James Wallis levels with you

Michelin Web

Since the days of yore video-game magazines have given games a numerical rating. Often it’s out of ten or out of one hundred. Sometimes it has cute star-based systems and breaks things down by different categories. Whatever the system, they all suck.

Back when I was editing Crazynet we picked up a reviewing system from our French sibling Micro Dingo, which we twisted onto its back, made it cry, “Mon oncle!” and got Gabe from Penny Arcade to draw us some icons for it. Each item reviewed received 0-3 angels and 0-3 devils. Angels meant good points, devils meant bad points. So three angels and two devils meant “This is very good, but contains quite a lot that will make you throw things across the room. Worth checking out if you have a high tolerance.” A review that got no angels and no devils meant “This is completely unexceptional in every way.”

Icons by Gabe

It transpired that nobody except me understood this system. But hey, icons by Gabe.

What video games need isn’t numeric ratings, or me trying to get cute. What they need are Michelin stars.

According to Wikipedia, the 2004 Michelin Guide for the UK and Ireland reviewed over 5500 restaurants. Less than 100 received a single star. Eleven got two stars. Only three got three stars. (For stats-fans, that’s 1.78%, 0.2% and 0.05%)

In the last eight years 8,500 titles have been released for the Playstation 2. How many of them are truly exceptional? How many of them are worth buying a PS2 just to play? (Let me try: Okami; Ico; Shadow of the Colossus; Katamari Damancy; GTA III; Final Fantasy XII; maybe a Jak and Daxter but probably not. Not Bully. Bully is good, interesting, ground-breaking for anyone who didn’t have a Sinclair Spectrum as they were growing up, but not worth buying the console to play. Anything else?)

I’m not going to quote Sturgeons’ Law at you, lest I sink further into the bad books of Websense and the like. But a 60% rating on a game is no good to anyone. I’m a grown-up. I don’t have the time to play bad games, and I don’t have the patience to play average games. I want the best. Every time I load a new game I want to be astonished, challenged, entertained and ultimately fulfilled. I’m not saying that everything else isn’t necessary good, but I am saying that it isn’t good enough.

To hell with technical achievement. To hell with breaking down a game into graphics, sound and playability, and rating them each separately. We are not children. We need to measure one thing and only one thing: excellence.

Categorised as: Uncategorized


  1. Simon Wistow says:

    Singstar and Eye Toy? Guitar Hero? Ok so that’s not strictly a reason to buy the console given it’s now on the 360 but …

    I really liked Gregory’s Horror Show but I suspect that I was the only one.

  2. Lee Maguire says:

    Resident Evil 4, Metal Gear Solid 3. Not PS2 exclusives – but they were two PS2 games that I didn’t play on release and then, while playing, cursed myself for not playing earlier.

    However, I suspect that before I could make that judgement I’d played those games for longer than a games mag writer on a deadline would have had a chance to do.

  3. Kerry says:

    Firstly, top marks for your excellent blog.

    Secondly, Psychonauts. Also not a PS2 exclusive, but so good that it made my teeth hurt.

  4. james says:

    I really didn’t take to Psychonauts–I found it charmless, mechanistic and linear, and its occasional bits of brilliance didn’t save it. I genuinely don’t understand why people go on about it so much, and I wish I did.

    Guitar Hero, on the other hand, I don’t enjoy but can understand exactly why others do.

    Resi4 and MGS3–are they the best parts of their respective franchises?

    And yes, I think the whole point is that many games can only be appreciated as a whole, and that can mean many hours of play. Most magazine reviews of games are like reviewing a play based on the first act, or a restaurant critic who leaves after the starter. See my comments on Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess, another game whose apparent majesty I failed to appreciate.

  5. Adam says:

    Websense seems to have liberated you.

    Or, at least, moved you out of the “sex” category.

  6. tom armitage says:

    MGS3 is easily better than 2 as a game – 2 is a wonderful statement, and an important title in 2001, but 3 is just so much more dense.

    God Of War is, for me, system-sellingly good, and I’d take Resi4 over MGS3 and GOW any day.

    Guitar Hero, also, is system-selling.

    I still can’t get on with FF games – just too slow, FFX at least. Is XII any better?

  7. I’d add Silent Hill 2, though only if you’ve played number one. Maybe that rider is enough to disqualify it.

    Tom: FFXII is quite slow. Glacial, in places.

  8. james says:

    I have Resident Evil 4 mentally filed as a Gamecube game, which confuses things. And I suppose I should have applied my “best in franchise” question to the Final Fantasy series as well, because I think there’s few who’d agree that the PS2 ones are not its finest hours. Days. Weeks.

    Yes, God of War.

    In some future post I will be looking at the FF series in detail. I’m beginning to wonder if they succeed because of their deficiencies, not despite them, but it’s an idea that’s going to have to percolate through my thoughts before it’s properly brewed.

  9. […] Was turned on to James Wallis’ COPE blog thanks to Jim Rossignol’s most recent ‘Blogged Out’ column for Gamasutra, and there’s a fascinating recent entry discussing an alternate scoring system for games. […]

  10. annie says:

    They need that kind of guide for movies, too.

    And books.

    The only system that might not need a “truly good” system is music.

    But that’s all moot.

    Video games and movies need a better system.

  11. Kenneth Hite says:

    The critic John Simon used to say something on the order of: “I already have Mozart. If you aren’t Mozart, you’re wasting my time.”

  12. Dan says:

    Couldn’t agree more with this post. I’m a subscriber to one of the big PC mags but do I read reviews for poor and average games? Of course not!

    Also I’m much more likely to look through older reviews for a top class game that I “missed” so that I can treat myself to something special (even if old) than I am to check out what was 75-80% material (but brand new!). The new ‘good but nothing more’ game simply isn’t of interest.

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