The Problem With Game Reviews

Its hard to encapsulate the potentially infinate variable experiances in a block of type. You can be as expressive as you like, but you cannot account to how a random reader will react to the events when placed in the hot-seat themselves. There have been games reviewed which are, for want of a better word, broken. These are usually the result of underprepared or rushed developers, and fall apart when presented to the ruthlessly critical gaze of the consumer. I'm going to dump Castle Crashers in here, not because i'm looking for excuses to talk about it but because its a recent example that you will probably be able to relate to. When exposed to the over-hyped rush of the general public who smother servers with unpredictable tenacity, the game cannot hold its ground and the weaknesses of such a small design team are revealed. Its hard work, and I for one do not think any less of those working at the Behemoth, but their game is clearly suffering as a result. It probably worked fine when they were testing it with 20 guys in their office, but hundreds of thousands is harder to accommodate.

The alternative is a matter of taste. Reading through various Too Human reviews revealed there is a great lack of actual flaws to the core gameplay. The game does not crash, the graphics are by no means underwhelming, the pace is executively snappy and to the point. The experiance we are presented therefore is one of opinion. Some people like and enjoy trawling through space dungeons searching for gear. Some people take pride in devoting their time to generate the maximum badass character and then wreak havok with him online. A lot of people like this, which is why World Of Warcraft seems to work. What cost Too Human its perfect score was, at the end of the day - a lack of personal preferance.

Too Human

There are a whole bunch of games that fit into this category of "good games that not everyone will like". Assassins Creed was one of my favorite games for a few months, until I realised that searching for flags wasnt really that enjoyable and thus defeated the point of my experiance. Some other players may have chosen to ignore that section of the game completely and their experiance may have (Will have) been boosted as a result. We like to think of there being an incentive to our games, and we as players like to be rewarded. If the reward is to small then we wont bother. Experiance points encapsulate this perfectly. But was it always this way? Did you need the lure of Achievement Points to enjoy Ghouls And Ghosts? No. That wasnt important. There was a certain amount of pride and competitiveness which seems to have been lost in modern games in the name of functionality. Everything needs to result in something important. It continually baffles me how people can enjoy a game like Animal Crossing or Harvest Moon and then whine about the lack of context in a game like Assassins Creed. Both games are hypothetically perfect, in that they are both working computer games. And at the end of the day, computer games are meaningless procrastinations. Its a harsh reality.

So if we remove the functionality of a review and its savagely oppressing guides which much be adhered to - then we are left with, effectively, the soul of a game. How does it feel. The end problem with this again, is taste. I like shooting Zombies. Others may not see the point. (They are fools). And there are a million other things that we now have to take into account, like is it appropriate for kids, whats the online community like, does it live up to PR boasts, does it meet the fanboy hype, how good is the developer support pre-release (I am considering getting Burnout Paradise as a result of being constantly impressed with the maintained quality of its dev support). We allow all these little things to factor and influence how we look at a game, and I feel that this can overshadow the game itself. We can choose to block all this out at the cost of becoming misinformed and losing our insight as to what titles are worth the expense.

I dont really know where i'm going with this, i'm basically typing and reflecting at the same time. I guess the point i'm making is game reviews are about trust. If I read a review by Jeff telling me a game was terrible but then my best friend told me he was having a blast playing that same game, I would probly go buy it. No dis-respect to Jeff, but at the end of the day that guy is a stranger to me. Through my (excessive) use of his websites I have vaugely come to learn that he can be trusted on certain topics, and that he is cynical enough to have a realistic view of most games he is playing. Therefore I have a certain amount of trust and respect for his opinion. But that doesnt mean Jeff is preaching the Gospel. (I'm going to stop talking about Jeff before he files a lawsuit)

So... yeah.
Dead Rising
Sometimes it amazes me how willing we are to be convinced by the opinion of some random dude on the internet. Some egghead starts shouting mess on a blog or forum and suddenly everyone is nodding their heads like string puppets. A game review score is not the final word. People - exercise some assertiveness. Instead of jumping on a bandwagon go and play the game for yourself on the offchance that you have a really great time. Thing back over your favorite gaming experiances and they are unlikely to be the mainstream blockbusters. I would choose Dead Rising over Call Of Duty 4 any day...

Thats all I got for now. I'ts a bit messy but I hope you can walk away understanding something of the message i'm trying to get across, although I probably made it a lot more complicated than it really needs to be. I just enjoy writing stuff.

