The Disconnect: When Gamers Disagree With Critics

Let's agree to disagree

ImageMany users didn't embrace the new Portal sequel

No one was surprised when Valve's Portal 2 (360, PS3, PC) -- one of the most anticipated releases of 2011 and the sequel to a highly original gem of a game -- received glowing reviews from game critics upon its release last month. What was shocking was the fan reaction.

As reported throughout the gaming press, all three versions of Portal 2 were excoriated in user comments on Metacritic, with gamers objecting to, among other things, being prompted to purchase DLC on day one (though that content was not necessary for gameplay). Whether or not it was an organized campaign against the game or just fan backlash against being promised an early release if they would only buy additional titles, the result was -- temporarily -- extremely low user scores at the same time Portal 2 was among the year's highest-scoring games among critics.

Justified or not, this is certainly not the first time Metacritic users have disagreed with professional critics, nor is it the first case of the public punishing a title loved by reviewers. Sometimes, the user reaction stems from a backlash against excessive hype, while other times business decisions like crippling DRM or an over-reliance on DLC are to blame. Users may also notice problems with online play that aren't present pre-release, or they may simply rebel against a never-ending stream of sequels that add little new to a franchise. On the other side, users will sometimes enjoy a game much more than critics did, perhaps a result of being able to spend additional gameplay time to uncover merits that aren't apparent at first blush.

The user scores for Portal 2 have actually rebounded significantly since the game's release, but there are plenty of other titles that still have a wide gulf between critic and user scores. We have analyzed all games in Metacritic's database (for current-generation platforms) that have at least 30 critic reviews and 50 user reviews. The games with the biggest score differentials between critics and users are listed below, along with representative user comments for each game.

Games that critics liked but users didn't

Game Platform/Year Metascore User Score Difference*
1 Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 PC, 2009 86 3.7 49

"The PC community was completely abandoned when dedicated servers were taken out, [it's] not that the game is garbage really, its mostly that the loyal gamers were completely ignored."

-- mathieuG.

2 Dragon Age II PS3, 2011 82 3.9 43

"I'm a big fan of the original DA and really got into the lore. Unfortunately that dosen't help me trying to like this sorry mess for sequel. The combat is extremely simplified (and meaningless), the story is told in a most unexciting way and the game just feel like a downgrade compared to the predecessor."

-- KhaaL

3 Grand Theft Auto IV PC, 2008 90 5.0 40

"Absolutely not worth it. The download took a very long time, and unless your PC is running well above the minimum specs (which are already pretty high, and easily knocks out any non-gaming built PCs), then this game will lag terribly with severe glitching and control issues (and yes, I am talking about rock-bottom bare-minimum visual and audio effects)."

-- Zeph

4 Madden NFL 09 PS3, 2008 85 4.6 39

"As a game considered in complete isolation, Madden 2009 is a pretty darn good football game. But when you start comparing it to existing Madden products (2008 and 2007 in particular), you start to realize that the game just hasn't evolved much over the last few years."

-- TouchyEd

5 Dragon Age II PC, 2011 82 4.3 39

"So far it's been terrible. Clunky controls, terrible graphics. The characters are shallow and have exceptionally little dialogue. 27 pieces of DLC. Not much else has to be said. They've sold out and now cater to the lowest common denominator instead of providing high quality RPGs like they used to. Terrible."

-- Corbenine

6 Spore PC, 2008 84 4.6 38

"This game had the potential to be good and revolutionary. Instead its a over hyped watered down version that quickly lost my interest. After a few hours of playing the game, I began to get a sick feeling in my stomach. I said to myself, 'Dont worry, it's going to get better.' Problem was it didn't get better. Upon reaching the space age I was utterly disgusted with the game. Throw in the DRM that punishes the law abiding gamer and [you are] left with one awful product."

-- JohnM

7 World of Warcraft: Cataclysm PC, 2010 90 5.3 37

"First impressions are 10 out of 10. That is the reason so many critics rated this game so high. But after your first month of play, you will realize that nothing changed. The end game is identical to wrath of the lich king."

-- sams

8 Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 PS3, 2009 94 5.7 37

"The most ridiculously hyped, over rated FPS to date. There is nothing here that has changed from COD4, save for the insanely hard spec ops. Otherwise, same five hour story which is incredibly confusing and very hard, especially without a cover system, the multiplayer is unbalanced, the killstreaks ruin everything, campers and cheaters run rampant, the unfair advantage over everything and the fact that it takes reaction instead of actual skill in order to kill someone."

-- JulianG

9 Dragon Age II 360, 2011 79 4.4 35

"A horrible, wretched nightmare without end. ... DA:O was a lovingly-crafted tour-de-force masterpiece in the history of video gaming. [Its] sequel feels like a rush job to cash in on its success. The graphics look bland, the characters are boring, the quests are paltry, and the combat is dumbed down for consoles."

