Dead Space 3 single-player review: oppressively tense

We've played through the single-player campaign for Dead Space 3. Find out if the series' third installment is able to top its predecessors.

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I'm a pretty big fan of the first two Dead Space games. Despite some minor criticisms, the series' "strategic dismemberment" angle has proved to be mechanically much more interesting to me than the standard "blast everyone in the face" strategy encouraged by most shooters. The audio work in the Dead Space games has also been top notch from the beginning, combining with expertly-lit and visually impressive locations to create a palpably tense and oppressive atmosphere. In my recent, solo playthrough of the Dead Space 3 campaign, I continued the horrific adventures of engineer Isaac Clarke, and was pleased to note that most of the changes and additions to the new entry one-up the tropes fleshed out in the first two games. First thing's first. The proverbial "elephant in the room" that had many fans of the series puzzled and upset when the game was first revealed, was that portions of the game would take place on a Hoth-like ice planet. While it's true that about half the game takes place on the icy Tau Volantis, and there are indeed some more open, outdoor areas, there are numerous indoor locations where the bulk of the action takes place. Visibility during many of the outdoor sections (and the added risk of freezing to death, at least until you find an insulated suit), creates a different kind of claustrophobia. Granted, enemies popping out of the snow just somehow aren't quite as scary as being stalked in the dark confines of a lab or space station, but it works. That said, series of missions early in the campaign that had me traveling between different spaceships and included some zero-gravity exploration were personal high-points for me. Given that Dead Space 3 is the lengthiest adventure in the series to date, the mid-game change in locations ends up working mostly to the game's benefit, keeping things fresher for the player. The settings for the final several chapters of the game shake things up even further, and while I did find myself occasionally pining for some more of the deep space action that's present in the game's earlier half, Tau Volantis and its frozen horrors proved to be quite compelling. Dead Space 3 also takes some departures from its traditional game systems. Most of these "improvements" work in the game's favor, but are still bound to rattle some Dead Space purists. Gone is the need to clutter up your inventory with multiple types of ammunition. Ammo in Dead Space 3 is universal across all weapons, though the consumption rates of each weapon can vary dramatically. This is clearly a change made to accommodate the addition of co-op, and though it does simplify things quite a bit, it eliminates what would be a need for constant ammo-swapping and management when playing with a friend. Enhanced weapons crafting is another interesting addition to the series. In previous games, players would collect power nodes that could be used to upgrade their rig, or various weapons. Crafting in Dead Space 3 introduces a variety of different resources and parts that can be collected throughout the world. The number of possible parts and weapon combinations is quite staggering, especially once you factor in extras like circuit boards that imbue bonuses to things like reloading, damage, and rate of fire, different weapon tips, and attachments that can do things like add fire or stasis to projectiles. Truth be told, I settled on an upgraded plasma cutter with a lower machine gun attachment, and a line cutter with a lower attachment that fired spikes. I certainly could have spent a lot more time crafting the perfect weapon, but I quickly grew attached to my arsenal. Unlike previous games, you can only carry two weapons at a time, but since each weapon can basically be outfitted to function as two separate guns, this isn't as limiting as it may sound.

Feeders swarm in packs, when disturbed.

