Shadow of the Tomb Raider is, to hear people (including Kotaku’s Stephen Totilo) tell it, pretty good, despite some questionable narrative decisions. Last week, however, it committed a crime that some Steam users decided couldn’t be forgiven: a 34 percent off sale. Cue the review bombs.
Shadow of the Tomb Raider came out on September 14, a little more than a month ago. While a sale is by most measures a good thing for people who buy games, some Steam users had already bought the game at full price before the sale and are now feeling bitter about how quickly the price dropped.
“Not a bad game,” reads a negative review posted today. “Not as good as the first two games, but I was an early adopter and the game dropped down by near half price so quickly. Aren’t I a total mug preordering this? Never again, Square Enix.”
According to Steam, this person has played the game for nearly 60 hours, so they must have enjoyed it on some level. Though it’d be hard to argue that they didn’t get their money’s worth, their disappointment is understandable. Who wouldn’t feel bummed about losing out on an extra $20, after all? At the same time, though, it’s not the end of the world, especially if you’re the kind of person who can afford to buy a blockbuster video game at launch. On top of that, these people ostensibly decided the game was worth the initial $60 price of entry, or else they wouldn’t have bought it.
Such a quick turnaround sale could be a sign that the game isn’t selling super well, a theory backed up by the fact that Shadow of the Tomb Raider has only had a few thousand concurrent players at any given point since shortly after launch. The game’s Steam reviews used to be “mostly positive,” but since the sale it’s received an outpouring of review-score-tanking negativity. On October 16 and 17 alone, 308 new negative reviews splattered its previously respectable record with scathing red, triggering Steam’s chart-based review bomb detector. Since then, unhappy customers have posted another 312. As of now, the game’s reviews are only 66 percent positive, earning it a “mixed” score on Steam’s scale.
While some reviews seem genuine, others are questionable, and many low-effort negative reviews have been upvoted to the top of Shadow of the Tomb Raider’s review section.
“First and foremost I feel I have been ripped off, an object lesson in how to shaft your loyal customers who were dumb enough to pre-purchase,” reads one of many reviews posted today. They noted that the “gameplay is very second rate, at best tedious at worst boring” despite having spent nearly 30 hours with the game.
“Great sale SE,” reads another review, this time from somebody who hasn’t even played for two hours and clearly just wanted to complain about the sale, rather than the content of the game.
This whole thing has turned Shadow of the Tomb Raider’s review section into something of a warzone over an extremely temporary issue unrelated to how the game actually plays—which is, you know, not super ideal for a review section.
“Ignore the salty review bombers,” reads yet another review posted today, this one positive. “People who wanted to play this game at launch bought it at launch. It makes absolutely no difference that the devs have put it on sale ~1 month later. You’re either the type of person that wanted to play this at launch or the type that waited for it to go on sale.”
While small games are more susceptible to the ravages of review bombing than triple-A blockbusters, they still have an impact—one that’s being felt more and more given Steam’s increasing reliance on algorithms that take reviews into account. The sale ended earlier today, too, meaning that these negative reviews are no longer indicative of anything that might affect prospective buyers, barring yet another sale that people decide is happening too soon.
It’s hard to look at all this and not come away with the impression that Steam’s review system needs an overhaul. It’s easily abused, and the current positive/negative binary leaves people with legitimate—albeit even slightly nuanced—grievances unable to express what they’re feeling without possibly contributing to abusive moments like this one. Steam’s anti-review-bomb charts have been around for more than a year now, and while they’ve certainly made people aware of review bombs—arguably achieving Valve’s goal in the process—they’ve done nothing to curtail them. If anything, review bombs are a more prevalent problem than ever.