It’s a question almost every gamer has asked themselves at one point or another in their lifetime and there’s honestly no right answer. Even here at Shacknews everyone has their own opinion on what makes a game a 10 out of 10, or if such a thing can even truly exist. This week we thought we’d peel back the curtain a little bit and give you a look at what perfection means to us as individual people and as professional critics.
Asif Khan, 10/10 would Shacknews again
What makes a game a masterpiece? What makes it a 10/10? This is a question that we argue about a lot here at Shacknews as we have never given a perfect review score to a game since instituting scores in 2013. I always end up having to use examples of games. Super Mario World is video game perfection, in my opinion. Tetris for Game Boy? Perfect. 10/10. Star Fox 64? Yep, that is a 10/10. So this topic is clearly going to result in a lot of subjective answers, and that is fine. From a reviews perspective at Shacknews, I can say that Doom 2016 and Breath of the Wild were two games that came very close to scoring a 10/10 on our very discerning scale during my time as CEO.
I tend to not put too much weight into review scores, myself. I prefer to read the review and look for hints to whether a particular game might be up my alley. In a world of embargoes and Metacritic, websites have to apply scores to games, but I really don't think the number matters in the end. Maybe someday there will be a game that owns so hard that Shacknews has to give it a 10/10. That game will certainly be a masterpiece.
Ozzie Mejia, Senior Editor
To consider what makes a game a 10/10, I want to go back to when Shacknews originally instituted review scores in July 2013. There was a lot of debate among the staff at the time regarding what each number would actually mean, many differences of opinion. However, all of us eventually came to agree that 10/10 is the unicorn. It doesn't necessarily mean "the perfect game," but for us, a 10/10 would mean "A milestone in gaming." It would be something that truly changed the landscape of gaming forever.
Think something like Half-Life, the original Doom, Super Mario Bros. 3, Super Mario World, The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past, The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, Super Metroid, Super Mario RPG, Tetris, Final Fantasy VII, Street Fighter II, Halo: Combat Evolved, Journey, Portal, and (yeah, here's something nobody's going to want to hear) Fortnite. They're games that are not only great, but change the way people look at games, what they're capable of expressing, and the way we're able to experience them. Those don't come along often anymore. Yes, it's possible to find a game that pushes the known barriers of gaming to the edge, but it's extremely rare that a game comes along that actually shapes the way in which we think of gaming itself.
It's also important to remember, particularly in the case of some of the aforementioned examples, that a 10 is not something one comes away with after a few weeks of review. In the case of the true greats, a 10 is something that stands the test of time. That's not something that can be determined by a standard review cycle.
Blake Morse, Reviews Editor
As the reviews editor I have taken a very hard stance against the concept of there actually being any 10/10 games out there in the current market and I’ve stated to the Shacknews crew on several occasions that the likelihood of us publishing one while I’m here is slim to nil. That’s not to say I don’t think there have been any 10’s, I just haven’t seen any in the time that I’ve been a games journalist and critic. I’m willing to admit that some of this point of view may be a result of cutting my teeth at GameRevolution, a site that had been around for about the same amount of time as Shacknews and had never given out a perfect score to any game while I was there, just like Shack. It’s probably one of the reasons I fit in so well here.
However, when I reviewed the original Red Dead Redemption I can recall wanting to give it that honor. It just hit so many of the marks for what I’d consider perfect. The story was intriguing, it was well voice-acted, the gameplay was great and had plenty of variety to the missions and activities available to players. However, it was rife with technical glitches and that’s got to be factored into a game when you’re considering giving something a perfect score. Honestly, I feel like that’s where games fall short more often than anything, and I think it has more to do with deadlines and crunch pressure than anything else. The perfect 10/10 game may have come and gone and we just didn’t know because a production house put too much focus on making launch during the holiday season.
For what it’s worth I do have my own personal 10/10’s, but admittedly, nostalgia may be a factor. Just about everything I loved when I was a kid with an SNES stands out to me in some way. Super Metroid, Super Mario World, and The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past all come to mind as games I feel are perfect. Maybe that’s because they’re from a time when I just loved games and didn’t look at them so critically, or maybe it’s because they’re the real deal. It’s very hard to distinguish, honestly. Perhaps some modern 9/10’s will have me rethinking their scores when I’ve got my rose-tinted glasses on.
Bill Lavoy, Managing Editor
What makes a video game a 10/10 for me is how highly I regard the overall experience and whether that experience set a new standard for future games. I’m not someone who believes you deduct a point because Roach was a pain in the ass to control in The Witcher 3. For me, that game is absolutely a 10/10. It dug deep into my soul and brought an emotional response forward that I didn’t see again until The Long Dark and, more recently, Red Dead Redemption 2.
