Polygon dropping scores make sense, but only because scores haven’t been properly used for the last two gaming generations. When you look back to old gaming publications like GamePro Magazine or Electronic Gaming Monthly you can see scores being used. However, one difference you’ll notice is that there are a few numbers that you never see in review scores today. On a modern review, you’ll never (or maybe once in a blue moon when the planets align while Bigfoot is making a trade deal with a UFO) see a number lower than 5.
Due to this people have started to look at review scores as meaningless. This is true, but it’s only true because again they haven’t been used properly. When you have sites like Polygon reviewing games on a 1 to 10 scale, but nothing ever goes below a 6, gamers have started to re-evaluate games. Suddenly it’s a 6 to 10 scale, with 6 and 7 meaning awful and bad, while 8, 9 are OK and Good, with 10 being Perfect. You could call it a 1 to 5 scale at that point.
Some people might think that letter grades can fix the problem, however, it won’t. What will end up happening is instead of games getting graded from F to A it will be C to A. A game with awful gameplay, glitches, and bugs that make it unplayable will be given a grade of C for “OK” instead of the D- or F that it would properly deserve.
Maybe you want to say that these people reviewing the games are paid off by the publishers and developers. Maybe You want to say that they’re just biased because they’re reviewing a game they personally love and can’t be objective. To be honest I would say that these are all true in various situations.
Another factor in review scores being a problem these days is the website Metacritic. By adding up scores from various reviewers you get this really high rating that makes a game look amazing, maybe way more amazing than it actually is. Then you have user ratings which result in rabid fans and haters either bombing a game they hate or trying to praise a mediocre game because there is no way it can be bad! Review scores have been abused for so long they’re now seen as nothing but a negative.
The only way to truly break away from a rating system is to introduce a three-tier rating: Good, Neutral, Bad. Regardless, you still run into the same problem as above. Perhaps EA shovels some money into Polygon’s pocket and suddenly Soccer Shooter XIII goes from bad to neutral. Or again perhaps the reviewer just wants everyone to like this game as much as they did so it’s not neutral, it’s good!
All in all review scores can work even in the modern gaming age if they’re used properly. Do they need to be updated and re-tooled for games today? Sure that would work because it is unfair to use a scoring system for a walk around puzzle game like the classic Myst against a modern action game like the new Spider-Man or the recently released JRPG Dragon Quest XI. Action Scores, Puzzle Scores, RPG Scores, break it down into categories.
Regardless it doesn’t matter what system you use if you’re not being fair, objective, and willing to call a bad game out for what it is, and I personally believe that Polygon’s new Polygon Recommends idea is going to fall short and end up the same as a number score. Their idea of an Essential Lists shows promise, but I feel it would be better directed if it were based on platform. Having an essentials list that includes a PS4, Switch, and PC exclusive game doesn’t help someone who only owns a Switch or only plays on PC.
Once it’s all said and done I feel Polygon will find themselves trying to re-invent the wheel once again in the near future.