-- Sparafucil

10 Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 360, 2009 94 6.0 34

"[It is] Modern Warfare 1 with new perks and guns. Nothing new to offer the gaming world except a copy of its predecessor, with an old graphics engine, unblanced and small multiplayer, and a 3 hour single player. Save your money, not worth it. "

-- SadMan

11 Guitar Hero 5 PS3, 2009 86 5.4 32

"It's time to just let Guitar Hero die. Stop milking a franchise that was once good and creative. Today, it's obviously only about selling as many copies of the game as possible. The music is horrible, there is no story for single player mode, and the instruments are cheaply made."

-- R.B.

12 The Settlers 7: Paths to a Kingdom PC, 2010 79 4.7 32

"As a long time Settlers fan I bought this game with high hopes. While nicely polished and offering a fair amount of customisability, it lacks the depth and lasting appeal of earlier games in the series. And thanks to the ridiculous DRM scheme, I have been unable to play it on the weekends on several occasions."

-- SheffieldSteel

13 LittleBigPlanet PS3, 2008 95 6.5 30

"The problem with the game is not its style, its replay value or its graphic[s]. The gameplay sucks. Even if you give me a gazillion levels to play, I would still be unsatisfied because I feel no enjoyment playing it at all."

-- MYannakis

14 Call of Duty: Black Ops PS3, 2010 88 5.8 30

"Modern Warfare 2 is more fluid and vibrant and more fun to play. Black Ops feels clunky and unresponsive, with dated saturated graphics and glitchy textures."

-- Dell_Boi

15 Far Cry 2 PC, 2008 85 5.5 30

"This truly is a broken game. All its faults are reasonably easily fixable. However, they remain, and between the terrible design decisions (instantly respawning checkpoints), totally thick AI (not as bad as Crysis, but still pretty bad) and the arduous, shameless lengthening of the game, in the form of spending 70% of your play time driving, the crimes this game commits are unforgivable. It is a dog."

-- LadsyM

16 Resistance 2 PS3, 2008 87 5.8 29

"Before I played this game, I had read several reviews that touched on its lackluster artificial intelligence, but none of them stated what a game breaking it problem it actually is. Resistance 2's AI is utterly repugnant, and easily among the worst I've experienced in any FPS, even going back to shooters from the previous console generation."

-- JustinD.

17 Neverwinter Nights 2 PC, 2006 82 5.4 28

"I had more fun trying to get a refund for this game than I did playing it. It has next to nothing in common with NwN1. The interface, the toolset, the ai, the inventory, and the overall game play is all so far from the original, I can only assume the game was made to cash in on the community."

-- WulfJ.

18 Madden NFL 11 360, 2010 84 5.6 28

"This game took a step back from last year. Why take out the sprint and that gang tackling? But more importantly, why the hell does EA refuse to allow the Xbox servers to host games? EA's servers are crap. They are laggy and it took me 10min to find a game that actually connected, then all i had to deal with was the noticeable delay between when i pressed the button and when something actually happened, which in a timing based game is a pretty big deal."

-- StGravity

19 Doom 3: Resurrection of Evil PC, 2005 78 5.1 27

"Do you like power cells? I hope you like power cells. You see, for the first five levels of the game, you're going to be rummaging through areas looking for power cells. Man, is that fun or what? I think it takes a lot of arrogance to release an expansion pack which ignores almost all of the flaws of the original."

-- GoatBoy

20 Call of Duty: Black Ops 360, 2010 87 6.0 27

"Call of Duty will be remembered in years to come as the the point in which videogames gave up all hope of ever being considered worthy of artistic intent, of being taken seriously or of being innovative. With each new release the series gets more and more mundane, the faults get more frequent, the graphics slip further past the curve of 'current gen' and the gameplay becomes more and more linear."

-- ebeneezergoode

* Note that the difference is calculated as if the user score were on the same 100-point scale as the critic score (Metascore). (In other words, we multiplied the user score by 10). All scores are from May 3, 2011.

Games that users liked but critics didn't

Game Platform/Year Metascore User Score Difference
1 The Fight: Lights Out PS3, 2010 48 7.7 29

"If you don't like sweating and being physical [t]hen this game is not for you. ... But this game offers something that no other on the market has: a workout. An intense and fun one at that."

-- FightFan

2 Cross Edge PS3, 2009 52 8.0 28

"This game manages to be just weird and quirky enough to put it one small step above the more polished, more conventional but mediocre RPGs available today."

-- (Anonymous)

3 Counter-Strike: Condition Zero PC, 2004 65 8.9 24

"I'm a Counter Strike junkie and this game was absolutely perfect for me. ... I love the fact that the hostages are smart (sort of) enough to run away, animations have been improved and [there is] a slight improvement in graphics."

-- MaxxS.