With "strategic dismemberment" still front and center of the action, Dead Space 3 continued to impress me with its variety of enemies. Of any shooter series I've played, the Dead Space series has always been one of the best examples of moment-to-moment variety. Each enemy exhibits a variety of behaviors, and as before, removing different limbs will change how the creature pursues and attacks. Maybe it's just me, but even the standard "vanilla" Necromorphs in Dead Space 3 seemed a lot more aggressive. It seemed like improved versions of each member of the entire Necromorph cast from the previous games made at least one appearance in Dead Space 3 (though some, like the Pregnants, are woefully underutilized), but despite the already impressive roster Visceral Games has added even more types of terrors. The Feeders--quick, skeletal baddies that attack in large packs, once disturbed--really creeped me out with their propensity to try and back me into a corner. Not all of the enemy additions were welcome, however. There are some new Necromorphs (you've probably seen in the screenshots), which basically look like axe-wielding, garden-variety zombies with glowing eyes. I couldn't help but wonder how the shadowy demons from Alan Wake had invaded my sci-fi shooter. They're not horrible, but they feel incredibly uninspired when compared to the rest of the monsters. Dead Space 3 is also the first game in the series to ask Isaac to battle human enemies on occasion. I found that these sections made sense to the narrative, but were a bit of a letdown from a gameplay perspective. Strategic dismemberment isn't at all important when battling humans, and I actually felt a twinge of disappointment (or maybe it was relief) when I realized I'd be fighting humans for a bit. Some later sections that mix in both human and Necromorph enemies are a bit more interesting, but thankfully, during the vast majority of the game's combat, Isaac is the only human involved. Speaking of firsts, there are a few minor improvements to the game that I really appreciated. The first is the inclusion of 10 optional missions (a few of which are co-op, only). These feature completely new locations, and add several extra hours of gameplay, and the couple that I played through felt more like they'd been made optional to streamline the critical path, rather than because the content therein was of lesser quality. Dead Space 3 also gives players the ability to replay missions they've completed, so if you miss or skip an optional mission on your first playthrough, you can always go back and see what you missed later, even if it's just to jump to one of these specific side missions. The firefights in Dead Space 3 are chaotic and explosive, but I also encountered a few AI quirks carried over from the previous entries, such as the rare instance where an enemy would get caught on the environment. The most egregiousness and immersion-breaking of these issues is that the "enemy triggers" for some rooms were easily manipulated. For example, there were several times where I'd trigger a wave of enemies, and fall back to the room's entrance, only to have the enemies pull an about-face and retreat once I'd crossed the door's threshold. I'm pretty sure the practice of luring creatures out and dispatching them, one at a time, isn't a result of intentional design. From a story perspective, things eventually escalate to a level that's pretty ridiculous, but it all somehow fits within the context of the series' over-the-top lore. Playing solo, the game does a great job of capturing the solitary feeling of the first two games, though some of the single-player cut-scenes that feature John Carver (the game's other protagonist in co-op) are a bit odd in the sense that there's a hint of the "buddy movie" dialogue going on, only to have Carver disappear when the player resumes control. Thankfully, you won't be doing battle alongside a shoddy, AI version of Carver when playing solo. As far as the single-player experience goes, Dead Space 3 hits most of the high-notes the series is now known for. The ice planet location ends up providing some welcome change of pace, even though it's not as psychologically compelling of a setting to me as the claustrophobic vacuum of space. Isaac's third outing is definitely his most ambitious yet. Provided you're not allergic to snow, Dead Space 3 is another wild ride and great addition to a series that still has some of the most interesting shooting mechanics and enemy design out there. Shacknews' Ozzie Meija is diving back in with me to play through the game in co-op mode, so stay tuned for our assessment of how Dead Space 3's campaign plays with a buddy.
This Dead Space 3 single player review is based on an Xbox 360 retail copy of the game, provided by the publisher.
From The Chatty
  • reply
    February 5, 2013 6:00 AM

    Jeff Mattas posted a new article, Dead Space 3 single-player review: oppressively tense.

    We've played through the single-player campaign for Dead Space 3. Find out if the series' third installment is able to top its predecessors.

    • reply
      February 5, 2013 7:49 AM

      I'm only up to Chapter 6, but I'm really loving the game. Yea, it may not be as scary/frightening as the previous entries but you know what - I'm okay with that. Yea, you now have to kill a few human enemies - I'm okay with that. Yea, the game now has Co-Op - I'm okay with that. The franchise and story has evolved / is evolving and I'm glad Visceral took some of these risks.

    • reply
      February 5, 2013 7:58 AM

      Excellent write up, can't wait to play it.

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      February 5, 2013 8:00 AM

      Question: Wouldn't it behoove Shacknews to have a numbered rating, so they could be aggregated into Metacritic and get more hits?

      On topic: I can't wait to pick this up today!

      • reply
        February 5, 2013 8:09 AM

        This isn't a terrible idea!

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          February 5, 2013 10:02 AM

          Nope. It is a terrible idea. Don't do it. I like Shack's qualitative reviews.

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        February 5, 2013 8:12 AM

        I like the fact they dont have a number rating because people just look at the score and the "pros and cons", this forces people to actually read what someone has to say instead of just going to the bottom where the score is.

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          February 5, 2013 10:05 AM

          What if we chose an arbitrary number? Like a score out of 132

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          February 5, 2013 10:20 AM

          i don't want to read a giant review. i want a conclusion/summary and a decent pro/con list....rated scoring i don't care about so much. but, i definitely don't want to read most reviews in their entirety unless i REALLY care about the game.