Let’s be honest here, we can all find a technical fault in any game ever made. If we look at them from that perspective, nothing can ever score 10/10. For me, a perfect score depends on the site and the reviewer. If the site allows perfect scores, and the reviewer feels this game, for one reason or another, stood high above the rest of the field, a 10/10 should be considered. It’s less about saying the game is perfect and more about acknowledging that it has set the bar higher for future titles.
Chris Jarrard, Nothing is perfect
I’ve been playing video games for at least thirty years now. Across that time, I have played multiple games that I would personally consider to be 10/10. Ultimately, how much someone enjoys any game is subjective so there can’t really be a right or wrong answer unless the argument for the score is built on incorrect information. It would probably be safe to say that the Shacknews staff as a whole agrees that video games are art. Art is something created by people that is intended to evoke some sort of response, emotional or otherwise, from the consumer. It’s not created out of a drive to achieve perfection. While certain systems or mechanics within a game may have been designed for perfection, a game is the sum of its parts and how that package affects the player.
My personal threshold for declaring a game to be 10/10 could be lesser than others, but when I work it out in my head, it seems pretty simple. Does playing the game bring me joy? Does playing the game change the way I will look at other games going forward? Does a game simply press the right buttons inside me at the perfect place and time? All of the games I would rate a 10/10 meet at least one of those criteria and some meet all three. There are times when you just know that you’ve come across a 10/10 right off the bat and other times it may take multiple playthroughs or years of reflection to come to terms with how you feel about a game. Both ways work for me. I didn’t feel that Ms. Pac Man was mind-blowing the first time I dropped a quarter, but it is a clear 10/10 for the 2020 version of myself. I have shared the same journey with albums or movies — games are just the same. I would also never feel embarrassed for declaring 10/10 and then feeling differently after more reflection. People change and how you see things changes as you age.
I knew that the first time I saw Pitfall on the Atari 2600 that video games were cool and something I wanted more of. Super Mario Bros. was a fantastic pack-in game for the NES, the first console that was my own, but it wasn’t until I played Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out! that I realized I was hooked for life. It was my first 10/10. More games from that era made my 10/10 list, such as Super Mario Bros. 3, SimCity 2000, Tetris for the GameBoy, and Super Mario World. Arcade gaming was hitting its golden age around the same time, with Street Fighter II, Turtles in Time, NBA Jam, and others landing in my 10/10 designation.
The first time I picked up a controller to play Super Mario 64, I realized that everything would be different going forward. That is as 10/10 as it gets. I felt the same way playing Half-Life, Diablo, FreeSpace 2, SoulCalibur, Rock Band, S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Shadow of Chernobyl, Rocket League, Wind Waker, Witcher 3, Baldur’s Gate 2, DayZ Mod, Portal, Minecraft, Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 2, and Arkham Asylum.
All of these games have real flaws and shortcomings, but it doesn’t matter because at the end of the day, they are the reason why I have this job, why I spend so much free time playing games, why I continue to look to the future, and why so many others across the world feel the same way. These games deliver the highest of highs and even when I look back on the titles I haven’t touched in twenty years, I don’t think about how Tecmo Bowl failed to include all the real NFL teams and how unbalanced the star players were, I remember the overwhelming feeling of joy I had getting to play the game with friends. Any piece of art that can make me feel like that is a 10/10.
Sam Chandler, Guides Editor
To me, a 10/10 game is one that changes a medium or adds to a conversation in a meaningful way. It’s a game that can and should be enjoyed by almost everyone. It’s a game with flaws, but flaws that do not detract from the overall experience.
Personally, scoring a game 10/10 isn’t like scoring 100% on a test. One is subjective and the other has hard and fast correct answers and wrong answers. One you’d love to experience over and over again while the other is a stressful event you want to get through.
Probably the biggest sign that a game is a 10/10 for me is if I wish I could forget all about it so that I might play it again as if for the first time.
Donovan Erskine, Intern
To me, a 10/10 game is a masterpiece. Something that is not only expertly and carefully made, but is never frustrating or annoying to play. I think many of us mistake the idea of a “masterpiece” as being “perfect.” Take Breath of The Wild, for example. That game is a masterpiece of the genre, and one that will have visible influence on others for years to come. That being said, BOTW isn’t perfect. There’s one or two things here or there that I’d change if I could. Even with that, the game exudes excellence in every possible aspect. It’s timeless, inventive, clever, and downright fun. It’ll be hard to compare future titles to BOTW because it’s in a league of its own. That’s what makes a game a 10/10.
