COLLEGE PARK, Maryland — With all facets of pop-culture — movies, books, TV shows, etc. — the public and professional critics often disagree. Video games are no exception. A Capital News Service analysis of video game reviews found that critics rate popular games significantly higher on average than the public, with a few notable exceptions.
We compared game scores on Metacritic, a site that aggregates reviews of popular games from dozens of professional critics and averages scores given by hundreds of users who play the games.
The Call of Duty franchise highlights the disparity between the public and professional reviewers. Fans and critics both praised early installments of CoD, though critic scores trended slightly higher. After the release Black Ops in 2010, the public-critic divide turns into a chasm that persisted until Modern Warfare Remastered was released in 2016.
The game rated lowest by the public, Modern Warfare 3, was the first CoD released by Infinity Ward after the series’ original creative duo — Vince Zampella and Jason West — left the company. Modern Warfare Remastered was a remake of a game Zampella and West produced in 2007, updated with better graphics and a higher resolution.
Gears of War has a similar arc. The critic average slowly declines with each iteration, but the public average decreases at a sharper rate. Like CoD, the gap narrowed with the most recent release, Gears of War: Ultimate Edition, a remake of the original Gears of War.
Critics and users do not always disagree. With God of War, the public consistently rated the games in the series highly, but the critic average was still a few points higher. One possible explanation: The user base for God of War, which was only released on Playstation, is much smaller than for CoD. This explanation isn’t foolproof — see Gears of War, which was only released on Microsoft platforms.
Maryland-based Bethesda Softworks also manages to keep both users and critics satisfied with its 18-year-old Fallout series. Until Fallout 4, the public consistently rated the games as highly as critics; and in the case of Fallout 2, the public rated it higher. This series supports the theory that the more popular the game, the more public criticism it is susceptible to. Fallout 4 sold 12 million copies — $750 million in sales — in the first 24 hours, the biggest entertainment launch of 2015.
The Elder Scrolls series tells the same story. The user and critic ratings are close for the first two modern iterations of Elder Scrolls, but the trend is broken with Skyrim. The most popular of all The Elder Scrolls, selling an estimated 23 million copies, according to vgchartz.com.
With CoD and Gears of War, fans were much harder to please than the critics. With games based on movies, the opposite is true. It’s possible the public is evaluating the games based on their warm feelings towards a movie, and critics are only evaluating the gameplay.
The popularity of a movie also seems to influence the user rating of the game. There are two Ghostbuster games, one was released in 2009 and the other in 2016. The original Ghostbusters was received fairly well, earning an IMDB rating of 7.8 out of 10 compared to a 5.4 out of 10 for the 2016 remake. The video games reflect the discrepancy, but in a much more drastic way. The PS4 version of the Ghostbusters averaged an impressive score of 0.7 out of 10 while the pre-2016 remake game earned an average of 8.5 out of 10.
It’s difficult to pin the flop of the 2016 Ghostbusters game on any one factor — the development, the studio that made it, the timing or the association with the films — but the association between the movie and game reception is undeniable.