I review video games every week. I’m not currently paid to do it, but I believe that all people who review video games go through very similar struggles regardless of who they write for or what types of games they review. I also believe that most of us try our best to be as objective as possible in a field of writing that is by nature a subjective one.
Obviously we each bring our own experience, preferences, and expectations into each game, but when I review a game I try my hardest to give a fair rating with detailed explanations for why I chose that number in order to help other gamers decide whether or not to buy said game. That’s how I view my job as a video game reviewer. I’m an advisor that plays games with the risk of them being terrible so you don’t have to. I’d like to think that I’ve been doing a pretty good job so far.
Any experienced critic in whatever field has also dealt with the conundrum of being honest about their feelings towards a work while still having to take into account the fact that they are quite possibly being very harsh towards someone else’s creation. This is especially important with video games because at the end of the day the average game reviewer, myself included, is incapable of making even the crappiest game.
I’ve played great games and I’ve played terrible ones, but what all those games have in common is that they’re better than anything I could currently make. Now I could absolutely take the time to learn the necessary skills, build a team, and found a Kickstarter campaign in hopes of building my own, hopefully great, game, but for the foreseeable future that’s most likely not going to happen. Yet I will continue to critique games and most likely have to thrash the hard work of what is sometimes hundreds of people.
I’m ok with this fact. I’ve had that internal conversation and my answer to that issue is that I am no more harsh with one game/studio than another. Regardless of how big or how small, I always try to review each game with the same scale of objective ideals as I would for any other game with only minor adjustments for genre and platform. My point is that once you do it for long enough, you probably don’t have any problem with being critical of bad games or bad details in games because I sure don’t anymore.
The main reason for this is because ultimately I fight for the gamers not the developers. When I first started writing about video games, I decided that I would work to be a champion for the consumers. I would ask the important questions and make the tough demands of the gaming industry in order to try and get the best possible outcome for us, the gamers. I feel that this is important because there are too many people defending the unfair practices and policies of big names in the industry and not enough people really fighting for the gamer with more than just angry tweets and internet trolls. Even if I make little impact, I can hold my head up high knowing that I stuck to my morals and I fought the good fight for the improvement of games and the satisfaction of all gamers.
Please don’t misunderstand me as saying that I don’t appreciate game developers, because I absolutely do. Without them I wouldn’t have anything to do and I certainly wouldn’t have this job/mission. I’m happy to say that most of the developers I’ve reviewed a title from have said that I was fair and detailed even when my opinions of their game were negative.
For me the real struggle is to rate games thoroughly and fairly in a way that readers will appreciate. There are many different opinions on what makes a good game and what specific aspects of a game are worth judging. Sadly there are too many people, reviewers and readers alike, that focus almost exclusively on gameplay. For me that’s the real travesty in game reviewing.
While I may not be a game developer, I do know quite a lot about the process and anyone who thinks gameplay is the only challenging part of games development is a fool. It always gets me going when I see job listings in game development that are limited to programmers and the occasional 3D modeling specialist because it gives an unfair and unrealistic presentation of the many other important aspects that must come together to make a game.
Anyone who reads my reviews knows that I always break games up into 5 sections: graphics, gameplay, sound, writing, and replay value. Of those 5, the first 4 are all specific parts of a video game that require different skills, education, experience, software, and most of the time people. Sadly though, gameplay and graphics are usually the only 2 that get any real appreciation and attention from the larger gaming community.
As a writer you can imagine how angry such an oversight makes me. As a person who has experience at least some university level education in writing, graphic design, coding, and sound production, I can tell you that each of the people involved in the production of a video game works just as hard as the next and are just as necessary in order to make a great game. It is for this reason that when I write my reviews I address each of these sections separately and I give each of them equal weight when deciding a game’s final score.
What this means is that a game can have great gameplay, but really bad graphics, writing, and sound and get a very low score even though it’s fun to play. Usually this is no problem because people are pretty comfortable with games getting low scores so even if they do like the gameplay they understand the score and feel that it’s just. It’s also a pretty rare occurrence because for whatever reason most games that have awesome gameplay usually have at least decent graphics and sound so they can get at least average scores even if the writing is subpar. And replay value is really easy to add to games if you try so developers can boost their game’s score even more if they just put in a little extra time to add some features that make the game worth an extra playthrough.
The real struggle is when the opposite occurs. When a game has great writing, sound, graphics, and even replay value, but horrible gameplay it makes it really hard to judge because on one hand I can’t really encourage people to buy the game. No matter how pretty it looks or great it sounds, I’m not gonna tell someone to buy a game that’s not fun to play. At the same time it would be wrong of me to give the game a lower score that doesn’t properly reflect the high quality aspects of development that don’t fall into the gameplay section.
Until recently this had never happened to me before. Of the games I was tasked with reviewing, it was always very easy to score them because of the very close correlations between gameplay and the other aspects of development. For whatever reason, the games just sort of fell into the right place. But this was not the case with Super Comboman.
My most recent review was of a relatively new game by Adult Swim Games called Super Comboman. I won’t go into great detail about what I said specifically, but if you’re interested you can read the whole review right here. The important thing about this review is the fact that I gave it a 6.8/10.
For me a 6.8 is not a bad score. Anything over a 7 is definitely worth considering, an 8 or greater is a ‘you should probably buy this as soon as you have time to play it,’ and a 9+ is a ‘why haven’t you already bought this game?’ So while a 6.8 may not be a must buy it’s definitely in the pile of games that should be bought if the price is right during a sale. The problem in this case was that while I did give the game an upper middle score, I would absolutely not encourage anyone to purchase it.
If you read the review you will understand that my reasoning for discouraging people from buying it is based solely on the fact that the gameplay is atrocious. Yet at the same time I was very happy with the writing, sound, graphics, and the replay value and could not in good conscience give the game a lower score than I did, because it wouldn’t have been fair to the various people outside of the gameplay developers who worked on the project.
This situation left me in an odd place because while I do have an obligation as a writer to give the fairest and most honest judgment I can for the sake of the development studio, as I stated previously my goal as a game reviewer is to help consumers decide whether or not to buy games and that number can be very misleading when making your final decision.
For those people who actually take the time to read my review there is no problem because I clearly state in it multiple times that I don’t think you should buy the game. But for those glancers who just skim it and put a great amount of stock in the number, they will be disappointed and possibly blame me for misleading them into buying a bad game. That’s the real reviewer’s struggle.
Thankfully it doesn’t happen that often, in my experience, where a game falls into such an odd category, but it’s something that caused me a great deal of anxiety so I wanted to share these thoughts with my readers and get their opinions. I’d like to leave you with just a few questions to consider. Comments appreciated.
- For those of you who write game reviews, do you unevenly weight different aspects of the overall game or look at everything equally? How would you have scored a game like Super Comboman ?
- For those of you who put a lot of stock in the final score (number) a game gets in a review, what do you hope that number reflects specifically?
- Do you see certain aspects of a game as being more important than others to the point where you would buy a game that is terrible in aspects outside of that/those top areas of development?
- Would you buy a game because it was highly praised for things outside of gameplay even if the gameplay was sub par?