It was Gamespot's own Kevin Van Ord who said that the purpose of a reviewer was to provide a portal, not a mirror meaning that reviews should not be read simply to back up your own opinion about a game, movie, book or song. Reviews should always be unbiased, ignorant of the writer's own personal opinion and above all, be a guideline for those unsure about purchasing the subject of the review. While I agree with this stance, I also take a certain pride in knowing that my game collection is of high quality and is regarded by professional game reviewers and that I generally have good taste. All of that is a matter of opinion, of course but I can't deny my own sense of comfort I get from knowing that I've purchased a game that carries an 'Editor's Choice' award from Gamespot.
While I will read a number of reviews from many different sources, my ultimate decision of whether or not to buy a game is ultimately based on one review. This is due to having a higher regard for certain publications, in the case of games, it's right here. For movies, it's always been Radio Times. For example, if IGN were to give a game a bad review and GameSpot gives that same game a good one, I would be inclined to defer to the latter's judgement. I've always felt the staff of Gamespot and Radio Times are the most consistently accurate reviewers in their respective fields which is why they're the ones I always end up listening to. So, there is a certain amount of bias, not on the part of the reviewer, but the reader if this is the rigmarole that they follow. While, there is a certain security in knowing that your preferred publication is more likely to be accurate in it's review, there is a constant threat that every so often, it will produce a review that disagrees with your own opinions. And when that happens, it's often more difficult to accept than if it were from some hastily written or amateur review from a Google search.
While I said that reviews should not be representative of the reviewer's personal opinion in order to eliminate bias, it is often the bias of the reader that results in disappointment with a game and it's review. I remember reading GameSpot's review for Medal of Honor: Airborne back in 2007 and being outraged not only at it's 7.0 score but also at the reviewer himself. I had essentially cut my teeth as a gamer on World War II shooters and had loved Medal of Honor: Allied Assault. It had been a huge part of my early gaming experiences and was the very first game I ever played competitively online. It had gotten a high review and had been praised for it's adherence to realism and cinematic gameplay which were milestones at the time. So, now this new entry in the franchise that I had been eagerly awaiting had been downgraded from a 9.0 to what I regarded as a lacklustre 7.0. I remember thinking 'How dare this website, give a sequel to one of my most beloved and critically acclaimed games such a disappointing score!' I felt angry at the reviewer but also at GameSpot itself for going back on it's own views about a game that I perceived to be of an equally high standard. But what had actually happened was that the game had been given a perfectly just review and I only disagreed with it because of my own bias towards the franchise in general based on my history with it. I'm sure that if Airborne had been one of the worst games ever released I still would have regarded it with equally high esteem. Having looked back over the review and played the game again more recently, I find myself agreeing with the it this time. So, was I biased? Was the reviewer in a better position to judge this game than I was? I'm sure but I still can't help feeling that I always wanted that game to get a 9.0 simply for carrying the Medal of Honor title and being reviewed by my most frequented publication.
Allied Assault's depiction of the Omaha Beach landing was highly praised by GameSpot and many other publications for it's realism.
I'm older and wise now and I try not to use reviews simply as a mirror but I still rarely buy games that get a rating lower than an 8.0. That's partly due to my belief that GameSpot's reviews continue to be accurate but also because I still want my collection to be high quality. There are have been occasions when I have deliberately gone out of my comfort zone and bought a game from a genre I dislike simply because I felt it was time to add another 9.0 to my list of games. One recent example was Dark Souls which I actually regard as a very routine hack and slash game with an unoriginal fantasy setting. Although, this method does carry the occasional benefit of discovering a genre that I had previously ignored. It was BioShock that introduced me to the Steampunk sub genre which is now one of my favourite games of all time even though I initially only bought it for it's high score and numerous awards.
I suppose the argument is endless and depends on the readers own opinion more than anything else. I often ask myself why I am buying a game as I stare the store shelves. Do I really agree with the review? Am I just buying this game because it's popular or highly regarded? Am I actually going to play this game or just let it collect dust on my shelf? Those are just some of the questions that come into my head now before picking one off the shelf now. On one occasion, I was about to buy Fifa 12 based on it's high score but as I held it in my hand and was walking to the front desk to pay for it, I stopped in my tracks. I though 'Hang on, I don't even like football. Why am I buying this? It looks completely boring.' So, I promptly put it back on the shelf and impulse bought Alan Wake instead which I'm confident I enjoyed a whole lot more than I would have if I had gone ahead and bought Fifa 12 with it.
So, there are lots of variables when reading a review that play a role in whether or not we actually go out and buy the game or not but I think to avoid disappointment or becoming disgruntled by a review you thought unfair, the best thing you can really do is simply to buy the game that you want - not what everyone else wants. After all, some of my best gaming experiences have been with titles that weren't even reviewed at all...