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            February 5, 2013 10:31 AM

            Just read the first paragraph or two and the last one, then. They're both summary paragraphs.

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            February 5, 2013 11:21 AM

            Aren't there lots of places you can still get that?

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              February 5, 2013 11:27 AM

              yes...these comments are about shacknews specifically...obviously other websites provide quantitative reviews with scores, conclusions, and pro/con lists....aka metacritic.

          • reply
            February 5, 2013 11:32 AM

            "Will nitrus like this game? Yes or No" Reviews, tailored just for you!

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              February 5, 2013 11:37 AM

              this is why we need a "derp" or "hurr durr" tag for posts.

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              February 5, 2013 1:03 PM

              Yeah, no kidding, like someone is forcing him to open the link and read the review. Herpie derpie indeed!

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        February 5, 2013 8:54 AM

        There's a long-standing Shacknews editorial tradition of "scores are BS over-generalizations; please read the full text of my review," which goes against Metacritic's stance of monetizing statistics, and of publishers putting Metacritic aggregates into contract stipulations (see Bethesda refusing to pay out a bonus when Fallout New Vegas missed a Metacritic average threshold by 1 point).

        In the Gibson-Goldstein Era there weren't many reviews at all, but the Brecko-Remo Era brought in more original opinion and criticism writing, with a mandate of "no scored reviews". The Gamefly Dynasty ramped up the volume of reviews, but held to that tradition.

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          February 5, 2013 9:06 AM

          which goes against Metacritic's stance of monetizing statistics

          Huh?

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            February 5, 2013 9:08 AM

            I think he's referring to how game reviews control bonuses for studios and such

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              February 5, 2013 9:09 AM

              That's not really a Metacritic problem as much as a publisher issue.

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                February 5, 2013 9:12 AM

                don't play chicken and egg with me, sir! I think we have to agree that they feed each other, no?

                • gmd
                  reply
                  February 5, 2013 9:14 AM

                  Some poor game dev lost his job because metacritic had their game at 79%, shacknews gave it an amazing review equivalent to 95% which would have brought the metacritic score to 80, you are to blame.

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                  February 5, 2013 9:15 AM

                  My objection with his phrasing is that he seems to be saying that Metacritic is somehow in cahoots with publishers here. The reality is that they aggregate review scores. What people do with that data is not really something in their control.

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                    February 5, 2013 12:54 PM

                    Publishers putting Metacritic score thresholds in contracts may be out of Metacritic's control, but it's an industry standard, and Metacritic not being in control doesn't make it any less dirty of a practice.

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                      February 5, 2013 3:58 PM

                      No, it's not an industry standard. Some companies do and some don't. It's far from a "standard" and it still doesn't damn a review aggregation site.

          • reply
            February 5, 2013 9:11 AM

            That's not really wrong; they are a business based around aggregation of reviews.

        • reply
          February 5, 2013 9:25 AM

          Well, it would generate traffic. The other issue with contract stipulations based on aggregate score is a publisher issue as others have mentioned.

        • reply
          February 5, 2013 10:27 AM

          and this is why i never read shacknews reviews. no conclusion/summarized paragraph at the end of reviews i have no interest in reading from top to bottom.

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            February 5, 2013 10:38 AM

            "Is it longer than an easily-digestible sentence? NO THANKS."

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              February 5, 2013 10:43 AM

              I think he's maybe looking for "It'll blow you away!" or something at the end. 'murcuh!

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              February 5, 2013 10:47 AM

              lol naw...i just don't want any spoilers(as they do happen more often than not) nor go through all the nuances that a reviewer might find important that i probably don't. generally i think a lot of the content in reviews can very easily be summed up in 1-2 paragraphs or a pro/con list. same goes for hardware...unless the item i am researching requires a lot of in-depth testing or bench-marking...i really only am concerned with the summaries as they'll note what the major problems are there.

      • reply
        February 5, 2013 9:09 AM

        I like that they don't have scores. Wish more sites would do that.

      • reply
        February 5, 2013 9:39 AM

        This is something we've discussed quite a bit behind-the-scenes. As always, I love reading what you guys think.

