Game Reviews: Reviewed

By Shamus
on Aug 23, 2007
Filed under:
Video Games

Jay has an excellent post talking about the manifest uselessness of game reviews.

I would take it a step further and suggest that game reviews go far beyond merely useless, and are in some ways actually counter-productive when it comes to the secondary goal of fostering creativity and encouraging developers to make better games.

I used to love reading PC Gamer. I have a heap of old issues from 1998-2003, which I still read from time to time. The reviews read more like a collection of thoughts on the game itself. How does the combat work? How is the story? Where could it have been better? What new gameplay elements are there? I remember those reviews. I loved those reviews. Outside of blogs, I haven’t seen a review like that in ages. They weren’t all great, but there were some gems in there that were insightful and interesting, even when I disagreed with the reviewer’s conclusion or score.

Here are five ways reviews work against the common goal of making and playing great games:

  1. Reviews tend to encourage the poisonous trend of riding the bleeding technological edge instead of making a fun, stable game.

    Now most reviews seem to be adolescent gushing about how a game looks. “You’ll drool on your keyboard when you see the new DirectX 11.01c dual-pass bling mapping! After that the trilinear shine buffers will have you humping your monitor!”

    System specs and performance used to be a lot more important. Now reviewers just assume I’m dumping $300 into graphics cards every eighteen months. Reviewers don’t usually bother playing the game on machines with the minimum requirements to see if the game is still playable. They should.

     

  2. Reviews tend to encourage making games that are less accessable to new or casual players.

    Since they play videogames all day (and then most likely head home and play some more) reviewers tend to have an entirely different idea of how difficult games need to be. Their large supply of game-playing time mixed with their higher skills make them voracious and unstoppable players. Developers, not wanting to bore the reviewer, will calibrate the game for the reviewer, not regular people like me. If a developer wants to “challenge” them, then the game needs to have some formidable obstacles. “Let’s have a series of tricky jumps that must be performed while under fire. And if the player misses a jump then they start the level over.” I’ll admit that this sort of thing does indeed help lengthen the game and might even slow down some reviewers, with the side effect of making the game a total waste of time for someone with my moderate skills and limited supply of gaming hours.

     

  3. Reviews give developers a free pass when it comes to anti-piracy annoyances.

    Over the last several years copy protection has gotten more onerous and invasive, although you would never know this by reading game reviews. Case in point. I have a copy of Fable here, and on the disc it says “Do not lend or make illegal copies of this disc.” (Emphasis mine.) If I were a reviewer I’d spend a couple of paragraphs raking them over the coals for something like that before I talked about the game itself. It’s an outrage, and by omitting it reviewers send a message that this sort of asinine behavior is acceptable.

     

  4. Reviews give publishers a free pass (or nearly so) when it comes to bugs and stability problems.

    Bugs used to be a terrible sin. I remember PC Gamer taking the hard-line stance, “We don’t review Patched games”. They played the game as it came out of the box. Maybe they’re still doing it, (although I doubt it) but most online reviews have no problem with letting the developer release an incomplete game and patch it later.

     

  5. Reviewers focus on mega titles and overlook old-school and indie games.

    I can’t blame reviewers too much for this. They have to review games people are interested in, and more people play Sim City 4 than Virtual Villagers. Still, indie developers benefit far more from a review than some A-list game with a huge marketing campaign. It seems better to support great games, as opposed to great big games.

     

Remember Oblivion? That game was accepted and well reviewed despite its punishingly high system requirements, the dishonest requirements listed on the box, and the fact that the game was full of bugs and broken quests that required a user-made patch to fix. Bethesda should have walked away from that game with a few bruises. Reviewers should have taken them to task for these shortcomings. It should have gone down as a fun but flawed experience that needed more work to truly shine, but the reviewers were too busy talking about OMG! SHINEEY PIXILS!!!! to notice the damn thing was a mess.

So the publisher got away with releasing a shoddy game. Actually, they didn’t just “get away with it”, they were rewarded for it. At the end of the year they had a trophy case full of awards for a buggy game with a tepid plot that they didn’t didn’t even bother to finish. Question: Do these gushing reviews and awards make them more or less likely to correct these flaws next time around? Bonus question: Is this good or bad for PC gaming?

(All of this goes double for Neverwinter Nights 2. I’m looking at you, Gamespot and IGN. This is not an 8 out of 10 game. Even if you liked the ending, this thing was a mess.)

