watchdogs. I didn't investigate it fully, and during a slow week I bought it as a download on a whim. The game sucked ass, and graphics were horrible on the 360. My bad, but I'll think twice before splurging again. The genre plays the biggest role to me. A 6 or 7/10 is worth looking into if its in a category I like. I also mentally put games on a list. Many go on my "rent or buy when the price drops" list.
  • pl4y4h - December 1, 2014 6:47 p.m.

    This was a good read. I love reviews, but like anything in life take them with a grain of salt. There are tons of "9s" and "10s" that I've skipped and tons of "7s" and lower that I've loved (not too low though lol). "Being a snob about it is stupid and if you have that mentality you deserve to miss out on great games"....I would say if that snob-iness didn't directly determine which games became successful and funded and played and continued to grow into franchises. It's a cruel system indeed
  • THEBIGJ3 - December 1, 2014 1:58 p.m.

    The Saboteur, awesome game, great ideas, interesting story, not quite polished... But one of the best games in years,...
  • normanpleasant - December 1, 2014 4:26 a.m.

    Sterling work, Sir David. I too have never written off a 7/10 game and even 6/10's have given me huge amounts of enjoyment. Better still when you pick these up for cheap. Honestly though, in my old age I've learned to give or take a point or so to account for personal preference no matter the review.
  • sigep375 - November 30, 2014 8:02 a.m.

    That's All Well And Good But When You Pay 60$ For Something That sucks And Can't Be Returned Reviews Are Important
  • sadowolf - November 29, 2014 11:43 p.m.

    Love this article. I have so many friends who won't even look at a game if it's not getting at least 8's, and give anything below a 9 an unreasonable amount of skepticism. I'm always telling them that they're missing out on some good stuff by not venturing past AAA titles, and the funniest thing is that a lot of them don't even truly seem to enjoy those 9/10 games; as if they play them so much because they're told that they're supposed to. I'll take a nice, interesting 7/10 beat 'em up over a cookie cutter 9/10 FPS any day of the week.
  • thinkinghurts - November 28, 2014 1:41 p.m.

    Great article and even greater finish ha ha. Need more clever games like Deadly Premonition which cannot ever be accurately "scored".
  • grimmreapo - November 28, 2014 12:17 p.m.

    i never look at reviews. why would I base my opinion on a game, on the opinion of some stranger who probably has completely different tastes than i do? I watch game play videos. that's the only way i get info on the game. I know what kind games i like, and don't give a shit what some stranger tells me about a game. his 5/10 7/10 or even 10/10 mean absolutely nothing to me. If i see a game i like, but need more info on it before committing $80 for it i watch game play videos, and get thoughts on the gameplay from friends of mine who also are interested in the game. of course there are other games that i don't even bother researching. i know right away their gonna be great. skyrim, dragon age, far cry, ect ect good article though. people with lesser intellect are easily swayed by other people opinions. why you would place your trust in a complete stranger when buying a game is beyond me.......
  • Rosula - December 4, 2014 2:45 a.m.

    I can see your point, but I think game criticism in and of itself is entertaining. I enjoy reading well-written reviews and comparing my own views with that of the reviewer when I buy the game. I don't see why people like you always have to emphasise the fact that the reviewer is a 'complete stranger'. So what? They're obviously people who love games and have played a lot of them and they're likely to be intelligent and good at writing since they've managed to get such a job. Why not take such people's views into consideration when deciding what game to buy?
  • PlainLikeVanilla - November 27, 2014 7:11 p.m.

    As a kid a 7/10 game was an automatic no play for me. I rarely got games so getting anything other than the best was out of the question. If I only get to play one game over the next two months I'm going to pick the higher reviewed game. Now that I have money and can buy things I'm much more likely to check something out. However, when there are 3+ 9/10 games out in the same month as a 7/10 game it's hard to seriously consider purchasing it.
  • libao - November 28, 2014 3:43 p.m. a kid I was the opposite, I had the AAA games for Christimas or birthday, and rented some games weekly, always trying new stuff. I remeber having fun whith terrible N64 titles like Superman and War Gods hahaha...terrible terrible games
  • sadowolf - November 29, 2014 11:48 p.m.

    Even when I was a kid I just went with what interested me. There are 9/10 games that are "must plays" that I simply don't give a crap about because they don't appeal to me. Then there are 7/10 games that may have their flaws, but I really enjoy everything else about them. Reviews are just guides to me; I'll take their technical critiques to heart, but they can't tell me what I like. And similar to libao, I tended to rent a lot of "lesser" games and get AAA games in special instances. If I enjoyed the former enough from renting it, then I'd want to own it for myself if I didn't get enough out of it from renting.
  • libao - November 27, 2014 5:07 p.m.

    That´s a great article ! I suggest you guys at GamesRadar make a list about these ignored games, and if there´s one already, make another XD ! Everything you wrote made me think about Killer7, a great game that is constantly overlooked, specially here in Brazil, where most of the people ( even the so called "gamers") only know the AAA games.