      • reply
        February 5, 2013 10:50 AM

        This may be coming soon. The qualitative part will still be there, but expect some sort of rating in the near future.

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          February 5, 2013 11:03 AM

          Make it 5 stars, like Next-Generation (the old mag). I loved that system. Please don't make it like IGN or Gametrailers where it's like 9.378453687/10

        • reply
          February 5, 2013 11:29 AM

          RIP Shacknews 02/05/13

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          February 5, 2013 11:31 AM

          Don't do it. Leaving the score out of it sets the bar at a higher level than the mass glut of garbage reviews.

          Or be evil about it and give it a score based on the following:
          Buy
          Rent/Wait for Steam Sale
          Avoid

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            February 5, 2013 11:33 AM

            that's what ars does.

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            February 5, 2013 2:42 PM

            Troll the shit out of metacritic by scoring on a scale of 8 - 372.3.

        • reply
          February 5, 2013 11:38 AM

          I think that's fine. Those who want to read the review still can and a rating will have no effect on the content of the review, and being linked through Metacritic is good for the site and we could use more new blood around here.

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            February 5, 2013 12:26 PM

            What I do with most review sites is check the number first. On a 10 point scale, if it's 4 or lower, I just skip it entirely and move on. If it's 5 through 10 I read it. I've played plenty of games which scored 5-7 and have had good times with them; they're often rated down for repetitive gameplay or something like that, but if the gameplay itself is good (even if repetitive) then I end up liking the game.

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              February 5, 2013 2:19 PM

              but which scale? we already see that we have to separate users from critics... maybe we need 3 scales?

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            February 5, 2013 2:07 PM

            I fully agree here

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          February 5, 2013 11:47 AM

          Will it be up to 100? With 80 being terrible and 100 being passable?

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            February 5, 2013 11:54 AM

            Can you imagine getting an 80 on a test in your high school?

            "Congratulations, you got an 80! F!"

            • reply
              February 5, 2013 11:56 AM

              My parents would have been pissed if I got an 80 on a test.

            • reply
              February 5, 2013 11:58 AM

              I'll take a true 100 point scale. I DEMAND NIT-PICKING.

              • reply
                February 5, 2013 12:13 PM

                What is a nit

                • reply
                  February 5, 2013 12:26 PM

                  Something you pick, dummy

                • reply
                  February 5, 2013 12:47 PM

                  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nit
                  The egg of a louse (particularly head lice)

                  • reply
                    February 5, 2013 12:48 PM

                    no way...ahaha awesome! Thanks! This is like when I learned that a cowlick was, in fact, a cow licking a calf haha. THE MORE YOU KNOW!

                  • reply
                    February 5, 2013 12:49 PM

                    no way...ahaha awesome! Thanks! This is like when I learned that a cowlick was, in fact, a cow licking a calf haha. THE MORE YOU KNOW!

        • reply
          February 5, 2013 11:54 AM

          unfortunate but necessary i suppose

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          February 5, 2013 12:33 PM

          Don't do it, ratings suck

        • reply
          February 5, 2013 12:38 PM

          This being a website of cock, I hope the scale tops out at 9000.

        • reply
          February 5, 2013 12:40 PM

          what I would like to see is the "shacknews 5 screenshot review". a nice article with 5 screenshots, and a paragraph or two for each, then a summary. make it your standard, and you can forego stars and decimals and whatever shitty metrics people try to use. you don't have to come up with SHACKPOINTS or something internal, either.

          choosing the screenshots and then the language for each will be what I need to know for a game preview/review.

        • reply
          February 5, 2013 1:41 PM

          THIS GAME GETS 4.5 BIG RED COCKS

        • reply
          February 5, 2013 1:43 PM

          Please read Chris Remo's 2007 blog article "I would give it an 80" in the Shack articles. I have to ask, was this decision made because Shacknews wants to decide what value Metacritic places on Shacknews reviews, or because Shacknews now suddenly loves attaching a number to a review?

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            February 5, 2013 3:00 PM

            Similar to "I would give it an 80", there's mock reivews, and how publishers want to see them align with actual reviews. EA's Frank Gibeau was alarmingly frank about wanting to see higher review scores for MoH:Warfighter: http://www.gameinformer.com/b/news/archive/2012/10/30/ea-medal-of-honor-launch-below-expectations.aspx

            “We’re disappointed with the critical reception. Our internal testing and mock reviews indicated that the game is better than the actual score we have right now. We believe it is. However, we are seeing some folks out there that just don’t like the game."