So reviewers encourage or reward developers for making games slower, buggier, more punishing, and with increasingly annoying copy protection. These are my three biggest priorities, and they will barely get a mention in the average review. Developers deserve the lion’s share of the blame for making software that sucks, but I don’t envy the position they are in: Make a game that sucks and reviews well for lots of money, or make a decent, stable game with less focus on visuals which gets tepid reviews and makes less money. Reviewers are the ones that put them into this position. I’d say that makes reviews a stretch worse then merely “useless”.

I still enjoy reading the occasional review, but I don’t do it as part of my purchasing decision. If I want to know if a game is an FPS or a RTS, I’ll read the review. If I want to know if the thing is worth playing, I’ll Google around for blog posts on the thing.

Reviews used to be part of by buying decisions, and they could be again, but they would need a major re-alignment of priorities for that to happen. Until then, I simply have no faith in them as a source of information.

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20201151 comments. It's getting crowded in here.

From the Archives:

  1. Robert says:

    Many years ago, when dinosaurs ruled the earth, I wrote game reviews for Computer Gaming World under the tutelage of Johnny Wilson. (Ah, those were the days – getting paid $400 to play a computer game all week.)

    I have nothing substantive to add to the discussion. I just felt nostalgic. ;)

    I miss CGW, though – occasionally I stop off at the newstand and look for PC gaming mags, and I just have to wonder when the industry was overrun by 16-year olds. Nothing against 16-year olds; I was 16 once, theoretically. I just don’t want my hobby to be run by and for them.

  2. Myxx says:

    Holy hell Shamus. I nearly spit out my oatmeal when I read the monitor humping part. Nice.

  3. Andrew Cory says:

    What I’d love to see is a site called “minimum specs” or somesuch. The site would play and review games with a 3 or more year old computer– and only play the game as it comes out of the box. I wouldn’t be at all averse to seeing such a site popping up under your name, Shamus…

  4. lplimac says:

    I agree with you. Please give me a game that can run on last year’s (or even older) computer, not the one that will require me to spend money to upgrade my computer or you need next years technology to play. I don’t care how good it looks if it plays poorly. Content, not looks is what I want. If the story/game play is good I don’t care if it doesn’t have all the latest visual bells and whistles.

    As far as patches I’m two minds on this, depending on the type of game. If it’s mainly a single player game (and I consider a game like Civ4 single player even though it has an on line component) I don’t want to hunt down an online patch for it to play correctly. On the other hand, if it’s a MMO or the like I don’t mind if the developers push patches, as long as they improve the game play or add new content. In this case I want the developer to be constantly upgrading the game environment with new areas and quests, fixing problems and bugs that may not have been noticeable with a smaller beta test player base. That’s as long as they don’t try to get you to pay for every small update. I don’t mind paying for major upgrades (like I did when I was playing City of Hero and City of Villains came out) but please don’t try to charge me for a bug fix.

  5. oldschoolGM says:

    All your points are excellent. But number 4 is the one that really sticks in my craw. I remember the days of popping a Wizardry or Ultima disk into the disk drive, installing and playing all the way through without encountering a single error, freeze-up, or crash to desktop. Nowadays, I can’t remember the last game I bought that didn’t need a post-release patch, and the last games I bought was actually unplayable on my system without a patch. There’s even a certain game I bought a couple of years ago that NEVER put out a official final patch for a major issue but instead simply linked to a user generated patch.

    This is ridiculous and unacceptable. I don’t want to hear excuses about how the complexities of modern systems make patching inevitable, or about rushes to meet target release dates and marketing strategies. I want a stable game that I can play without having to check the developer’s web site every 2 weeks. Sure, I CAN download and apply patches, but what I WANT is to be able to play all the way through a game confident that I have a finished product that will perform as a finished product should.

  6. MintSkittle says:

    I actually still get a couple of gaming mags, mostly to see whats out there. Then I zip over to my prefered gaming info website to see what the regular peoples have to say about it.

    BTW Shamus, you’re so right. It’s a shame reviewers are focusing more on the big name games and less on the smaller third party/indie games.

