About Reviews

I hate most reviews. I think they are crap. Yes, I’m another arrogant jerk who thinks he knows better than 99% of the industry, but I won’t make outlandish claims without backing them. Instead of spouting off a dictionary’s worth of presumptuous nonsense like visceral, hardcore, and AAA, I’m going list what I dislike about most reviews and my planned improvements. Consider this my review of reviews.

Where’s the Game?

A lot of game journalists write about games as an exciting and new storytelling medium. “Oh, the moral dilemma of killing little girls for power is so deep…” Shut up. Video games are not leading a revolution in story telling. Yes, theme and setting should be described in a review. Unfortunately, many game reviews read like movie reviews; they provide an in-depth impression of the story, characters, theme, and setting, but say very little about the game mechanics, implementation, balance, controls, or how efficiently the interface is designed. Need I remind you that these are supposed to be game reviews?

I vow that I will never write a video game review that doesn’t thoroughly examine the game mechanics and implementation.

Pretty Graphics

Once again, the fact that video games are games is neglected by many writers. Everybody praises a game for it’s detailed environments, lighting techniques, facial animations, and realistic hair, or criticizes a game for texture pop-in, uneven frame rates, and stiff animation. What I rarely see is a discussion of how well the graphics are performing their primary duty: to convey the game state to the player.

Is the camera providing a useful view of the play area? Are the boundaries clearly defined? Do pick-up items stand out from the scenery? Is there good contrast between the foreground and background? Generally speaking, these things have gotten worse as graphics have gotten more realistic. Instead of replenishing your health by collecting a blatantly obvious bright red heart over a drab background, it is common to rely upon an easily missable gray med-kit hidden in a pile of gray debris. These are things that need to be talked about.

Timing

People post reviews of a game like Skyrim the day it is released. I realize professional reviewers receive early copies for this purpose, but I can’t imagine it’s good to rush through a game that large and hammer out a review within a couple weeks. In many games, things like lasting appeal and irksome design flaws do not become apparent until a game is played extensively, set aside, and played some more.

Release day reviews exist to market games rather than inform consumers. As such, I will not review any games until they are at least a month old and I’ve played enough to provide a thoughtful evaluation. Also, I will never accept advertising money from game developers or publishers.

Grading System

I’ve seen people complain because their favorite game only scored a 9.25 / 10 when they feel it deserved at least a 9.5. Mainstream reviews seem to work on an 8-10 scale, and all of the heavily marketed games score at least a 9. This is not much different than the loudness war on audio CDs. The dynamic range is gone, and what’s left is a bunch of noise. “These two AAA games scored a nine point something…” Who cares? The scores become meaningless without any differentiation.

I propose to use the full range of my 10-point scale. I considered letter grades, but decided that my scale should be consistent with the rest of the industry. However, I’ve matched up the numbers with letter grades as such:

9 – A – Excellent. Lots of fun. Does what it’s attempting to do quite well, and has only minor flaws.

7 – B – Good. Maybe it’s flawed or not as fun as expected, but is still enjoyable and worth playing.

5 – C – Okay. It’s not terrible, but there’s a lot of better stuff out there.

3 – D – Poor. The game design is poor, or it is hampered by too many technical issues.

1 – E – Terrible. If the game has any redeeming qualities, they are not enough to overcome it’s flaws.

You can extrapolate the meaning of the even numbers from this scale.

Conclusion

I don’t expect to write a lot of reviews, but I hope that the ones I do write will be very detailed, informative, and honest. You’ll let me know how I’m doing, right?

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