            Maybe I'm being overly paranoid, since there are examples of publications that take review scores VERY seriously, but also have great review writing in general. Giant Bomb's probably the best example of this, considering that they came from the Gamespot school of the importance of review scores, but the text of their reviews is usually very detailed (though I feel like Jeff Gerstmann has a habit of letting his personal tastes affect his review scores, especially anything Mortal Kombat).

            Either way, by entering scores in your reviews, you are entering this dirty, unethical fracas known as scored video game reviewing. Don't be surprised if some other publication criticizes your review's score some time in the future.

        • reply
          February 5, 2013 2:31 PM

          I don't get the nay-sayers. Having a rating associated with a review doesn't hinder journalistic integrity -- It merely adds a score to the end which will generate traffic? How is this a bad thing?

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            February 5, 2013 2:34 PM

            because of the known bullshit detectors. RT and Metacritic already have to separate users from critics. ratings are tainted and people know it.

            shacknews has an opportunity here, and punting to a rating system to capitulate to the shitty ratings systems sucks. I want more content related stuff.

            • reply
              February 5, 2013 2:39 PM

              Let's face it, some of the user ratings are bullshit as well. 90% of the scores are a 10 or a 0. Most users as it turns out are not objective at all, that goes for the good 10/10 and bad 0/10 reviews.

              • reply
                February 5, 2013 3:09 PM

                exactly. the score system is so bad it has to be segregated, which makes it worse. both sides have an abundance of suck. fuck numbers and fuck stars.

                5 screenshots, some text describing it, and then a brief summary at the end. maybe 2 mousewheel scrolls required. get a relationship going with the community instead of offloading it or integrating it.

                if people need a TLDR summary they can go back to metacritic and try to sort through the polar opposite critics' scores against their peers, as well as users against users. and then users against critics. or whatever. fuck all of that - I will be disappointed if they use any sort of rating system.

                show me you actually are playing the game. like that DXHR "review" that claimed HOLY SHIT THERE'S ADVERTISING IN THIS GAME, ALARM, 0/10, ETC! and that was all bullshit. there are no ads. it was ads for internalized products, like an ad for sunblock 5000 in robocop. I was pretty pissed off when "reviewers" TLDR the whole thing and royally fuck up.

                Shacknews has a real opportunity here to bridge the gap between shitty TLDR/ADD scores and entire actual gameplay sessions broadcast on youtube or twitch or whatever.

                • reply
                  February 5, 2013 3:12 PM

                  Time for:

                  Buy it right fucking now!
                  Buy it on sale!
                  Rent!
                  Really shitty, buyer beware!
                  Fuck this shit!

                  • reply
                    February 5, 2013 3:20 PM

                    A few publications already have a "buy / rent / skip" scale adjacent to their score (if their review even has one).

          • reply
            February 5, 2013 3:01 PM

            Review scores/ratings are terrible because people don't know how to subjectively evaluate different scores for different games, they just imagine everything as being on one continuum and that anything with a 5 is automatically "better" than everything with a 4. Roger Ebert has written about this extensively - what are you to do when Warm Bodies has 3.5 stars and Zero Dark Thirty has only 3 stars? Is that a commentary on how much "less good" Zero Dark Thirty is than Warm Bodies? Of course not! You have to read the review to fully understand the way a critic feels about something (and by extension, how you might feel about it relative to your taste). But many (maybe most) people don't see it that way, and it turns reviewing in to some kind of weird game of equalizing, which is why reviewers get pressured to turn in those 9's or 100's or 5 stars's or whatever the fuck. You know how it is on Metacritic now - anything below a 80% or so just "sucks".

          • reply
            February 5, 2013 3:07 PM

            Look at this thread. There's hardly any discussion about the game. You're all focused on numbers.

            • reply
              February 5, 2013 3:15 PM

              exactly. like how we hate shitty top 10 lists? the shack 2012 list developed quite well. raw standalone ranking numbers are more often bad than good, and 2012 had substantive commentary and GAME RELATED stuff instead of smarmy self-indulgent bullshit.

              the shack developed a method to release a list and it was pretty good, and it showed people behind the scenes actually cared about the content moreso than linkbait lists or numbers.