  7. Lacynth says:

    Shamus, I whole-heartedly agree with you. And it’s not just computer games that are following this path, but console games as well. It’s nice the Nintendo decided to go with a less graphics heavy system, but they seem to be lacking games for their gimmick-y system. PS3 costs to damned much, with very few games out, and XBox 360 seems to have been released with a major bug built into it, namely, that it toasts after half a year or so of gaming on it. But no one worries about any of that. They just go “Oooo! Shiney!” and gobble this crap up. And story? You want story? Well, you’d better be willing to translate a game from Japanese if you want a good plot, or wait for them to translate it badly and release it without much fanfare or advertising in America. See, we’re too busy waiting for Halo 3, or another remake of Doom. Ugh. FFXII was all right, but it came at the tail end of PS2’s lifespan, without as much fanfare as it deserved for being such an epic game. Sorry, I just miss the old days of gaming, as well, and tend to get verbose about it.

  8. Playing on consoles gets rid for #1 and #3 somehow less of a problem. My pet peeve is #2. Sometimes I’ll buy a game – all its levels, all its maps, all its extras – and yet I am unable to play it. I hate games that are too difficult.

  9. JohnW says:

    The reviews are very shallow, I agree. Admittedly, it takes an entire community of dedicated players to suss out some of the bugs. I don’t even notice most of them myself, but some of the bugs in the Total War seriers (my favorite) were pretty much game breaking, although most got fixed over time. Not one mention of them in the reviews.

  10. Andy P says:

    Bang on. That is all.

  11. Mari says:

    It’s not just game reviews. I rarely read professional reviews of anything anymore. If a friend I know has something to say about a game, movie, CD, or whatever, I give that a lot more credence than what some PFY or Roper and Ebert have to say about the product.

    I mean, has anybody noticed that more and more what real fans think diverges drastically with what “industry insiders” think about a media product? If you don’t believe me, tune into the next Academy Awards show.

    The funny thing, to me, is the fact that so many of the unwashed masses are hoodwinked into believing the marketing and review hype for a year or two and then, at some point, they slap themselves in the heads and try to pretend they never liked “Titanic” or “Oblivion” or whatever the hot thing was.

    And now it’s time for my great confession. I play three-to-five-year-old games. I just don’t rush out to buy the newest hot gaming item. By the time I get around to playing a game, the “deluxe” edition with all the patches built in is in the bargain bin for $20 or less. I’m still catching up on X-box games and I have a few more Gamecube games I want to play before I bother thinking about picking up a PS2. I figure by the time I’m caught up, 360s and Wiis and PS3s will be coming down to a reasonable price because next-gen consoles will be out. The same goes for computer games. I’m still playing Civ3 while everybody else is scrabbling for Sid Meyer’s newest game (what, Civ 5 or something?).

  12. SimeSublime says:

    Just a note on point 3. If you ever bother to read the EULA, you’ll notice that with most forms of IP you’re not supposed to lend it. Libraries and video stores actually have to pay a special royalty for renting rights. Otherwise, when you purchase a game or movie, you’re usually buying the right for you to watch it in your home/play it on your computer, no more.

  13. The Gneech says:

    At the risk of sounding like a crotchety old grognard, “getting a computer program right” has not been much of a -cultural- priority since sometime in the mid-1990s. See also “Microsoft Word, buggy substandard program from hell, kills WordPerfect” for starters.

    -The Gneech

  14. Carra says:

    #Reviews tend to encourage the poisonous trend of riding the bleeding technological edge instead of making a fun, stable game.

    Having good graphics is nice but… It just takes tons and tons more development time to make a game that’s played out faster then before. Not to mention the costs of upgrading indeed. Games are costing millions to make now, mostly because it just has to have fancy graphics. It causes publishers to want to play safe and just release sequels. So yes, too much attention is being paid to the graphics.

    # Reviews tend to encourage making games that are less accessable to new or casual players.

    Can’t really see what’s wrong with this. People who buy those magazines are hard core gamers in the first place.

    # Reviews give developers a free pass when it comes to anti-piracy annoyances.

    Well, they often play a test version I assume…

    # Reviewers focus on mega titles and overlook old-school and indie games.

    Well, my magazine still takes time (two pages or so) for indie games. Can find a gem now and then. If anyone wants to try out something new, try the game Masq.

    I did enjoy Neverwinter Nights 2, it’s a great game. Then again, I played it about half a year after it came out, nicely patched.

    Oh well, playing through the good old Starcraft again, who needs fancy graphics?

  15. Avatar says:

    Sime, not actually true. It works that way with software, but not with movies or books, which are covered by the “first sale” doctrine. Essentially, the publisher’s right to control what is done with any individual copy of a given item is terminated when that item is sold to a customer – there is no EULA for books or movies. You take a book home, you can lend that physical copy of it to anyone you like, or do anything you like with it that doesn’t involve duplicating it somehow.

