Reviewing the Reviews

Introduction

This article will look at reviews. All I want to do is explore some questions, I will not be telling you how to write reviews because I am not qualified to do that. The purpose of this article is to be the catalyst to a deeper discussion. I don’t intend to provide answers, just ask questions.

It seems that almost everybody wants to read reviews about almost everything! In fact if you look at the majority of gaming websites you will find that reviews are a significant part of the content, and, in many fansites, they are the total content. What is it about reviews that people find so interesting?

I plan to start writing more review and previews and hopefully the discussion generated here will help me to provide exactly what you want.

Me

I NEVER read reviews. This is because, and I do not mean to be rude, I do not care what somebody else thinks about a game, map or mod. We have a phrase in English: “One man’s meat is another man’s poison”. Put simply: What I like you may hate. I try not to base my decisions or opinions on what others do or think.

Another reason I do not read reviews is because I dislike spoilers. I enjoy approaching all forms of story; books, films, games etc with no prior knowledge. To me that is part of the enjoyment – working out the story and the reasons behind the actions.

There seem to be three main review formats.

Sections

Starting with a brief introduction, that may include details of the author and past work, then an overview of the story or background. Headings like Gameplay, Graphics, Sounds, Textures, etc are often used. Each point neatly sectioned-off from the others. This seems to make things easier for the reviewer to compartmentalize their observations and opinions.

Vague Headings

Others like to give obscure headings that, they no doubt feel, are in some way clever or insightful. Headings like “Into the fray!”, “If only I could” etc. This style is more open and requires the reviewer to look at the complete game or mod.

Levels

Yet others define everything by each level. This is perhaps the easiest style to write because you are almost judging each level individually and it means you can write the review as you play it.

Headings of Special Note

UnrealSP.org has a section in their reviews called Conceptual Grandness, which I think is great. I enjoy it when people have ways of looking at things. Another one from another website is Fun Factor. Again this simply discards anything else except the fun. You could argue that’s the most important point.

My Failed Attempts

One style I have recently tried, although never published, is that of a blog. This differs from the Level style in that I wrote my thoughts and impressions after each playing sessions. Which in my case was almost daily but not quite. My idea was to capture my moods at the same time as the game itself and how those two things interacted together. Another style I tried, and again never published, was what I called the Spaghetti Western Review. I simply had three headings: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly. The scoring system was 5 images of Clint Eastwood in a cowboy hat!

How Many Times?

One thing that certainly can affect you opinion of something is the number of times you play it. For example, I also tried a to write a short review after playing something the first time and then a longer review after playing carefully and slowly the second time. Of course this might not be possible and I certainly would not want to do it for a full game.

Which Engine Was Used?

Do you think this matters? I didn’t but then I read a review that clearly stated that because of the engine was so good but the author hadn’t used it to its full potential the overall review score was downgraded. At first I thought this was unfair but now I believe it is a fair thing to do. Although I think it depends on how the review is written.

Other Judging Criteria

Should we concern ourselves with the experience of the mapper, whether it is their first release or twenty first? At first glance the answer seems to be “Of course!”. But are we pre-judging something? Wouldn’t it be better to simply know nothing about the map and judge it purely on what we can see and play?

Maybe a fun experiment would be to distribute a map to a few different reviewers and ask them to review it. Some would have been told about the mapper, others not. Then publish the reviews at the same time and also the details of the author etc. I wonder how much difference there would be? What about how long something has taken to build. Should that be part of the criteria? If something took 10 hours to construct shouldn’t we judge it differently from something that took 100 hours?

Language Used

I’ve attempted to not be judgmental when making my points above. Here, however, I am afraid that I can’t help it. One aspect of reviews that I really hate is when I reviewer tries to impress their readership by using overly descriptive language.

It seems that that are more interested in showing you how clever and observant they are than helping you. I fully understand and appreciate that writing a review is a creative endeavour but not at the expense of its purpose. Their task is to review the piece in question not display their command of the English language.

Another point to consider is the native language of the reviewer. Some reviews on PlanetPhillip are written by non-native English speakers and I applaud and respect their efforts.

Rating Systems

There seem to be quite a few of those and they can make a review interesting. Obviously scores are the most often used, with either 5 or 10 as the standard. Why reviewers give 3.5 out of 5 when they could simply give 7 out of 10 I don’t know but I suppose it is personal choice. Each score can also be replaced by stars, crowbars, headcrabs, in fact anything. Other systems include percentages and letter grades (A, B, C, D and E). Have I missed any?

New Inclusions

One reviewer considers lack of new textures, sounds etc to be a negative thing and often notes under bad heading: Nothing New. I personally think this is a little unfair because it depends on what you are reviewing.

