How Reviews Should Be

I was having a conversation the other day with a friend of mine as to why the industry hates the press and reviewers and I came up with one very clear point: Reviewers and press are crap at their job.

I’m not ashamed to admit this and I totally know that often times people like us at the Vault often time anger the gaming world with our opinions of games and our verdicts. That’s a given and I will in no way refute that. In fact, I will say with certainty, that I am often times ashamed at how some people review games.

For example, there’s that old mythic case of Alpha Protocol getting a 2 rating from somebody who didn’t even play the game. I won’t name names, but that crap happened and I almost lost my mind at hearing that.

Whatever you think about that game (or any game), you have to play it and you have to give it a fair go. That’s just…that’s just good business and good manners. I mean, a team of people worked on this game, regardless of how hard or how well they worked, and it’s a reviewer’s job to make sure that fans get to know from top to bottom how the game is before they buy it.

When people don’t do that is when I get pissed off. I think it should be required for every reviewer to go to a game studio, meet developers, and talk to them each about their jobs. Then I think reviewers should be required to get a free game dev kit and try and make a game in a one month period, just to see how fraking hard it is. Then they should be allowed to review games because then they know how everything works.

Let me give an example of how a review should go:

Take Assassin’s Creed 1. Lot of mixed reviews on that, some 7’s, some 10’s, you know the drill. The biggest concerns? People didn’t like how repetative it was and how buggy it was. Okay, I can dig that. But to give it a 7 for those reasons alone is a little much in my opinion. Yes, it lacks replayability. That makes sense, but a game like that I would give an 8. Flat. Here’s why:

A game like Assassin’s Creed was made to change the way AI functions in a game and how we as players move about our game world. A game like Assassin’s Creed is a foundation for a franchise that is there to demonstrate how far our industry has come. Kind of like Heavy Rain. If you look at Assassin’s Creed as a game that is meant to showcase what a studio can do and as a set-up for a franchise, it delivers whole-heartedly. It definitely wasn’t perfect, giving it a 9 is a bit of a stretch, but 8 is very respectable. That’s a B or a B+ if you feel generous (personally ACII was so much better and so was Brotherhood).

A reviewer should look at what the company says the game is supposed to do or supposed to deliver, and give a score based off of what was presented in the box. If the game doesn’t deliver stunning story as depicted on the box, dock it a point. No innovative new gameplay? Dock it a point.

Here’s the kicker though. If the game doesn’t promise anything, what do you do? Example? Duke Nukem Forever.

I got a lot of flak when I did my review of Duke Nukem Forever for Mish Mash Magazine. Know why? I gave it a 6 out of 10 instead of a 2 or 3. I gave it a 6 because, and I’m sorry, but in all honesty Duke Nukem was never a good gaming franchise. What it did have, was hilarity and fun to hide the fact that it was Doom but with strippers and pig cops. The new game? Not much different. On my scale, that means the game starts at a 10. Then they added mini-games. That’s not so bad but the mini-games were more broken than my old Transformers I couldn’t get to transform. Dock a point. Enemies totally over-powered and weapons way too weak on freaking NORMAL MODE. Dock a point. Poorly constructed puzzles. Dock a point. HORRIBLE HORRIBLE GOD AWFUL MAP DESIGN. Dock a point. If my math is correct, we’re at a 6 now.

These guys had 12 or so years to make a really good Duke Nukem game and they gave us Duke Nukem Forever. Now, granted, it wasn’t much to work with, but how do you break something awful more than it already was?

Now my point is this: a lot of people who write about the industry and review games just say that playing games is enough. To which I respond: hell to the no. Let me put it in perspective. If someone was a food critic, and all they did was eat food, never cooked it, never learned how to cook, but just ate food, would they know WHY the food tasted good? Would they be able to identify what was in it to know how to recognize it again in another dish? To know what went will with this and not with that? No, they would just know taste.

Granted if you play a lot of videogames you can see what sells and what many people find fun. However, a big thing that people do is complain about bugs and mechanics. A lot of fans say, “Hey, why didn’t they do this. This has been done before.” If you don’t have knowledge of how games are made then you can’t appreciate the work that they do or gauge how hard it would be to put in the things that gamers ask for. Plus the common misconception players have is that developers are a bunch of guys and gals jerkin’ around all day and screwing up games. The reality? Some dude hunkered over a desk for five hours trying to figure out why this one character can’t walk up the freaking stairs correctly in the fourth dungeon in the last level of the game while simultaneously answering an email about the running mechanics in the cutscene three levels ahead of that. It’s a long and arduous process. It’s hard to do. And often times, it’s a job that many people don’t want to do.

