Shadow of the Tomb Raider and Why Reviews Should be Written by Critics, Not Fans

Shadow of the Tomb Raider reviews are out and they’re fine. They’re not overwhelmingly positive, but they’re not overwhelmingly negative, either. We gave it a commendable score of 4 out of 5, and it currently sits at a Metascore of 78. However, as we all know, any Metascore that falls below 80 for a popular game — even one that readers haven’t had a chance to play yet — is a recipe for trouble. As a result, pitchforks are already being sharpened by Lara Croft’s ardent fans, while reviewers are left wondering why they even bother.

Reviews are intended to provide a perspective on a game that will help inform readers whether or not they should buy it. Back in the heady days of print games journalism, previews and reviews were the bread and butter of a publication’s output. In online journalism, they account for such a minimal amount of traffic that for the majority of outlets, publishing them is an act of masochism.

If you score a triple-A game too low, it’s clickbait. If you score a triple-A game too high, you’re a paid shill. If you enjoy a “walking simulator,” you’re a cuck. For a very vocal minority, reviews aren’t used as a way to gauge their potential enjoyment of a game prior to its retail release; they’re used as an excuse to get inordinately angry at critics who don’t reflect their opinions back at them.

Everyone’s a Critic

shadow of the tomb raider reviews colonialism

The latest take from those who struggle to understand how opinions work is that Shadow of the Tomb Raider should have only been reviewed by fans of the franchise Shadow of the Tomb Raider‘s “negative” reviews (aka positive reviews that were lower than expected) are apparently the result of critics not having enjoyed previous Tomb Raider games. This logic suggests that reviewers should only play games that they are likely to enjoy, thus severely limiting the usefulness of reviews by way of only appealing to those likely to buy the game anyway. It also sounds a lot like these folks want reviewers to head into their assignments with pre-formed biases.

Reviews shouldn’t solely cater to a game’s existing audience. Readers will have varying levels of experience with a series or a particular genre, and them only having access to reviews penned by fans isn’t helpful. I didn’t enjoy the 2013 Tomb Raider reboot and skipped Rise of the Tomb Raider, though I have a marginal interest in playing Shadow of the Tomb Raider: will this new game appeal to me, or should I skip this one, too? Having an endless barrage of takes that highlight why Tomb Raider fans will enjoy this third entry doesn’t help inform my personal decision to buy it.

So what is with this assertion that critics should be fans of the series they’re reviewing? The thinking behind this is that a critic who is also a fan will have a better understanding of the game, and therefore their opinion is somehow inherently more valuable. That’s subjective, of course, as readers may derive more value from a less experienced take that’s in line with their own history with a series. However, there is also a more cynical edge to this argument, which falls in line with the critics versus consumers narrative those working in games journalism have had to endure in a post-Gamergate industry.

“Games Journalists Don’t Play Games”

shadow of the tomb raider reviews metacritic

Those complaining that the moderate critical response to Shadow of the Tomb Raider is as a result of non-fans reviewing the game are implying that critics cannot also be fans. It’s essentially a retread of the “games journalists don’t actually play games” argument, which is wheeled out by those who have adopted their disdain for games journalists as a rigid political stance. The implication is that because journalists may criticize certain aspects of a game—Shadow of the Tomb Raider‘s take on the series’ colonialism has been widely discussed in its coverage—they are therefore not fans of the series as a whole, and their opinion isn’t as valid as that of a “real” fan’s.

However, the more unsurprising reality is that those paid to critically assess a game will sometimes discuss perceived faults that are overlooked by the average player. A player may not think too much about Shadow of the Tomb Raider tackling Lara Croft’s penchant for poaching artifacts from other cultures, though a critic hired to do so is more likely to readily address it. Therefore, a bunch of outlets discussing this theme is an inevitability, though more conspiratorial readers will suggest it’s evidence of a journalistic cabal looking to take video games down from the inside. Spoilers: we are not part of a cabal looking to destroy video games.

Metabore

Shadow of the Tomb Raider reviews

The content of reviews is now largely beaten into mulch by Metacritic, before being shoved through the review aggregator and coming out as just another number in a sea of numbers. Though it has been said on many occasions by many different critics, focusing on the score rather than the content of a review isn’t valuable from a reader’s perspective. Sure, you’ll acquire a general consensus of critical opinion by way of browsing Metacritic, but you also miss out on discovering why each reviewer felt the way they did about a game.

It’s always best to find the reviewers that speak to your tastes, rather than viewing critics as a homogenous blob contributing to an all-important Metascore. Or you could venture over to the user reviews to find out what REAL fans thought of it, and read a barely literate comment from DankPepe69 giving it 1/10 because it had a woman on the front cover. It’s your call here.

Featured Image Credit: @UltraBrilliant / Twitter