[UPDATE: We’ve re-published this story today, August 24, to include Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain]
It’s not often that a game gets a 10/10, so it’s an understandably big deal. After all, since 1996, only eleven games have earned that rare rank. In no particular order, they are:
Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain
Review date: August 23, 2015
“When it comes to storytelling, there has never been a Metal Gear game that’s so consistent in tone, daring in subject matter, and so captivating in presentation. The Phantom Pain may be a contender for one of the best action games ever made, but is undoubtedly the best Metal Gear game there is.” .
Review date: July 23, 2015
“If you are returning to Journey, a higher resolution and a higher frame rate are your ostensible rewards for returning–a return that doesn’t cost you anything if you already own the game on the PlayStation 3. But Journey’s real rewards aren’t so pedestrian. Journey offers you comfort. It gives you companionship in a lovely but forsaken world. It gives you reason to dream even when facing loss.”
The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt
Review date: May 12, 2015
“Where the Witcher 2 sputtered to a halt, The Witcher 3 is always in a crescendo, crafting battle scenarios that constantly one-up the last, until you reach the explosive finale and recover in the glow of the game’s quiet denouement. But while the grand clashes are captivating, it is the moments between conflicts, when you drink with the local clans and bask in a trobairitz’s song, that are truly inspiring.”
Review date: October 13, 2014
“Bayonetta 2’s combat is so expertly constructed, and its presentation so joyously insane, that you’d have to try so very hard to get bored of it all.”.
Grand Theft Auto IV
Review date: April 28, 2008
“Yes, this is another GTA game in which you’ll likely spend the bulk of your time stealing cars and gunning down cops and criminals, but it’s also much more than that. is a game with a compelling and nonlinear storyline, a game with a great protagonist who you can’t help but like, and a game that boasts a plethora of online multiplayer features in addition to its lengthy story mode. It’s not without some flaws, but GTAIV is undoubtedly the best Grand Theft Auto yet.”
Soul Calibur (Dreamcast)
Review date: August 9, 1999
“Yes, it is a fighting game, a genre with a fairly limited scope, but insofar as fighting games go, is mind-numbing perfection. Namco has taken the best and made it considerably better. The level at which the company has done so is practically unprecedented. Think state of the art. Absolutely brilliant in all aspects, as far as games of this type go, Soul Calibur is the undisputed king of the hill. It is essential in any gamer’s collection.”
Super Mario Galaxy 2
Review date: May 21, 2010
“Everything is so well designed and so entertaining that it’s easy to get sucked into this world for hours. is so phenomenal that it’s difficult to imagine where Mario could possibly go in the future. But that’s hardly your concern now. Mario proves that he is still the king of fun.”
Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 3
Review date: October 29, 2001
“The Tony Hawk series has always had style. The first game reinvented a genre and set off a series of clones and pretenders that still flood the market today. The second game refined the formula, but its higher level of difficulty and steeper learning curve turned off casual players. brings it all together in one package that makes everything before it almost unplayable by comparison.”
Review date: January 6, 2000
“With Square agonizing over every detail of its flagship property, the team was apparently left mostly to themselves. Consequently, the game shares an all-out enthusiasm and joie de vivre found in the best 16-bit titles — back before games became multimillion dollar properties that had to answer to glaring shareholders. Chrono Cross may not have had the largest budget, but it has the largest heart.”
Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots
Review date: June 13, 2008
” is the most technically stunning video game ever made. It’s also a fine example of storytelling prowess within its medium, combining gameplay and narrative so slickly and beautifully that it’s impossible to extricate one from the other. It’s likely you will emerge awestruck from your first play-through, wishing the experience would continue yet nonetheless satisfied with its conclusion. It’s difficult not to sound hyperbolic when discussing MGS4 because every part of its design seemingly fulfills its vision, without compromise. There is no halfway.”
The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time
Review Date: November 23, 1998
“is the real thing. This is the masterpiece that people will still be talking about ten years down the road. This is the game that perfectly exhibits the ‘quality not quantity’ mantra that Nintendo has been touting since the N64 was released. In a word, perfect. To call it anything else would be a bald-faced lie.”
[Ed. Note: Kevin VanOrd has since]
You can read more about exactly , but we also wanted to let Senior Reviews Editor Kevin VanOrd answer some of your other big questions about review and how scoring works:
How long have you headed up GameSpot’s reviews, and how did you get here?