Thanks for reading
Love Sweep
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9 Comments
Posted by Sweep

Its hard to encapsulate the potentially infinate variable experiances in a block of type. You can be as expressive as you like, but you cannot account to how a random reader will react to the events when placed in the hot-seat themselves. There have been games reviewed which are, for want of a better word, broken. These are usually the result of underprepared or rushed developers, and fall apart when presented to the ruthlessly critical gaze of the consumer. I'm going to dump Castle Crashers in here, not because i'm looking for excuses to talk about it but because its a recent example that you will probably be able to relate to. When exposed to the over-hyped rush of the general public who smother servers with unpredictable tenacity, the game cannot hold its ground and the weaknesses of such a small design team are revealed. Its hard work, and I for one do not think any less of those working at the Behemoth, but their game is clearly suffering as a result. It probably worked fine when they were testing it with 20 guys in their office, but hundreds of thousands is harder to accommodate.

The alternative is a matter of taste. Reading through various Too Human reviews revealed there is a great lack of actual flaws to the core gameplay. The game does not crash, the graphics are by no means underwhelming, the pace is executively snappy and to the point. The experiance we are presented therefore is one of opinion. Some people like and enjoy trawling through space dungeons searching for gear. Some people take pride in devoting their time to generate the maximum badass character and then wreak havok with him online. A lot of people like this, which is why World Of Warcraft seems to work. What cost Too Human its perfect score was, at the end of the day - a lack of personal preferance.

Too Human

There are a whole bunch of games that fit into this category of "good games that not everyone will like". Assassins Creed was one of my favorite games for a few months, until I realised that searching for flags wasnt really that enjoyable and thus defeated the point of my experiance. Some other players may have chosen to ignore that section of the game completely and their experiance may have (Will have) been boosted as a result. We like to think of there being an incentive to our games, and we as players like to be rewarded. If the reward is to small then we wont bother. Experiance points encapsulate this perfectly. But was it always this way? Did you need the lure of Achievement Points to enjoy Ghouls And Ghosts? No. That wasnt important. There was a certain amount of pride and competitiveness which seems to have been lost in modern games in the name of functionality. Everything needs to result in something important. It continually baffles me how people can enjoy a game like Animal Crossing or Harvest Moon and then whine about the lack of context in a game like Assassins Creed. Both games are hypothetically perfect, in that they are both working computer games. And at the end of the day, computer games are meaningless procrastinations. Its a harsh reality.

So if we remove the functionality of a review and its savagely oppressing guides which much be adhered to - then we are left with, effectively, the soul of a game. How does it feel. The end problem with this again, is taste. I like shooting Zombies. Others may not see the point. (They are fools). And there are a million other things that we now have to take into account, like is it appropriate for kids, whats the online community like, does it live up to PR boasts, does it meet the fanboy hype, how good is the developer support pre-release (I am considering getting Burnout Paradise as a result of being constantly impressed with the maintained quality of its dev support). We allow all these little things to factor and influence how we look at a game, and I feel that this can overshadow the game itself. We can choose to block all this out at the cost of becoming misinformed and losing our insight as to what titles are worth the expense.

I dont really know where i'm going with this, i'm basically typing and reflecting at the same time. I guess the point i'm making is game reviews are about trust. If I read a review by Jeff telling me a game was terrible but then my best friend told me he was having a blast playing that same game, I would probly go buy it. No dis-respect to Jeff, but at the end of the day that guy is a stranger to me. Through my (excessive) use of his websites I have vaugely come to learn that he can be trusted on certain topics, and that he is cynical enough to have a realistic view of most games he is playing. Therefore I have a certain amount of trust and respect for his opinion. But that doesnt mean Jeff is preaching the Gospel. (I'm going to stop talking about Jeff before he files a lawsuit)

So... yeah.
Dead Rising
Sometimes it amazes me how willing we are to be convinced by the opinion of some random dude on the internet. Some egghead starts shouting mess on a blog or forum and suddenly everyone is nodding their heads like string puppets. A game review score is not the final word. People - exercise some assertiveness. Instead of jumping on a bandwagon go and play the game for yourself on the offchance that you have a really great time. Thing back over your favorite gaming experiances and they are unlikely to be the mainstream blockbusters. I would choose Dead Rising over Call Of Duty 4 any day...