4 Monster Hunter Freedom 2 PSP, 2007 72 9.6 24

"It's not for everyone, that's for sure. It took me a few days to get the hang of the controls and how to hunt, but now I'm hooked in a big way. The visuals are stunning and the gameplay is very deep."

-- (Anonymous)

5 Infernal PC, 2007 61 8.4 23

"A good game with great graphics and gameplay. A must have for everyone who likes 3rd person shooters."

-- KeeganB.

6 Sonic Unleashed 360, 2008 60 8.3 23

"I daresay the daytime stages of this game are Sonic at his absolute best, and even the werehog stages are decently fun. It's by no means perfect, but given Sonic's recent fiascos, this is definitely a return to his roots and a huge step in the right direction."

-- Cole

7 Hydrophobia 360, 2010 59 8.1 22

"The dynamic water physics implemented in Hydrophobia is unlike anything I have seen in any other game involving interaction with water. ... Hydrophobia is a fresh new entry where games so often seem to blur into one another."

-- StratRat1956

8 Monster Hunter Freedom PSP, 2006 71 9.1 20

"A fun game for anyone looking for a challenge or a game that will take you a while to complete."

-- ScottK.

9 Blacklight: Tango Down 360, 2010 61 7.9 18
10 Killing Floor PC, 2009 72 8.9 17

"This is indeed a very underrated game. Sure the graphics are outdated and the objective can get a bit repetitive but that aside Killing Floor has a superb and addictive gameplay, especially in multiplayer."

-- boomshanka

11 Viking: Battle for Asgard 360, 2008 68 8.5 17

"The open world is beautiful and the big battles have to be seen to be believed. It balances perfectly between sandbox and cinematic spectacle. The combat could be deeper and the script is pretty awful but I couldn't care less when it is so much fun."

-- GeorgeW.

12 Serious Sam HD: The First Encounter PC, 2009 68 8.4 16

"In a world filled with games reaching new heights of complication, plot, depth and originality, Serious Sam is a humorous return to the roots of gaming back in the day where I'd try to sneak in and watch my dad play Duke Nukem for awhile."

-- Carl

13 James Cameron's Avatar: The Game 360, 2009 61 7.7 16

"The reviewers got it wrong.... this is a fun game with extremely pretty graphics. I found exploring Pandora to be thoroughly engrossing. It's not supposed to be a Modern Warfare 2 beater and it HAS piqued my interest in seeing the movie now"

-- CraigH

14 Dark Messiah of Might and Magic PC, 2006 72 8.8 16

"This game is witty, innovative and full of action and I had a lot of fun playing it and always will. The 72 metascore doesn't do the game justice, although the producers could have taken more time and gotten rid of a few bugs."

-- AnonymousMC

15 Deadly Premonition 360, 2010 68 8.4 16

"Don't let the poor critical reviews fool you, this game is truly something special. If you love the TV show Twin Peaks, quirky characters and writing, nice music and voice work, decent Resident Evil-style combat and aren't a graphics snob, this game is completely worth the $20-25 asking price."

-- RyanK

Games that critics merely liked but users loved

Game Platform/Year Metascore User Score Difference
1 Multiwinia: Survival of the Flattest PC, 2008 76 9.3 17

"Quick, visceral, strategy which is hugely satisfying in short bursts. Not a game for epic gaming sessions, but rather one you can come back to regularly for months to come."

-- TomM.

2 Supreme Commander: Forged Alliance PC, 2007 81 9.6 15

"A great upgrade to an already awesome game. Forged Alliance adds a new dimension to the game and streamlines Supreme Commander in many ways the fans have been waiting for."

-- RyanM.

3 The Dark Eye: Drakensang PC, 2009 75 8.9 15

"Perhaps critics have become so jaded they will happily ding any game without a large marketing budget, and knock it hard for things like sub-par voice acting and actually having to read text. By and large though, RPG fans only care about gameplay and atmosphere, and this game has it in spades. This is the funnest Baldur's-Gate style game since.... well, Baldur's Gate really."

-- [Anonymous]

4 Space Rangers 2: Rise of the Dominators PC, 2006 84 9.8 14

"A fantastic game from outside of the mainstream of software development. Only people that were more concerned with making a satisfying game than making money would have produced this sprawling, free-form masterpiece."

-- WillF.

5 The House of the Dead: Overkill Wii, 2009 78 9.2 14

"I can't believe that this game doesn't rate higher! It's fabulous, and easily among the best and most entertaining FPS on the Wii. Yes, it's profane, but it's funny, isn't it?"

-- DJH

6 Naruto: Rise of a Ninja 360, 2007 78 9.1 13

"Ubisoft have really made a great game that Naruto fans can be proud of, even somebody who doesnt watch naruto would love this game. The graphics are excellent, the fighting is fun and the mini-games are good too."

