Taste in entertainment media is probably the most subjective thing since fetishes. “Final Fantasy X is the best Final Fantasy because blah blah blah…” “Bitch you crazy. Did you see Sephiroph stab that girl? It’s another level of…” and so on. If people can’t agree what is the best instalment in a franchise, what makes them any better at deciding what the best game of all time is? What about best game of the generation? Of The Year? What about why a game is bad? That’s all. Why it’s bad. “you should not play this game because ABC…” The correct answer is nothing. It’s subjective. Therefore it’s bullshit and nonsensical to put pen to paper (or hand to keyboard) and write down why somebody should or shouldn’t like/buy something based on your opinions. The logic is backwards. Why do we stick to it? By no means am I saying opinions don’t matter. Shit when you break it down they’re all that matters. But when describing if a random individual will or won’t enjoy a product of art, an opinion is not helpful. There’s too much noise involved. Sometimes you just have to analyse a game for what it is, not for what it does to you.
I read a lot of reviews from a lot of sources on a bunch of different games. Every time I do so I can’t help but find myself getting hung up on that one flaw the reviewer couldn’t get past and, oh crap now it’s taken over my entire outlook. If it’s a game I’m highly anticipating, then that negative suddenly, for no good reason at all, fills me with rage quit rage and overshadows the reviewers opinion from mattering at all (I have a feeling this might explain impulse comments on youtube and messageboards, but that could be a whole other blog.) But in reality what the fuck do I know! the reviewer is the one who has been given early access for and played the game, is hired on the basis of knowing what makes a game good or bad and is providing me with information based on their experience. But in the heat of the moment I’m blind to these facts. lternatively, a game revealed a while back looks interesting, I wait a year or so for review to decide if I should play or not, discover the gameplay mechanics are not spectacularly tight and the story takes turns which the reviewer didn’t particularly like and now I’m turned off from the game. Again, how does this make sense? Why aren’t the positives highlighted and promoted more heavily than the flaws? I won’t find to suck what you find to suck. I like blondes you like brunettes. I like girls you like guys. It’s arbitrary and not effective when describing what a game is and if they should play it. All that matters is what it’s good at. If there isn’t much good to talk about then don’t talk so much and this in itself should demonstrate the quality of the game. If for example the story is exceptional yet the gameplay is kinda janky and just keeps you moving through so you can watch the cutscenes, then talk about how good that story is and describe the gameplay in respect to that story. It’s a more effective way to verbally illustrate who this game is for and if it’s what the reader is looking for.
Thinking about it, what is the function of criticising a games flaws? One answer could be to give your opinion on it so people who match your opinion know what to avoid. Ok… so what about all the gamers who have no problem with that kind of flaw, such as fluctuating frame rate or inconsistent animation, yet see that these features have been called out and now lose a little interest. Not to mention the immense number of reviewers you would need to track to decide which matches you perfectly. What if a review just wasn’t subjective? What if it was based in objectivity? Does the game succeed on a level that should be appreciated (consistent story, enjoyable mechanics, good variety of combos etc) and not on what made the game good for you, the reviewer? Their are obvious exceptions to this format. A broken/incomplete games deserves to be called out and shamed as they are not what they claim to be (a functioning product) and every gamer needs to be warned away. Their are no excuses for selling something that doesn’t work. However in this case a review is almost pointless. All you need is a statement: “Whatever qualities this game may or may not have had, I cannot provide a review as it is fundamentally broken. There are several crashes and errors throughout that inhibit me from proceeding and I cannot justify telling anybody what it succeeds at as there is a chance they will not be able to see. Until a functioning version of this game is unavailable, I will not review this game.” Or words to that effect.