Brittany Vincent, Senior Editor
To me, a 10/10 game is one that I want to play often and don't have to think about going back to. It's one that I want to recommend to everyone I know and I can't help but feel disappointed if they don't see what I see in it, because it always feels so objectively good and right that I think "Oh, they must be wrong" if they don’t like it. It's a game that, even if there are parts that annoy me, I don't mind, because I can overlook them due to everything I enjoy about it. It doesn't take much to convince me, and a game doesn't have to be "perfect" to get a high score. What's the point of having a scale with a 1 and a 10 if you don't utilize either end of it at some point? You may as well not have one if you never use either the highest or the lowest scores. That's my philosophy anyway, but then I've only disliked a game enough to award it the equivalent of a 1 a few times, or the "lowest" score on the spectrum. I'm not that hard to please, I guess. Shrug emoji here. There are some games that are truly timeless – like Super Mario Bros. 3 – and they transcend silly things like scoring, which I’d rather see replaced someday with a “Buy It” or “Don’t Buy It” scale at most publications usually, anyway – that’s what people are typically reading reviews for.
Josh Hawkins, Expert Writer Guy
Much like Bill, for me, finding a perfect game is all about the overall experience. If I’ve had a fantastic time with a game, then I’m usually more than willing to consider it a 10/10 game. I try not to let bugs or bad controls weigh me down, because generally speaking, these things aren’t enough to break a fantastic experience and make it worth any less than it is.
While I’ve seen some people nitpick games for the tiniest of details, I’d rather take a broader look at things. Is the game fun? Is the gameplay engaging? Is the story well done? These are all questions I ask myself when trying to figure out what a game means to me, and whether I think it’s a 10/10 or less. If the answer to any of those questions is any less than a yes, then the game isn’t a 10/10.
You’ll notice that none of these questions talk about the bugs in a game, or the drama surrounding its creators. I’m not one to let that kind of stuff cloud my judgement of a game usually, because I accept the fact that ultimately, everything is still marred with imperfections in some way. It’s just a fact of life, and it makes overlooking the small things that don’t usually matter to the overall experience much easier to do.
Finding a 10/10 game is less about making sure it doesn’t have any issues, and more about ensuring it offers an experience that’s unforgettable, touching, or just overall astounding in some way.
TJ Denzer, News Editor
I’ve given out one 10/10 in my entire career as a games journalist, and it was a time that gave me pause. “How can I justify that gaming experience is unflawed and perfect?” That’s a question anyone working in this field should wrestle with and give serious consideration. For me, it came down to a number of factors which I have since applied to my experience of any game. First, the game has to be nearly flawless in its technical design. If I can discover technical issues, it’s already failed that bar. No harm done. Plenty of my favorite games have a bug or two. Fallout: New Vegas, one of my favorites, is chock full of them, but I digress.
Another aspect of “the perfect game” for me is that it has to be so delightful from every angle that I could feasibly experience it. It’s more than gameplay. It’s music. It’s visuals. It’s the game world and its characters and objects. It’s how I get to interact with them. It has to be a cornucopia of good touch, visuals, and aurels throughout that invoke more than just gameplay fun. Give me a rollercoaster of experiences over uninterrupted happiness any day (but only in the confines of the narrative the game is meant to be pushing). I want joy. I want sadness. I want anger. I want surprise. I want relief. What I don’t want at any point is frustration or boredom. I value my time and it’s very easy to make me feel like it’s not being respected. Conversely, it’s hard to make me feel like it’s utilized to its fullest the whole way through in most games.
Lastly, it has to be consistent. If I can go back without rose-colored glasses, having come down from my high, and still engage in all of the feelings and experiences charted out above in multiple playthroughs, then I know it’s real. It’s not just me “in the moment.” It’s not an experience where I’ll notice something I don’t like because I was so happy or sad at another time.
So that’s what makes my 10 out of 10 possible. It has to be a technically sound game that plays incredibly well, doesn’t waste my time or bore me at any point, and makes me feel a diverse array of feelings, not just in one playthrough, but every time I come back to it. I admit, that’s an extremely high bar to hit, but we’re talking perfection top to bottom. It should be.
Greg Burke, Master of Video
While Bethesda certainly has a reputation for really buggy games at launch such as Fallout 3, New Vegas, or The Elder Scrolls Series, I myself had issues not losing aggro in certain sections of the world, prompting me to reload an old save file. However, games that allow you create a character, give that character choices that matter in game, and allow you to build whatever you want and still have a great game experience is rare.