    Software law works a little differently, because a copy must be made to execute the software (as in, it gets copied into RAM to actually run), and the publisher can restrict your right to make that copy by legal contract. Or so the theory goes. Pretty stupid, really, but we’re dealing with thirty-year-old law from the dawn of the computer era here.

    In countries not as cool as the US, your mileage may vary. Some have “moral rights” that restrict you even after a book purchase, some have extra royalties for libraries, what have you.

  16. DocTwisted says:

    I’ve found that the reviews done by XPlay are more honest and useful than anything out there. Pity they usually don’t review PC games.

  17. Pellanor says:

    Amen to that.

    I used to subscribe to PC gamer magazine back in Y2K and 2K1. Comparing today’s magazines to those old ones is good for a few laughs.

    Currently I’m having a bit of a Love-Hate relationship with Civ IV. It fails in a lot of places, system requirements that are way higher than they need to be for that style of game. Lots of bugs in the unpatched versions of the game.

    Yet at the same time it is a truely amazing game. I have so much fun with it that I upgraded my computer shortly after it first came out, just to be able to play it better. I’ve also gone and set up the autosave to every turn, so that I don’t lose much when it crashes. Despite all these flaws it’s been my favourite game for the better part of two years now.

    The reviews I read never mentioned these issues. The fact that the game wasn’t tested with ATI cards, and would crash when played with a very large number of them. Any number of other bugs, which I can’t remember the details of.

    I’m looking forward to the day when reviews are useful again, though I’m not expecting it to come any time soon.

  18. Shinjin says:

    I remember the first couple of years of PCGamer – it was a quality magazine with well written reviews. But that was a long time ago.

    Not *quite* as long ago was Gone Gold. The guy that put that web site together had an interesting approach to reviewing games. He’d actually start out with first impressions, including the Lift Test and install experience. *Then* he’d give his impressions of his first couple of hours with the game. You’d usually have a good idea if the game was something you’d enjoy or not. Often he’d give a follow-up review from later on in the game if his initial impressions were off. He also didn’t have any qualms about reviewing odd-ball titles, so you often learned about games that you might not have normally encountered.

    RIP Gone Gold :(

  19. Holy hell, 2k Games has a terrible publisher; check out the “DRMShock” blog entry at PC Gamer (http://www.pcgamer.com/). I stole the whole thing for my blog (http://taffer.livejournal.com/1050253.html#cutid1) because their archive page is full of bad links.

    Basically:

    * you can only have BioShock installed on one machine at a time
    * you can only install BioShock twice, ever
    * you must be online during installation to “activate” the game
    * you must have the DVD in the drive while playing

    Way to help kill PC gaming, guys.

    – chrish

  20. SiliconScout says:

    We all realize, I hope, that your standard reviewer / reviewing company now-a-days is either paid to do a review in some way or owned in a round-a-bout way by a publisher.

    Add that to all people really want to hear about that next game they want to play is how awesome it is / is going to be and it’s a toxic mix.

    In my opinion they are not independent, they are not objective, and they are simply not accurate.

    If you honestly don’t think EA drops some serious cash into most of these “reviews” you are fooling yourself. What do you think 4 or 5 full page, full colour, high gloss adds costs in the average magazine?

    I just word o mouth and blogs for my reviews, they don’t get paid for it, thus they tend to be a LOT more honest.

  21. Chaoz says:

    Shamus this is the first time I’ve actually posted here.

    Onto your point number three it’s not so much as a free copy as publicity they are giving the reviewers.

  22. xbolt says:

    How true. Sigh…

    Hey, maybe YOU should get a job as a reviewer, Shamus! ;)

  23. lost chauncy says:

    Robert, I used to read Computer Gaming World, from around the mid nineties up to about three years ago. Great gaming mag. Don’t know if that was during your time, but what I do know is it started going down hill…right about the time 1Up.com came out.

    Shamus, “Still, indie developers benefit far more from a review than some A-list game with a huge marketing campaign. It seems better to support great games, as opposed to great big games.” Well said. I couldn’t agree more.

    Mari,I’m the exact same way with games. I’m still playing Civ3, the original Call of Duty and most of the games in my queue are 3 years old or older. Take the most recent one, Curse of Monkey Island. Easily one of the most enjoyable games I’ve ever played (yes it was my first time through).

    Shinjin, I don’t remember Gone Gold but it sound similar to a site called justadventure.com. The focus is on Adventure games but the approach might be similar.

