That Game You Want Got Bad Reviews, Now What?

For the better part of the year, I had been looking forward to playing the new Saints Row reboot. As such, up until the start of August, I had a pre-order of it for the PS5 sitting in one of my queues. Its release just happened to coincide with the completion of a major work project, and I figured it would be a nice reward for all that I had accomplished. However, I ended up removing it not too long after the month had started, because I felt as though I was fooling myself in terms of time. Although the project’s completion would mean I’d have a little more free time, it wouldn’t free up enough time for me to sink my teeth into a large, open world game. Besides, I still had a very unfinished run of Cyberpunk 2077 gnawing at the back of my skull. If I absolutely needed to participate in some open-world mayhem, that should be my go-to for the moment.

And then, the week of Saints Row’s release came, and so too started the flurry reviews, mostly from big-name sites. They were roundly critical, calling out the game for being buggy, unenjoyable, and to some degree, unfinished. While my very first thought was along the “dodged a bullet” lines, my second thought was “give it a week,” because so often the pre- and first-day reviews for any large-scale games tend to feel very bandwagon-ish. As well, they come from an extremely small percentage of actual players, so it’s difficult to gauge the value of the assessments.

As expected, the game’s week-after reviews, some of which came from video game players I personally follow through blogs and social media, were a little softer. The game’s technical problems remained, but folks seemed more forgiving of these issues, saying most prominently that if one likes the previous Saints Row titles, then one would probably like this one, too. It apparently didn’t have quite as much social “bite” as the previous titles, and its too-traditional open-world trappings didn’t appeal to everyone, but people recognized it as an attempt to reel in a series that had truly gone off the rails. Having played the second through fourth Saints Row games myself, that sentiment rung true. I mean, where the heck is a game developer to go after a bonkers title like Saints Row IV? More bonkers seems like a bad idea, so offering up a return to form makes sense.

This is not to forgive Deep Silver Volition for its transgressions, because the fact is, Saints Row, as far as the overall reviews read right now, is a mediocre game at best. But, how much does that matter in your average video game household? Well, within my house, they actually matter now more than ever.

If I hadn’t thought twice about my Saints Row pre-order, I’d have a copy now and would be playing it, regardless of reviews. But that’s the thing. I did think twice, because I had to. Backlog aside, it can take me forever to get to any new game these days, let alone the ones I think I want to play. (Just look at highly acclaimed Deathloop, which sat on my shelf for nearly year before I finally got around to it!) I don’t mind the upfront cost of a new game, but if a game comes out with bad initial reviews from corporate sites, and those reviews don’t get much better from regular players, I’m not going to make that investment. I’ll simply wait. Wait until the game is fixed. Wait until a sale. (Or it becomes free – Game Pass has altered my own spending habits, that’s for sure.) Wait until I have time, because that’s more expensive and less fleeting than any game.

Ultimately, bad reviews don’t keep me away from games, but they do affect my choice as to how to consume them. There will always be games that I wish to immediately support no matter what. There was no way I was going to ignore Stray, for example, even though I did read some mixed reviews about it. And there will always be games for which I stay on the fence. If that game is poorly received upon release, then I’ll hang out on the “stay away” side of the fence until the opportunity to switch to the “give in” side presents itself. I don’t put all my stock in reviews, but I will admit that I pay far more attention to them these days than I ever did when I had all the time in the world to play. There’s no replacing that single most precious resource – time – and I have no choice but to use it wisely. Game reviews, bad ones especially, help me best allocate the time I have to that which deserves it most.

Lede image captured by author during Xbox One gameplay of Conker’s Bad Fur Day from Rare Replay (© Rare).

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