The Ninth Circle #21: The Review


I was idly reading through the 25 most overhyped games of all time, or whatever article over at Gamespy. The reviewers looking at overhyped games had freely, almost joyfully admitted their own complicity in hyping games.

I?m not giving any of you news here, I?m sure. Reviews for games are often suspiciously optimistic. What struck me about this were a couple of things. Firstly, in talking about Black & White, one reviewer admitted to just a couple of hours of playing before writing the review. This did not seem adequate to me, and their review speaks for itself. The second thing was that not one of them showed any contrition or sense of responsibility for their actions.

If you are a reviewer for a major games site or magazine, then you should be trying to give gamers an honest look at the game. Why else are you writing the review? Simply contributing your own two hundred words to stream or hype flowing around a game achieves nothing. You should be aiming to inform. I?m assuming now that people read reviews for guidance. Many of those who read reviews for overhyped games will end up buying them, at least in part based on this. Do reviewers bear full responsibility for this? Well no, I mean there?s no helping the hapless souls who pre-order (based on hype!) is there? But any review that is nothing more than a hyping for the game is just part of the problem. Almost all gamers I know regard reviews in magazines or websites as irrelevant, and with good reason.

So what do I want out of a review?

Firstly. I want a sober opinion. Not some idiot who?s read one too many press releases telling me how the graphics will “blow me away” or whatever. I want a gamer, talking to me as another gamer, about the experience of playing the game.

I don?t want dry narration either. I can see basic game features from the back of the box, or, if your review?s any good, from a summary box or some such. I don?t need to know that the RTS game let?s me build a variety of units and structures, which in turn lead to more advanced units and structures- I know what an RTS is for God?s sake. I?m a gamer, that?s why I reading a magazine or game site review.

There are a few things about the game. What was playing the game like- what are your impressions? Describe to me a moment of playing joy that you experienced. I?m looking to put down a significant sum of cash on a game here. I don?t want marketing hyperbole. If a review is to have any validity, though, I need to know you spend some time playing this game and forming your opinion. I don?t want half the review spent talking about the graphics- I can see the screenshots. Talking about atmosphere- now that?s helpful. Try doing that.

That?s all a review is, at the end of the day. One person?s opinion. These can be found anywhere, and are generally worthless. What makes your review worth my time to read?

I want to know about the bugs- but from the point of view of gameplay. Do they interfere with it in a major way, or are we talking a few minor things? I don?t expect a review to pretend the bugs weren?t there. I also don?t expect the review to be centered around them. Unless they really are that bad?

Personally, I tend to play FPS games exclusively over a LAN, so all my comments on them are based around that. A review written solely form the single-player perspective is of no use to me. I suspect it is similarly useless to a lot of other gamers too, who play over a LAN or Internet. We hear a lot about “multiplayer revolutions” and what not, but still multiplayer aspects are so often tacked on to the end of a review like an afterthought. Even games like Battlefield1942, where multiplayer is pretty much the point. A review that focuses on one aspect of a game is fine with me. A separate score (more on scores later) for single and multi- player modes is okay with me too. I can handle seeing two marks out of 10 for the same game.

I want to know something about you, the reviewer. What games do you like? Is there a genre you really love or hate above all others? This is relevant info. How do you like to play your games? Single player or online, or either, depending on the game? Some reviewers mark games down for not having multiplayer, regardless of the game, which is not something I agree with. What games are you playing now? This sort of information helps inform me, the reader, about where your opinions are coming from.

I don?t need a score at the foot of the review. Really, I don?t care, and in many cases scores just confuse me. After reading through a review that basically says “mediocre” and then seeing a score like 7.5 I think “What? I thought this game was repetitive and dull? Now you?re telling me it?s three-quarters of the way to perfection?” My suggested categories are:

Bad- not worth it

If a game?s bad, then it?s bad. Just say so. I don?t need twenty degrees of crappiness. I know that if a game scores below 70% or 7 out of 10, then it?s not going to be worth buying. See? Scores just don?t say that much. 20% or 50%, the verdict is the same; avoid.

Good

If it?s good say so. Clearly. Good but not great is a fine verdict. I trust you?ll have told me enough about the game for me to judge whether I?ll like it more or less than you did.

Good if you like the genre

I?ll be honest; if I were reviewing games, then no flight simulator would ever get a decent verdict from me, because I have no interest in the genre, and find those games utterly boring. Genre buffs want games reviewed by one of their own, and a game that is good for the genre but inaccessible to others will still be a great game for lots of people. I don?t think a Quake player would think much of Baldur?s Gate, for example. No rocket jumps, for one.

Good if you didn?t play the prequel (cause they?re practically the same game)

I?m thinking specifically of Civ 3 here, which offered nothing if you had Civ 2. If you?d never played a Civ game before, Civ 3would rate a “strong buy”. Reviews should be there to point this kind of thing out. As gamers? we understand this kind of distinction.

Fantastic, Gold Medal

This game?s great and you think everyone should buy it. Write a decent review, and I?ll even believe you.

I?ll finish here, as the article is getting a bit long for comfortable reading. Tell me what you think about game reviews. Are they helpful, entertaining, irrelevant or something else? You know where to find me.

Tagged As: | Categories: Retired Columns

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