So when reviewing games, I have to take all of this into account. Common bugs like graphical glitches or texture problems, those things can be missed and if the bug doesn’t affect gameplay, then I don’t really knock the game down too much. But if there’s a problem that hasn’t been fixed for four games in the franchise that is still there? Then I have to say that will knock the game down a point.

The big picture to this article though is this: you have to know what you’re reporting on and know it well before you can go talking about it and passing judgment. I don’t know everything about games and I don’t think I ever will, but I like to think that my knowledge helps to make me a more effective and capable journalist. Plus learning more about the subject you’re writing about gives you new insight and may just spark your passion for more articles. Yes it’s a lot of work, and yes it will take time. However in the long run, you will gain more credibility and help you look beyond what you see. And now you know. And knowing is half the battle. GO JOE!

5 thoughts on “How Reviews Should Be

  1. That’s a good point. I’ll think about that next time I’m writing a review! Thanks for reading Faux Gamer, we really appreciate it and we love these types of discussions.

  2. I can agree with you on this point. But that is a fault of a reviewer or publisher/site owner. If you can’t comment objectively on the merits of the game because you don’t like RPGs/RTSs/FPSs, don’t review (or let that employee review) games in that genre.

    I’m not particularly fond of games that emphasize the twitch factor, because I don’t have that skill set. So I wouldn’t deign to tell someone if a game that fell in that category was good or not.

    Ultimately, you can relate it to other games of that genre (eg, “if you like Diablo, you won’t like this, if you like the old SSI Gold Box games you’ll love it”). And if it’s fairly unique, simply say, these are the mechinics, this is what i liked and didn’t, this is how well it was put together technically.

  3. I agree with you Faux Gamer. I always write my reviews from the perspective of the average game consumer. I think in terms of whether my $60 were well spent. For me, the finished product is all that matters.

    Sure the marketing and advertisement departments of game publishers may promise features and functionality, and I make sure to follow up on all of their promises, but I try to sequester myself from as many opinions as possible before writing my review; whether if they are from publishers OR other game journalists.

    Bugs and repetitive gameplay elements are not deal breakers for me, but if they break the game, the game loses points on my review. I honestly thought the original Assasin’s Creed was poorly executed. Sure, the animations were incredible and the open world and graphics were breathtaking but I was bored after third of the game.

    Results are, and always will remain paramount in my reviews.

  4. You raise some good points and I’m glad you commented. I think you’re right in several respects. But, I feel that more often than not, reviewers make the review about their opinion and what they like rather than if the game is technically good and well put together. If a game falls flat and is just bad overall, yes, give it a bad score. But it’s hard to assume or to tell the player what they will or won’t like. Everyone has different preferences and that definitely shows in many reviews.

    I try really hard not to tell people what’s fun and what isn’t because then you get the people saying, “HOW DARE YOU!!! I LOVED THAT GAME.”

    In contrast, Anders would be more on your side of the matter I think.

  5. I have to wholeheartedly disagree. Your average gamer is not going to know the things you insist reviewers need to know. Reviews are not for the reviewer or the game developer, they are for the potential players.

    The whole point of the review is to inform the player of the good and bad points that will affect their enjoyment of playing the game. From this standpoint, what the developer intended is irrelevant to what they deliver. And what the developer intends for one or more games down the line of a series is even more of a non sequitor, review wise.

    Now I’m all for discounting fan based prerelease hype when reviewing a game. Go on what the devs promoted/promised vs what they delivered, to a point. But ultimately each game must stand on its own. A mediocre first game is not saved by an awesome sequel anymore than an awesome first game excuses a lame sequel.
    If it’s innovative and you want to give bonus points for that even if it falls somewhat flat fine. Different can be fun in its own right even if shakily executed. But the fun, the challenge, the ability to play without utter exasperation — whether due to UI, AI, serious bugs — is paramount. The most innovative and far reaching game poorly executed, is just a bad game.

    In the marketplace, which is where reviews are supposed to serve their purpose, the end result is what counts.

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