Kevin VanOrd: I’ve been heading up GameSpot reviews since 2011, but I actually started at GameSpot in 2006. I was originally hired to be tournament coordinator! Back then we held tournaments that culminated with an episode of Tournament TV, a show that Rich Gallup hosted when I first started. Lord, it seems so long ago. I had been a moderator in the GameSpot forums for years, and was also freelancing for GameSpy, so it was a smooth transition, even though for me, it was a big deal, since I was moving from Maryland across the country.
The first time I’d ever been to San Francisco was for the job interview. The second time was the day before I started at GameSpot, after three days of cross-country driving. Little story: I stopped on the drive across the country, somewhere in Indiana, to get a pumpkin latte (this was in September), and spilled it in my car. Ever since then, my car has smelled like pumpkin.
Sadly, tournaments stopped being a thing, and Jeff Gerstmann brought me over to the editorial team full time, though even before that, I’d written some GameSpot reviews. Jeff, Alex Navarro, and Greg Kasavin had vital roles in molding how I wrote and how I wanted to grow as a writer.
What makes a game a 10, and has that definition changed over the years? Does a 10 mean it’s “perfect”?
A 10 is a game the reviewer thinks is so phenomenal that it deserves a place on the shelves of everyone that plays games. GameSpot has used different words to describe a 10 over the years. When I started at GameSpot, a 10 meant “perfect,” which to us meant that it couldn’t have been reasonably expected to be much better than it was. When we switched scoring systems to .0s and .5s, a 10 became “prime,” though in retrospect, that’s a pretty silly word, all things considered. After we re-launched the site in 2013, we started using the word “masterpiece,” but in time decided that “essential” might be an even more appropriate term.
I don’t think any piece of art or entertainment could be considered perfect. Even the games that are largely considered to be the best ever made aren’t beloved by everyone. But I do think that a 10 should be rare. It should mean that the game has something so meaningful to offer that you simply can’t ignore it. Something that will remain with players for years to come.
A review is obviously just one person’s opinion, so how do you deal with conflicting thoughts on a game, both for high and low scores? What if someone else on GameSpot thinks a game deserves a much higher (or lower) score?
10s are a big deal, right? But in some sense, we want every score to be a big deal. We want every score to be carefully considered. And yes, we have all sorts of arguments about games, because we’re not a hive mind! The text is the primary consideration, and it must argue the score. What makes the game so special, or not special? If it’s boring, or exciting, how does it do that? Some games have a greater impact on one person than another, and it’s up to the critic to express his or her thoughts in a way that really sells that score.
But the entire editorial team has the opportunity to go over the review, and sometimes, being devil’s advocate is an important role to have, and it’s a role that I am happy to take on. A very common email exchange with a freelance author might be: “Are you sure this is an 8? Are you sure this game is truly great? Because it sounds pretty good, but I don’t know if you’re selling that 8.” The author might then say, “Hey, you’re right, this really is just a pretty good game,” or she might say, “Man, this game is absolutely great; what do I need to do to really get that across?” The author is always the owner of his own work, but the rest of the crew still helps to ensure the review is all it can be.
You talk a lot with publishers, developers, and PR, so how do you make sure that reviews remain unbiased by those relationships?
Most of my interactions with PR people come down to, “Hey, we’re sending you review code,” and me replying, “OK, use the usual address.” My own bosses are usually the people that have the most face time with PR folks and publishers. These days, most reviews are actually assigned to freelance critics who typically don’t have any direct contact with PR people. When reviews are done in house, we try to assign them to people who have not previewed the game to any significant degree. This is one of the reasons why I personally don’t do a lot of previews…so that I can go into reviews as fresh as possible. My bosses essentially function as shields: they absorb the business side of things so that I can focus on just the games.
In the end, where reviews are concerned, it’s the game that’s important. If a reviewer feels, or I feel, that there is some kind of conflict, the review is assigned to someone else. That’s pretty rare, though. My managers deal with the primary business aspects, and I do my best to not know what that stuff entails. For me, I mostly just assign reviews as games come in, and coordinate the logistics of that process.
What are the plans for GameSpot’s reviews in the coming year? Any big changes in store?
I don’t see anything big happening for the time being, but it’s hard to tell! We’re at the mercy of a business that’s much bigger than us alone, and as games change, so to does the way we cover them. When I started, we never reviewed free-to-play games, for example. Imagine if we had held to that rule! Right now, however, my focus is on always improving the reviews themselves, both in terms of how they are written and in terms of honing our critical eye. I’m really excited by how much deeper game critics are willing to go nowadays with their analyses. And I hope GameSpot can be a positive force in that overall discourse.
Do you have more questions about reviews on GameSpot? Leave us a comment below, or use the site’s messaging system to contact us directly!