The Art of Not Second-Guessing: How Death Threats, ‘Kane & Lynch’ Controversies And Other Aggravations Affect Reviewers

I thought it would be a fitting coda to my series on game reviews last week to share some thoughts from some top reviewers about second-guessing.

Could you imagine reviewing hundreds of games, filing each review just hours or maybe one day after finishing the game you were scoring? Don’t you think you’d second-guess yourself?

Well, the death threats used to give current Giant Bomb reviewer Jeff Gerstmann pause. And former GameSpot reviewer Alex Navarro, who said he has written about 700 reviews, could give me the number of reviews he regrets.

But, no, they don’t really second-guess.

“I’m at a point where I rarely second guess what I think about a game upon finishing it,” Gerstmann told me. He said he’s long gotten over the doubt that could set in “when you are facing the raging fury of the Internet.” He used to get death threats about some of his scores. “Now that stuff just rolls off. It’s the ranting of insane people, which you could say about a lot of internet stuff.”

“Now that stuff just rolls off. It’s the ranting of insane people.”

Gerstmann is known for many reviews. But some scores he issued while at his former outlet GameSpot stick out. The 8.9 he gave “The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess” earned him scorn from many “Zelda” fans. The 6.0 he awarded the console version of “Kane & Lynch” may have cost him his job.

“Over the years you eventually take that long view,” he told me. “There are some reviews I’ve written over the years that stand out more to some people but I feel fine about that stuff just as much as the games that people don’t come out of the woodwork for.”

I wondered if he ever went back and re-played games he scored, only to get the sinking feeling his score was off. Like, maybe he had second thoughts about “Kane & Lynch.” He said he didn’t go back to the 360 version after writing his review but, within a week of filing it, was trying the computer edition. And then the controversy over his dismissal from GameSpot erupted. “I was already in the process of playing the PC version of that when all of this went down, so I was already playing another version of it when that review had run. So that was me going back to it in some sense.” He didn’t second guess. “Yeah, that game, had some problems… The funny realization is that the PC version was a little worse because the multiplayer was kind of broken. So sadly that review never got a chance to run [laughs].”

“I think I’ve maybe regretted three or four review scores I’ve ever given.”

Gerstmann believes top reviewers can trust their gut instincts of a just-finished game. And his former co-worker agrees. “I think I’ve maybe regretted three or four review scores I’ve ever given,” Navarro told me. “It was never by a particularly high margin. Maybe by a point here or a point there.” He wouldn’t tell me which games, but said he had reviewed over 700.

So a reviewer shouldn’t second-guess much? The seasoned reviewer just won’t, Navarro said, not even if they’re reviewing a game in a crunch. “Once you’ve written a few reviews and kind of gotten a feeling for what your tastes are and what you like and what generally is good or bad, you don’t need a lot of time to sit there and marinate on what you just played.”

Second-guessing? It’s not for the pros.

For much more about game reviews, check back all week to follow my reviews series here at MTV Multiplayer. Got a comment you can’t bring yourself to share below this post? Drop me an e-mail.