Being able to create new textures is very different from building maps. Although there are plenty of textures and sounds easily available from the Internet.

Some Questions

To finish I have some questions for you:

  • Why do you read reviews? What exactly are you looking for? If it is help deciding whether to download a map or mod why not look at the rating (If it has one) and use that?
  • Do you read reviews after you have played maps? If yes, why?
  • Why do you write reviews? If you do, what’s your motivation?
Your Turn

I have little doubt that I have missed many other points regarding reviews and am eager to hear your thoughts.

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9 Comments

  1. “Why do you write reviews? If you do, what’s your motivation?”

    I like to write short reviews for all the mods I play. I like to think it helps people not waste their time if its a bad mod and also my little review could help them decide to play the mod and maybe really enjoy it.

  2. Luke L

    I like to put another voice out there. One mans beef might be another mans poison, so why not try giving him some ham. Ok, bad analogy. Ultimately reviewing something is a very subjective and personal thing, paid reviewers have been doing it so long it is more of an overall view rather than personal ratings, and this is what I hope my reviews reflect. I might like a certain part of a game that a review wrote off as worthless or badly done.

    Normally I look at reviews as a whole, if a game consistently gets 9/10 on 20 sites then it’s probably a good game, but one that gets 1/10 next to a 10/10 can be a bit iffy and just goes to highlight how much our opinions can vary.

  3. Matt Glanville

    Should we concern ourselves with the experience of the mapper, whether it is their first release or twenty first?
    Personally I think not. Most mappers are aiming for the best they can produce. If that is not good enough then they should wait until they are better before releasing something. At the end of the day, the player doesn’t care how many years the author has been mapping, they just want to play something fun. But that doesn’t mean we can’t forgive the odd bug here and there.

    Why reviewers give 3.5 out of 5 when they could simply give 7 out of 10 I don’t know but I suppose it is personal choice.
    I couldn’t agree more! I can’t stand fraction marks! If you’re rating something 8.5 out of 10, you are no longer rating it out of 10! There are no longer 10 possible scores, there are 100! So give it 85%!
    I always liked the review policy of CVG magazine. They rated games out of 5, simply because no game will ever be completely perfect and will ever receive 100%, so why concern yourself with such a complexity? You cannot pinpoint an opinion so precisely. They simply admit that “This is a fantastic game” and give it 5/5.

    Why do you read reviews? What exactly are you looking for? If it is help deciding whether to download a map or mod why not look at the rating (If it has one) and use that?
    I like to read peoples opinions and see if it’s worth my time. Sometimes screenshots and descriptions can be VERY deceiving, even more so if its a retail product for obvious reasons.

    Do you read reviews after you have played maps? If yes, why?
    Sometimes. Usually to see how my thoughts of map compare to other peoples’.

    Why do you write reviews? If you do, what’s your motivation?
    Most people I know in real life aren’t interested in the same things I am, and if they are it’s not usually for the same reasons. Writing reviews allows me to vent my opinions to anyone who cares, whilst also giving a more full and broad description for other people thinking of downloading the map.

  4. Fluffy The Hamster

    Why do you read reviews? What exactly are you looking for? If it is help deciding whether to download a map or mod why not look at the rating (If it has one) and use that?

    I read reviews. Why? It’s just like reading a book, except it’s writing about another book. Whether you are reading the review to decide whether to get something or not, I’ll still enjoyably read the review as a piece of literature before I actually use the information. I repeatedly read Silver-Sorrow’s Half-Life 1 and Thief map reviews. Not because I was looking for said maps, but because the man is one of the funniest reviewers in existance. I even went into the internet backups and copied every single one of his half-life 1 reviews for safekeeping.

    Why do you write reviews? If you do, what’s your motivation?

    Easy: Because it’s fun. I don’t write reviews for the good of all mankind. Infact, I hate all of you. I wish you’d all would die. However, making reviews is the best fun and the only literature I can complete on time.

    I NEVER read reviews. This is because, and I do not mean to be rude, I do not care what somebody else thinks about a game, map or mod.

    Do you atleast read the score? Otherwise, you are basically defiling the point that the review exists in the first place.

    Review Format

    Alright. My review format was ruthlessly pillaged and stolen from My Hero Silver-Sorrow (and didn’t ask, natch) and was coloured to fit the Combine Destiny forum text-work. The format it’self was changed slightly to take advantage of the quick. You can dive into the review, read the important parts (lighting, gameplay, ect.) and maybe the ending to get a summary, then you can bugger off and do whatever you want. Yet, at the same time, allows space for those who believe that a deeper explanation of the map/mod is required can read the entire review.

