Review bombs are an endemic part of the modern media landscape at this point. Whether they're about player frustration, politics, or just because a crypto company bought your game, we've all become well-accustomed to the long red candles that pockmark Metacritic and Steam user review charts during periods of controversy. But there's usually some discernible reason for the review bombs, even if it's a really bad one.
Not so in the case of Chained Echoes, a 16-bit throwback JRPG from developer Matthias Linda that is, by all accounts, really rather good. But as spotted by GamesRadar, its Metacritic user review score wilted beneath a wave of negative reviews that contained no actual written text whatsoever, leaving its dev and publisher helpless to do anything about it.
Now it happened to us. @ChainedEchoes has been review bombed on Metacritic. Just plain ratings, no reviews. No reasons. We don't know why, it just happened. Didn't @metacritic want to stop this nonsense? Guess only for AAA games. #indiedev #metacritic #gamedev pic.twitter.com/Qit6pusT5FMay 9, 2023
"Chained Echoes has been review bombed on Metacritic. Just plain ratings, no reviews. No reasons. We don't know why, it just happened," wrote Michael Hoss, head of product at the game's publisher Deck13, in a tweet yesterday. "Didn't Metacritic want to stop this nonsense? Guess only for AAA games".
In fairness to Metacritic, Hoss has since pointed out that the site seems to have intervened, and Chained Echoes' user review score has shot back up to 8.6 as a result. But Hoss noted (in a tweet machine-translated from German) that it's still "really annoying when you have to guess who you pissed off and for what reason". In other tweets, Hoss said his best guess was that some contingent of international players was upset about the game lacking support for a specific language, but it's impossible to say for certain one way or another.
In a chat with GamesRadar, Hoss said he's "still amazed that Metacritic is still used by so many platforms (e.g. Steam)" and that he hopes the "the constant outrage" created by review bombing events like these might spark a wider change. "Especially with the review bombing for LGBTQI+ content," Hoss said, "that can seriously damage smaller indie games in terms of sales. And while The Last of Us 2 can deal with that, a smaller indie can really suffer there".
Hoss also noted that "what starts on Metacritic often leads to people harassing devs via social media or sending them hate mail," feeding a toxic cycle of abuse.
So although the outcry around this particular case of review bombing (in Hoss' words—also machine translated—the fact that the event "went through the roof a bit") seems to have compelled Metacritic to fix things, it seems like the rest of his criticism still applies. After all, not every instance of review bombing gains this much attention. As for an alternative? Hoss said on Twitter that Deck13 "[prefers] Open Critic".