Michael Cunningham of RPGamer recently wrote an editorial detailing the problems with the various review scales of different game review sites and their contribution to the overall scores on sites such as GameRankings and MetaCritic, although he neglected to mention an even greater problem with reviews: the reviews themselves, and the logic (and in some cases, illogic) behind the scores. This editorial is a pseudo-sequel to one of my previous editorials, A Review of Reviews: A Reviewer's Perspective.
One of the main emphases of score based reviewing, in this writer's opinion, is effectively justifying each score given to the various parts of a game. If a reviewer doesn't give a perfect score to part of a game, obviously something is wrong with that aspect, and will leave prospective purchasers of reviewed games what exactly is wrong with that particular part of the game, unless they pay for and play the game themselves, unless the reviewer actually explains the flaws. Is turn order in battle random? Can enemies beat you to healing? Are the textures of the graphics bland in places? Is the music too ambient?
Another problem with reviews is a general difference of opinion of what one reviewer considers to be a flaw in part of a game. Tastes in game can vary wildly; for instance, some may like tactical RPGs, but some may not, and some might like turn-based RPGs, while others prefer action RPGs. "Because it's turn-based," however, is not really a valid excuse from deducting points from part of a game, and some reviewers may deduct points for a game being easy or including anti-frustration features. A good technique is to list flaws at the end of a section of a review describing a particular aspect, be it the graphics, music, or gameplay so players can get a good idea of what to expect when playing the game, be the aspect positive or negative.
Yet another issue is that reviewers often give half-assed explanations on various parts of a game, or misleading, even false, descriptions. For instance, this writer once read a review of Onimusha Tactics saying it was based on Chinese mythology, when it was in fact based on Japanese mythology. Many reviews also described the game Nostalgia to be a "traditional" turn-based RPG, although this reviewer felt the game had more in common with modern RPGs such as Final Fantasy X.
Furthermore, it is likely that reviewers on mainstream game review sites like GameSpot and IGN don't actually complete games before writing their reviews. Doing so, in this reviewer's opinion, would be akin to reviewing a movie based on the opening credits or a book based on the prologue. Some games can start out good but get worse, and vice versa. Granted, since reviewers for mainstream sites typically have a ton of games to play and review, not finishing games is somewhat acceptable as long as the reviewers acknowledge they didn't complete the game in a disclaimer at the end of their review.
Money, as mentioned in this reviewer's previous editorial on reviews, is still an issue with mainstream gaming sites, where game developers and publishers pay tons for advertising. Thanks to the lure of the almighty dollar (and in Japan's case, yen), reviewers might be cowards and refrain from giving negative reviews due to possible termination, as was the supposed case with Jeff Gerstmann, and consequentially tend to sugarcoat their reviews to pacify said developers and publishers. All in all, the practices of gaming review sites are definitely worthy of government investigation.
Perhaps the biggest issue with game reviews is bias. When giving positive reviews, a natural inclination is for reviewers to gush relentlessly over a game and downplay flaws, and when giving negative reviews, it is sometimes natural to go overboard with libel and exaggerate flaws. Doing so, in this reviewer's opinion, is highly unprofessional and unbecoming of journalism, and whether a review is positive or negative, the reviewer should be fair and unbiased. Overly positive reviews can sometimes con players into buying games they end up not enjoying, as has been the case numerous times with this reviewer, who has not enjoyed positively-reviewed games such as The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time but has enjoyed more lukewarmly-reviewed titles such as Suikoden IV.
Overall, there are plenty of issues preventing gaming journalism from being as good as it could have been, with many of the issues plaguing mainstream journalism being prevalent in game reviews, such as bias. As a reviewer, I will admit that I myself am biased, but in which direction, that's for my readers to figure out.