There could be an argument made that the two don’t have to be mutually exclusive. A review that consists mostly of a factual and positive description, followed by a final, personal verdict could make sense. For example: “Enslaved: Odyssey to the West was a game that I loved a lot and found a great emotional attachment to despite not really enjoying the fighting mechanics. However after completion I found that the art design and character interaction was so well done that it defeated any complaints I had about the combat system.” putting a concise opinion such as this at the end would allow the reader to understand how the analysis of the game translates into an individual basis. However if this contradicts what is highlighted as being great in the game, then it is clear that this is a layered game that different gamers will take different things away from. This is a better alternative to reading a detailed description of what an individual liked or didn’t like about something as an answer to if you will like it yourself.
I am laying out my ground rules for reviewing a video game. They are based in the philosophy that a piece of medium this interactive is so subjective in enjoyment and satisfaction, that the review should focus minimally on flaws and opinions that directly relate to the individual. They should in fact concentrate on bullet point aspects of what makes the game good/great/amazing/fun. The review should consist of:
1. A description of the game – this can/should include: genre, approximate length, camera style (first/third person), single player/multiplayer/both, co-op mode, online co-op mode, art direction, platforms it is available on and developer & publisher. This is fundamental information that provides a basis upon which to decide if it is a typical game they enjoy or are familiar with. This also consists of information that directs the gamer into knowing what they’ll be getting into.
2. Story – in this section I will identify:
- if there is or isn’t a story.
- how the story is told, e.g. cutscenes, dialogue during gameplay, environmental storytelling, speech boxes, etc.
- What the premise of the plot is
- Who the main characters are
- Highlight the difference between the story and the narrative (this one could be tricky but it’s important)
- Identify the mood of the game, this is often crucial to understanding the rhythm of the story and game as a whole.
- if the story is a good, interesting, unique.
That last is the one most susceptible to subjectivity, however I am adamant that a good, consistent and strong plot transcends taste and can almost universally be agreed is worthwhile. Apocalypse Now, Taxi Driver, The Deer Hunter, Fight Club, Memento, everybody who has watched these have slightly differing opinions on them as a whole but there is an agreed consensus that the story being told is good and worth hearing/experiencing. And I will fight you if you disagree.
3. Gameplay and Mechanics:
- I will describe the gameplay – how I interact with that world, how I engage with enemies or objects, how I move and progress and how skills are being judged.
- I will describe the mechanics – Is movement fluid? How varied are your options in fighting or moving? What are your tools? Do you have control over the camera or is it fixed?
- How does gameplay and the mechanics contribute to the narrative?
- What is the level of depth and learning involved?
- Is it punishing, hard, have a learning curve? Am I eased in?
4. Presentation – this is without a doubt the most subjective category. It is more important identify what the presentation is and not why you do or don’t like it:
- What is the chosen art direction and how does it make sense in the context of the story being told?
- What is the AI character animation like? e.g. lip sync, random or trigger based movement etc
- How does the presentation develop across the game? is it a static enivronment you learn to be a part of or is it an ever changing landscape you constantly need readjusting to?
- Provide example comparisons
- is there a soundtrack? what type of music is played across the game?
- How detailed is the sound design and how does this contribute to mood?
- What is the voice acting like?
6. and Finally, how does the games differing features analysed above come together as a unison product? Do they compliment each other. What is this game like in respect to previous entries in the series? Who is this game for?
This is my goal. I aim to prove myself right by following these steps and reviewing games that came out within the past couple of years, DLC and upcoming games. My plan is to review:
- The Last of Us – followed by story DLC: Left Behind
- Bioshock Infinite – followed by story DLC: Burial At Sea
- Infamous 2
- Infamous Second Son
- Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes
- Assassins Creed IV: Black Flag
This will provide a good mix as I will be testing this style of review on games who have already been extensively judged and share established perspectives, as well as story DLC which is a tricky component to review. Along with this I will review new games to see if the reviews are interesting and helpful.
I hope this is a method that will really get my point across. Stop focusing on and highlighting why something sucks and could be better. Promote the crap out of what makes this thing people have been pouring their souls and more importantly time into, worthwhile. I’m cynical enough most of all the time, I don’t need more when deciding whether or not to have fun.
Man if you read all this I really like you and hope it made sense. Keep an eye out for the reviews. I’ll try to do them proper.