        • reply
          February 5, 2013 3:24 PM

          Remo is spinning in his grave.

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          February 5, 2013 5:27 PM

          Please don't. I appreciate ShackNews reviews because of the lack of a quantitative metric, not despite it. The politics of scores are a distraction and I would be glad if ShackNews could remain above them. However, you know your page views and I would understand if you felt you needed to make the change in order to them.

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          February 5, 2013 6:40 PM

          Please don't do it.

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          February 5, 2013 6:41 PM

          Add a rating system. Get tied to metacritic to generate traffic like Entity said (great idea imo). Sometimes I'll read about a highly-rated game that wasn't on my radar previously. Without any kind of knee-jerk metric to pique my interest, however, I often tend to skip games I don't know about. I suspect I'm not alone in this.

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          February 5, 2013 7:50 PM

          Make them a completely uncomparable pile of nonsense. Dead Space 3 receives 7 Purple Rupees out of 13 Gold Rings.

          • reply
            February 6, 2013 3:16 PM

            55 bees out of 12 hornets. This game is great!

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        February 5, 2013 2:06 PM

        Reeeeemo et al. hated scored reviews because they believed them to be inaccurate. I disagree. I think we should have scored reviews. They're useful. Over time as I've gotten to know reviewers I need to read less of their review unless I am concerned about certain aspects of the game. GamesTM, for example, has a good rep and if they rate a game highly there's a good chance I'll like it. If there is a game I'd never heard of getting a high score, then I'll read the review.

        But I think it is silly one should have to read 2-3 pages of words before decided whether or not to just play a video game. At the end of the day you want a friend to recommend whether or not you should play a game. This is what a scored review offers. If I ask a friend if s/he liked Mass Effect 3, I don't want a 15-minute story about their playing experience. I want a yes or no.

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          February 5, 2013 3:03 PM

          Summaries and pro/con lists can accomplish what you suggest without resorting to a stupid and arbitrary scoring system.

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            February 5, 2013 6:32 PM

            It isn't arbitrary. It's based off a metric.

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              February 6, 2013 3:17 PM

              Your post is an 8/10 post. I determined this based off a "metric." It was not arbitrary in the least.

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                February 6, 2013 3:44 PM

                Arbitrary means without a system or any kind of standard. A scoring system is not arbitrary.

                • reply
                  February 6, 2013 3:47 PM

                  A scoring system is still subjective and based on personal choice. People assume it's rational, but it's often not.

                  • reply
                    February 6, 2013 4:41 PM

                    How is that any different from a review?

                    • reply
                      February 6, 2013 8:28 PM

                      Reviews are long and full of subtleties? Numbers are meaningless.

                      • reply
                        February 6, 2013 9:09 PM

                        And what does your friend say about a game? He liked it or he didn't. A 1 or a 0. There may be some variance - he liked it but it had flaws. A 0.8? An 8? It has whatever meaning we assign it.

                        • reply
                          February 6, 2013 9:25 PM

                          If I am talking to a friend about a game, I don't ask him whether he liked it or not. I asked him what the experience was like, what elements engaged you, which frustrated you? Are there interesting systems? Are the characters lifelike?

                          • reply
                            February 8, 2013 6:49 PM

                            I ask my friends either "How do you like it?" or "What do you think of it?" But then, I already have some idea of this person's tastes and experience, so I'm able to parse their feedback into usable data.
                            I could give a damn what Joe_random1337 has to say about games.

            • reply
              February 9, 2013 10:10 AM

              A metric that has no consistency across the gaming industry.

              It is a terrible form of assessment.

              I'm really disappointed the Shack would move toward scored reviews. To me, it demonstrates a lack of editorial analysis when they just parrot the direction that everyone else is going.

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        February 5, 2013 2:43 PM

        I understand it from a traffic/ad revenue perspective, but fuck it man I hate review scores/stars/whatever. The moment you put some kind of rating number on a review, then everything becomes about that and the context and nuance of a well-written review just gets lost.

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        February 5, 2013 3:59 PM

        Scores are subjective at best, mostly worthless.

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          February 6, 2013 3:44 PM

          Reviews are subjective. And yet not mostly worthless?

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        February 5, 2013 7:34 PM

        They should make an exception for these dog-food games and the people who eat it.