Friday, March 5, 2010

Regarding Game Reviews: Theory, Details, Numerical Scales: Analysis and a Proposition

In this blog, I am going to discuss what I think a general guideline for reviews should look like. I will then discuss reviews in general, followed by attempt at qualifying a top ten scale. 

So first, the review guideline.

Points of Interest: This should be fairly obvious. Story, Graphics, Sound, Gameplay, Overall/Summation. Should they be done in explicit categories, or just worked into the text in an implicit but clear manner? On this point, I have mixed feelings. It looks more professional and cohesive without categories, but categories really aid with navigation, and they also tend to make the reviews look really structured. I could go either way on this one, although since most professional reviews tend to take the uncategorized approach, it must be more desirable.

Length: Certain games merit a certain amount of effort, and while you could get away with a 500 word review for something like Tetris, something like Mass Effect 2 requires much more detail.

My idea of a rough outline for review lengths:

Indy game/DLC/Arcade game: At least 500 words.

Full retail or full downloadable game: At least 1500 words.

I like to write lengthy reviews, because I am all about detail, but I recognize not everyone wants to read (or write) 3000 word reviews. This, however, brings me to my final point:

Detail: Detail is very important. Certain games warrant more detail than others, as do certain genres, and where that detail lies is also genre specific. If you're reviewing a hack n slash game with a heavy focus on action, don't glaze over the combat system. Describe it in detail. Explain the mechanics of it.

If you're reviewing an RPG, don't just hastily mention that there's a skill tree. Describe it in detail. Explain how points are assigned, whether or not you can respec it once you're in game, etc. If the game is a combat heavy RPG, explain the combat system. If you're reviewing a survival horror game with a focus on puzzles, don't just mention that it's puzzle heavy. Describe them in detail. How numerous are they? Are they challenging? Do they make sense in the context of the game, or are they completely nonsensical? What types of puzzles do you encounter, and are they repetitive? etc.

There's nothing I hate more than a review that skimps on detail. Not to brag or anything, but compare my Tokyo Beat Down review, which I just submitted to this site on Friday, to gamespot’s review for said game, and tell me my review isn’t far superior. The author skimped on the details and obviously rushed the review. That’s bullshit, especially for a supposed professional. You can still write a detailed review without going overboard on the word count. The reader should be left with as few questions as possible after a review. That’s how I see it at least.

Now, I would like to briefly discuss reviews in general.

Game reviews are a tricky thing. Reviews in general are a tricky thing. You want to be as objective as possible, but, while there certainly are objective elements within a game, the overall nature of gaming preferences and enjoyment is absolutely subjective. I can play a game like Modern Warfare 2, be completely underwhelmed, and more inclined to notice the faults of the game, while a fan would likely glaze over them. I might say ascribe a 7 or an 8 to the game, which is still a great score, but where I see redundancy and lack of innovation (not to mention technical flaws and broken promises), others will see FPS greatness, and disparage my ‘’low’’ score. I could then face being ostracized by the gaming community at large, for what is effectively my opinion.

This is why I hesitate to fully trust professional reviews for big name, hyped games. Are you telling me that not one of the dozens of reviewers was underwhelmed by MW2, and saw fit to score it much lower than the high 9’s it was pulling everywhere? I suppose it’s possible, but I have my doubts. And when you throw in the conflict of interest that is advertising (and freebies/goodies/trips/dinners/parties, etc) one has to wonder how truthful they really are when it comes to some games.

As for review scores themselves, they are arbitrary, and this is more evident the more specific you get. I mean, clearly there’s some objectivity inherent within the scoring system. A 2 is a far cry from a 9. But what’s the difference between an 8.5 and an 8.8?

Go ahead, try and qualify that for me.

I’ll wait here.


Thought so.

That being said, most of us like scores (although I hope you all focus more on the content of the review than you do the numerical score) and I use them myself in my reviews.

So what’s my scoring system like?

Note: Keep in mind that this isn't terribly serious, it will differ from person to person, and I didn't put exceptional amounts of thought into it. It's an on the spot, rough outline of how I see it.

1-Broken.The worst a game could ever be. Avoid, even if paid to play it. In fact, burn on sight.

2-Dreadful. Not worth it, even for free. Punch the person in the face for even offering it to you.

3-Very bad. Maybe play for the lulz, if you can get it free. Maybe. On a dreadfully boring rainy day.

4-Pretty bad, but some redeeming qualities. Sort of. Rent if you have no other options.

5-Mediocre. Few things done right, but buried amongst much bad. Decent rental, nothing more.

6-Decent. The bones of a good game here, but many flaws. A rental or bargain bin purchase.

7-Good. A good game that doesn't particularly stand out, and has some flaws, but is worth your time.

8-Great. Few flaws, mostly positives. Doesn't quite stand out, perhaps held back by a few little issues.

9-Excellent. A game that must be played. Very few discernable flaws. Nothing seriously wrong with it.

10-As good as you'll ever get. Does everything right. Seemingly flawless; what devs should aspire to.

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