-- EmoD

7 Dreamfall: The Longest Journey PC, 2006 75 8.7 13

"A bit like an interactive movie and quite linear (which I don't necessarily consider a con), the magnificent story kept me glued to the screen for over 24h. If you can cope with plot linearity, try this one out."

-- M.Alex

8 The Witcher PC, 2007 81 93 12

"This is simply the most enjoyable RPG experience I've had since the golden era of Ultima. It makes some other RPGs released in the last few years almost seem shallow in comparison."

-- PHE

9 Wii Sports Wii, 2006 76 8.7 11

"One of the best games I've ever played that came with a console. What is really amazing about this game is the range of people that can enjoy it."

-- ChrisD.

10 Fire Emblem: Radiant Dawn Wii, 2007 78 8.9 11

"Anyone who complains that this game doesn't use motion controls doesn't quite get the Wii. It's not all about the motion controls, it's also about playing fun games on a system that is still reasonably priced."

-- DLippert

What do you think?

What are some of your biggest disagreements with the critical consensus ... or, for that matter, the general user response to a game? Let us know in the discussion section below.

We're sorry, but comments are closed for this article.

Comments (100)

  • solarisdeschain  

    Most of the User Comments displays just looked like a lot of whining. I'm not crazy about most game journalists, but this article deftly displays why they're paid to write about games, and users aren't.

  • BBQ  

    The thing about user reviews is that they sometimes punish a game because of a single aspect in it that they didn't like, and in games they haven't even played; Case in point: Portal 2 DLCs.
    Also, if I recall correctly, the LittleBigPlanet user score was a backlash after PS3 fanboys lowered Gears of War 2 score to something abysmal, around 3.0

  • Kevin  

    Sad observation looking at this list - I recognize all the ones liked by the critics and few of the user's enjoyed titles. I bet most people are similiar and the inverse should be true.

  • Listen to this  

    EVERYONE READ THIS. Everyone who thinks critics are just regular gamers are foolish. First, they are generally college educated. Second, they are supposed to play every release. That gives them an advantage over regular gamers, and gives the critics more insight as to what games are the best because they are able to compare all of them. I could understand not trusting a singular critic, but at Metacritic, there are so many, why question it? Game critics do this for a living, and just like people in most professions, they are better at their job than the general public would be. I would trust 40 critics over 500 users anyday

  • Bernard  

    If you do another research of this you will see where the "pro" critics align.

    Big budget title with enough money to spare? Big ratings.
    Lower budget title that may compete with other games? Meh to poor ratings.

    Call me a conspiracy theorist but "pro" critics get payed too. There are in fact many good games that are big budget, and the ratings are similar. But some things just can't be ignored under "oh it was a raid".

    DA2 was the only BioWare game to get a bad rating from players, and thats because it is such refuse that isn't even worthy to pirate. Not worth the hard-drive space. It's because big games are trying to "broaden" their audience.

    You know what happens to a politician that tries to appeal to all sides publicly? He gets hated more or less by all people. Same concept applies to all games. I fear the same fate may happen to ME3: It's going to go for both a serious RPG and a action packed shooter, and undoubtedly it risks being a poor-man's Gears of War and a poor mans RPG simultaneously.

  • DP  

    I was all set to dismiss the discrepancies as being down to rampant fanboy-ism BUT many of the fan criticisms of highly rated games are in fact eloquently stated and entirely valid.....

  • Sean R  

    DEADLY PREMONITION! Lackluster critic reviews, but my absolute favourite game of 2010. Any Xbox 360 owner with a love for storytelling and character development that has fond memories of Twin Peaks will only need $20 to have their minds blown.

  • Silver  

    The real question is why is the user review so low on Metacritic. Modern Warfare 2, for example, has an 8.6/10 on IGN from users, an 8.8/10 on Gamespot from useres, and a 9.2/10 on IMDB from users. Statistically, 39/100 on Metacritic just doesnt add up.

  • david  

    One of the worst things about the critic reviews of Bayonetta was that the critics scored it so highly (especially Edge magazine). Actually in that instance the user reviews were more balanced and in my opinion a better indicator of the quality of the game. I'm still a bit bitter after handing over full price for that muck. Really the good thing about metacritic is that it gives both the user and critic reviews so at least you get 2 general opinions. I've often found that critics will review a game positively if it is different, regardless of whether or not it is any fun to play

  • david  

    One of the worst thing about the critic reviews of Bayonetta was that the critics scored it so highly (especially Edge magazine). Actually in that instance the user reviews were more balanced and in my opinion a better indicator of the quality of the game. I'm still a bit bitter after handing over full price for that muck. Really the good thing about metacritic is that it gives both the user and critic reviews so at least you get 2 general opinions. I've often found that critics will review a game positively if it is different, regardless of whether or not it is any fun to play

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