Thats all I got for now. I'ts a bit messy but I hope you can walk away understanding something of the message i'm trying to get across, although I probably made it a lot more complicated than it really needs to be. I just enjoy writing stuff.

Thanks for reading
Love Sweep
Moderator
Posted by EpicSteve

You bring up interesting points my friend. With the development of my new site, and me wanting to professionally review games I'm stuck on how my review process should be. No matter what criticism is flawed. This is why you find reviewers you like, and share tastes with, for example, Jeff Gerstmann and I have a very similar view point on gaming. I tend to always agree on his reviews, but also understand I don't like fighting games but he LOVES Street Fighter. I will totally call out some bad writers out there *cough* HILARY GOLDSTIEN *cough*, but every site has its good people, and you just need to follow them.

Posted by Player1

Your editorials are top notch man. I have a friend thats starting a game site and he needs writers. Pm me if your interested.

I totally agree with the whole having to have an incentive. One way or another there is always something driving you to play a game. Maybe its achievements points, maybe its beating that boss that none of your friends can, maybe its getting that epic level 50 in halo. Whatever it be, I don't think I've ever played a game, with out there being some reward. 

And sometimes that reward is fun. Sometimes its pride. Sometimes its making a pointless score better. Who knows. 
Posted by DBoy

That's a great write-up man.  Excellent job.

I think that video game reviews are something personal, just like movie and book reviews, but when you take people like Jeff or Kevin on GameSpot, their job is to try and "feel" what the average gamer is supposed to feel.  That can be a very tough thing to do.  I've had experience with that recently, with my website.  I gave my own individual opinion on Bad Company, giving it a 6, and got a lot of thumb downs and bullshit thrown my way.  But it's my personal view, and that doesn't please a lot of people.

So, bottom line is, reviewing games is something complicated to do, because we all have our different views on games.

Posted by WallacetheGreat

Nice editorial. Reviews of any kind will always be met with praise and negativity. Not everyone has the same view of what a great game is. While reviews should be objective and unbiased, in reality this is usually never the case. A reviewer will add his or her own opinion to the writing and therefore cease to have an objective viewpoint. Truly, you should play the game to see whether you like it or not. Of course this is too hard for the average person (myself included), so reviews help guide our decision. As has already been said by others, pick a reviewer(s) you trust and still try to form your own conclusions.

In regard to those who become defensive when their reviewer/game is spoken about negatively, I find it's more because people like to associate a person or thing as a part of themselves. Then if said person/thing is spoken of in a bad light, the fan (or fanboy) takes that as an insult, not only to the person/object spoken badly of, but as an insult to the fan himself. To be so easily angered when something you like is dismissed is simply childish, unless it's done in humor.

Posted by Oni

I agree with you about Too Human. I love that game. It's getting not-so-great reviews simply because the game isn't to the taste of most reviewers, but if you're into the type of game it is, you'll probably love it. It's one of those games you have to try for yourself.

Also, not to be pedantic, but it's 'experience', not 'experiance'. You used the word a lot so it stood out like sore thumb, otherwise very nice write-up.

Posted by War77Machine

Great article! I agree with you fully, the reviewer should think about the core elements of a game, instead of giving their opinion on the positives and negatives.

Posted by Sweep

AARghh, with the spelling!! Oni maybe I should start getting you to proof-read my blogs...

Player1 - I completed resident Evil 4 on Pro just so I could walk around and tell people I have completed Resident Evil 4 on Pro. (Did i mention I have completed Resident Evil 4 on Pro?) Thats what gaming should be about. Pride, not abstract achievement points.

Wallace - "To be so easily angered when something you like is dismissed is simply childish" - I kind of agree which is depressing because I'm aware I have done that recently, and is partly the point of this article in the first place. *sigh*

Dboy - Theres nothing wrong with having a controversial review, but we have to be careful not to take a game to peices in the name of having a controversial review. Saying a game is worse than it actually is can often be misenterpreted as attention seeking. When IGN's australia team gave Halo 3 a score of 8.9 I knew that article was designed to gain just as much attention (if not more) than the predictable 9.5 from Mr Goldstien. (Although ironically I think that 8.9 was one of the most accurate review scores around).

Thanks for the positive feedback guys =D

Moderator
Posted by phlegms

That was a pretty epically long blog!

But yeah, I agree with you. Most of time reviews are riddled with personal bias and should be taken with a pinch of salt. And for this, we have metacritic.