Take Skyrim as an example. I’ve played Skyrim multiple times, and I’ve enjoyed everyone one of the playthroughs and all of them have felt extremely different. I was able to create classic D&D classes in the Skyrim base game without mods. I’ve played a Paladin, Rogue, Fighter, Mage, Warlock, Priest, Warrior and others. The only class I wasn't able to play with the core game was Druid, but with mods, I was able to do that as well.
Everything is done so well, the exploration, crafting, mining, combat, quest etc. I just love games that allow you to do whatever you want the way you want to. Not just on a gameplay level, but on a character creation level, and have enough visual variety to make you feel like you’re playing something different each time. Those games are rare. That’s why I think Skyrim and games like Skyrim are a 10/10.
What do you think of the Shacknews staff's take on the concept of 10/10 games? Do you agree or disagree with our opinions? What makes a game perfect to you? Feel free to hop on into the comments section and let us know what you think and feel free to share your own perfect 10's if you have any as well.
Blake Morse posted a new article, Shack Chat: What makes a video game a 10/10 to you?
Games like Golf Story
End of thread
So serious question, if a reviewer wants to give a game a 10, would you allow it?
I think Dead Cells is 10/10 because every time I play it, I have fun. So if I submitted a review with that score, would let it through? And if Asif thinks "I tend to not put too much weight into review scores, myself." Why have them? Why not just do a fun/no fun or buy/no buy ranking if you need anything?
We have them cuz Metacritic. It was a decision made before I bought the site.
Do you get much traffic from being linked off MetaCritic? or is it a scenario that if you're not submitting games to MetaCritic, publishers are less likely to deal with you?
Both of those things are reasons why we have to keep giving scores.
that's an unfortunate handcuffing to really prevent you from letting your creative freedom go with your site.
Ummm, what score would you give Duke3d.exe? Be honest here.
Hmm, yeah, 10/10. Masterpiece.
If she's 36/24/36
Breath of the Wild is definitely a 10/10. A 10 game doesn’t have to be flawless; no game is perfect. The defining factor of a 10 would be something that feels magical and classic, almost like it always existed. Super Mario 64 fits that definition for me, and so does Link to the Past. All of those games came alive for me and kept me enthralled the entire time. They felt like living worlds that were all a bit more than the sum of their parts.
Super Mario 64 didn’t have a perfect camera system and Breath of the Wild’s weapon wear and small dungeon sizes weren’t great for everyone, but those games are still masterpieces. Link to the past damn we’ll might be perfect.
FTL and Slay the Spire are also 10/10 to me, to use non-Nintendo games as examples. They’re addicting not because they trigger obsessive qualities like some MMOs, but because they are pure goddamn fun.
What makes a 10/10? Games that make you want to see what's over the next hill, games that make you want to play just until the next check point, games that celebrate their mechanics without mechanic fatigue, games that make you think about them all day while you are at work, games that challenge the way your brain functions, games that make you want to take a day off work to just play, games that make other games wait their turn, that is what makes a game a 10/10.
Being right after #9 on one of Greg's lists is a surefire way to be a solid 10/10
I don’t really think of games with a number rating. If you mean what makes a perfect game, I don’t even know if I see games in terms of absolute perfection. There are almost always some flaws or weak points, if you are being objective.
I do see games in terms of ones that are so innovative or expressive, that they push the entire medium forward forever, milestones in a history that’s still in its earliest stages.
A game that bases the gameplay mechanics on innovative technology, seamlessly combined with innovative ideas about player immersion; that highly value emotional catharsis along with stimulating the player’s creative expression and intellectual engagement, that has a unique production style (visuals & audio), that provides a journey-like sense of growth or progression, with or without a narrative, and is constantly challenging expectations with interactivity that goes further and deeper than what’s already been done. When all these factors fit together in a perfect vision, it’s timeless and never loses its fun factor or feels dated. That’s a 10/10 for me.
Games I immediately think of include Ikaruga, Rez, Otogi: Myth of Demons, Deus Ex, Metroid (really Metroid: Zero Mission, tbh), Super Mario Galaxy, Metal Gear Solid, Killer 7, Hellblade. There are others, but some still feel like stepping stones instead of milestones, like >Observer_ and Sekiro. A game can have a lot of flaws and still have a place on my personal list, like Unreal and Sacrifice.
Thinking about it after it is completed. Bioshock, Last of Us, Fallout 3 for me.
I love it when the game continues to surprise you all the way through to the end. Makes all the stuff you did at the beginning matter at the end whether it's choices you made or stuff you learned that accumulated showing how much your skills grew. Especially if there are moments when gameplay becomes part of your instincts.