    One thing that certainly can affect you opinion of something is the number of times you play it.

    This happened easily in NOAMZ:WF. Thus, I kept the awesomeness of the first play with the dullness of the second play, and let the players know how little replay value it has.

    What Engine?: Do you think this matters?

    Depends. When it comes to games, it’s worth mentioning the engine if you know about it (for future modding considerations, I suppose), but it doesn’t affect the review in any real way.

    Should we concern ourselves with the experience of the mapper, whether it is their first release or twenty first?

    No. Of course not. When you make a review, you make a review on that current timedate. When I reviewed Fall, it was a map made in 2003. I reviewed it in 2006. Did I give it any layoffs because of it’s age and the fact that it was a first release? No! I blasted it for the author’s bullshit excuse and idiotic attempt to make the first SP map on Half-Life 2. In another view, it shouldn’t matter as much as thought. As much as it’s annoying to see amateur work, it’s always the gameplay that counts and the amateuristic graphic-work shouldn’t matter unless it really, really sucks…

    (City 14, anyone?)

    I’ve attempted to not be judgmental when making my points above. Here, however, I am afraid that I can’t help it. One aspect of reviews that I really hate is when I reviewer tries to impress their readership by using overly descriptive language.

    What? A review is literature. No matter how you go about it, it’s literature. The writers of these reviews are writers. Do you know what they teach you in english? How to pronouce complicated words. How to spell complicated words. If you attempts to write a story with just base words, it’s unacceptable. I use long, complicated words. Why? Because I love using long, complicated words. Why do I love using long, complicated words? Because it’s funnier to use long, complicated words then base words.

    You also make it sound like the english-speakers are patronising everyone. I bet that, if I read a russian review, they would be using long complicated russian words that mean the same as my english long, complicated words.

    And on reviews in other languages. It’s pretty simple. English reviewers write reviews for english websites. German reviewers write reviews for german websites. It is a standard? Mostly, yes. If you were french, would you go and hang out with a group of people with a language you have a hard time with, or would you hang out with a group of french people whom you can actually communicate with? I think the answer is clear.

    Why reviewers give 3.5 out of 5 when they could simply give 7 out of 10 I don’t know but I suppose it is personal choice.
    I couldn’t agree more! I can’t stand fraction marks! If you’re rating something 8.5 out of 10, you are no longer rating it out of 10! There are no longer 10 possible scores, there are 100! So give it 85%!

    Does it bloody matter? When I put 3.5 on my review, what do you think? Do you think “OMGWTF, HE USED FRACTIONS! BASTARD!” or do you think “Oh, so he like’s it’s a slight above mediocre.”

    One reviewer considers lack of new textures, sounds etc to be a negative thing and often notes under bad heading: Nothing New.

    If you don’t like him, don’t follow him. Personally, I don’t care about anything new. I appreciate it, but I review it as if nothing particularly changed, unless something added is more awesome then usual. It’s obvious that, that reviewer likes to have some new objects in his map/mods. Therefore, people who think the same way will follow his reviews because he will always let you know about something that will concern you.

  5. Do you at least read the score? Otherwise, you are basically defiling the point that the review exists in the first place.

    No I don’t and I am not “defiling” the point. I just choose to ignore them. As you said above you write reviews because they are fun not for me to read. You need to make up your mind. Which is it?

    Because I love using long, complicated words.

    There you go. You use them because you like using them, not because it makes the review any better.

    And on reviews in other languages. it’s pretty simple. English reviewers write reviews for English websites. German reviewers write reviews for German websites.

    Yes but you are missing the point that English is read by many millions of people who are non native speakers, why can’t we help those people?

    Does it bloody matter?

    Yes, to me. It’s a reflection of a thought process.

    If you don’t like him, don’t follow him.

    I don’t but that doesn’t stop me from brining the subject up for discussion.

  6. Trial_and_Err0r

    I like to reviews after I have played a map/mod to see if the reviewer and I shared a similar experience.

    The poster formerly known as Passerby…

  7. Fluffy The Hamster

    One thing that I missed to touch on was, if I just wrote them because of the fun of it, then there would be no reason to release the review on teh intranet in the first place.

    I stopped publishing my reviews. Why? Because nobody reads them and nobody comments on them. Because of this, it defeats the other purpose of writing a review: Telling other people about said topic. Without that, the only aspect of the review is the fun factor and theres no point throwing it on the internet.

  8. I stopped publishing my reviews.

    I’m sorry to hear this. Perhaps you just need to give it more time or maybe change the format.

  9. I read reviews.Will I go and search for them?No.When Phillip posts the here I read them to mostly to see if they jive with what I thought.You can still submit reviews here if you wish.We do read them.

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