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