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Horizon Forbidden West: What’s In a Review Score?

Horizon Forbidden West has come and gone, and it’s apparently unplayable. It has only an 88 on Metacritic. Call Sony, tell them to shut it all down. Nope, not just PlayStation. Shut it ALL down.

Don’t take my word for it either. Go take a look on Twitter, or on the regular gaming forums. People are up in arms because – horrors of horrors – Forbidden West didn’t score above a 90. It didn’t score above Forza Horizon. It BARELY scored above Halo Infinite.

And, if you believe the chatter, it can only be because of some immense conspiracy. Critics have been paid off. Xbox fanboys have infiltrated the upper echelons of Edge magazine. Maybe they just want our lord and saviour Sony to fail.

These are not massive exaggerations of things I have actually read today.

So we’re here again: arguing over a few points in a Metacritic score. Why? Because it’s all very serious business, that’s why. Nothing says heartache like a game I like getting two points lower than I thought it should on a 100-point scale.

Horizon Forbidden West – The Disaster of the Year

So what does it mean to get an 88 rather than a 90?

Horizon Forbidden West, critics say, has some minor graphical issues, some polish problems, some occasionally lackluster story beats and a protagonist who talks too much. These are specifically from reviews that scored lower than the average.

Personally, I think a game that looks this good is entitled to a few graphical issues, and something this large is always going to have bugs present when so many people suddenly start playing. The QA team are nothing compared to millions of people playing day one.

The other issues are annoying and would maybe colour my entire view of Horizon Forbidden West, and yet I’d have already bought into it to find that out.

So that’s the difference between getting an 88 rather than a 90. And thank God that someone somewhere is actually giving these lower review scores, because if these issues exist they should be represented. What is popular shouldn’t be what is good.

It’s interesting to watch this conversation play out alongside Kevin Smith’s call for Spider-Man No Way Home to get a Best Picture nomination. He calls it the populist choice, and it is just that. Spidey was a decent film, but it’s not Licorice Pizza or Coda. It’s not Belfast. You could take Don’t Look Up or Dune off that list, but does Spider-Man deserve a best picture nod as much as either of those? Arguably. Arguably not.

We think what we enjoy the most is amazing. We have to acknowledge that sometimes what we enjoy is only great, good or even flat-out bad. Reviewers should be able to separate out their own enjoyment of something to give an accurate presentation of whether something is good or bad. The score should represent the overall quality, while the words qualify that. Yes, the graphics are incredible, but occasional glitches let it down. The story is weak, but the adventure makes up for that.


Of course, the real issue isn’t necessarily that people can’t read reviews, or even that they don’t read reviews. The real problem is that scores fuel console wars. The real problem is the outrage that 88 for an adventure game might be different than an 87 for an FPS.

Horizon Forbidden West isn’t the disaster of the year, and nobody thought it would be. And yet when you read about this issue, it’s the biggest of the game’s fans that are making it appear as though it is.

It’s a painful irony, and one that unfortunately reflects badly on the fanbase as a whole.


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blank Mat Growcott has been a long-time member of the gaming press. He's written two books and a web series, and doesn't have nearly enough time to play the games he writes about.

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Twitter: @matgrowcott