    I think Shamus (and some others) have made a good point here. Reviews just aren’t what they used to be. Can anyone recommend any good Game Blogs?

  24. Joe says:

    I think that one of the big problems here is that the reviewers tend to end up with a single metric of how “good” a game is, when what I (and probably a whole lot of other people) really want is a constellation of metrics which I can use to determine if *I’d* like the game or not. “Shiny” should be one metric, situated beside “System Requirements”. “Difficulty” should definitely be a metric. There are people who really *want* hardcore games. I’m not one of them. And it’s even more frustrating than that: One of the reasons I don’t like really hard games is that I have a limited amount of time. Because of this, I would benefit greatly from good reviews so that I don’t waste my limited time on games that suck. “Plot” would be another metric. Another metric would be “annoyances”, which I consider including both DRM and patching. And then there’s another metric which isn’t so much a scale, but a collection of attributes. For me, my wife likes to game with (but not against) me, so one attribute that I put a whole lot of stock in is whether a game can be played as a cooperative multi-player. If it can’t do that, then it’s got to *really* rock in order to be worth taking up the little bit of time I dedicate to gaming by myself.

    So, in my ideal world, what I’d do is have a system where I assign weights and degrees of freedom, and then have game rankings based on those. So my equation might be a set of rules that gives a game +10 for the coop multiplayer boolean, maybe +2 for a FPS or turn-based RPG, but -10 for a MMOG, -1 for every step away from a score of “3” on the difficulty scale (assuming a scale of 1-10), -2 for every step above 0 in annoyances, +1 for each step on the shiny scale, +2 for each step on the plot scale, and -100 if it goes above the threshold of hardware requirements that my current machine meets. Now that the system knows my rules, tell me which games are “best” by *my* metric. Not just tell me, but let the reviewer describe the game. He’s the one who told me what the games metrics are, so if he gave “plot” a 9, tell me why the plot rocks, and what it could have done to get a 10.

  25. Dolohov says:

    Amen, brother! Speak it! I don’t even buy PC games anymore because of exactly this sort of thing. Instead, I stick to the consoles — I know that I won’t have to patch them, and I know my system plays them, and that’s the end of it. I know I’m missing out, but after the last few PC games I bought were such lousy experiences…

    You know, I bet there are reviewers out there doing exactly this. I should look for these people and give them more of my time and mention them to my friends.

  26. melchar says:

    I have a 3 year old laptop that was insanely beefy when new [and still compares well to basic laptops available now. And I got it mainly for gaming but pretty much got turned off new PC games because of the bug problems. I pretty much have a few ‘old reliables’ on it now [Alpha C, Civ 3, Planescape Torment] – and just play new games on my consoles.

  27. Miako says:

    For anyone who wants a good game, try Star control 2.

    Seriously. I don’t wanna even know what the minspecs are for it… you can run it. and it’s good.

    I agree on the difficulty setting — but I want that a multifold scale.

    Is it reaction time?
    Is it learning curve?
    Is it puzzles?

    And I want a scale for Interesting.

    Oh, and shoot the developers a break. If you get the game on Christmas, you can bet they’ve been working on that patch since October, and it will be out in January.

    12 hour a day jobs take their toll on everyone. I’ve been there.

  28. Miako says:

    Hmm… what do i mean by interesting…

    Interesting is when the plot is important, edge of your seat

    Boring is tetris. or oblivion.

    If anyone around here wants to play a really hard game, try ADOM. here’s a review.
    http://www.angusm.demon.co.uk/AGDB/DBA1/ADOM2.html

  29. Malachite says:

    Funny… I didn’t realise that I read Games reviews as a teenager and don’t do anymore. Honnestly, I think video games, and games in general, have gone down since gaming became an industry. Industry means emphasis on instant gain rather than on how fun a game is gonna be. (I hope my english is not to bad).

  30. Cat Skyfire says:

    I like some reviews. I’m a very casual gamer, but also a very broke one. A few minutes looking at a Review can help me decide whether or not to drop $50 on a game.

    A good example (of a review that was helpful, as well as an example of how pathetic I can be) was a review for a Dance Dance Revolution type game. The idea was that you could use your OWN music for this. (It was PS2.) I was thrilled with the idea until I read the review, which basically claimed it was mostly random how it assigned moves. There’s fifty I just saved.

  31. Anonymous Coward says:

    “Developers deserve the lion’s share of the blame for making software that sucks”

    Actually, the devs aren’t to blame, the management and the publishers are. The devs only do what their told and when they’re told “The deadline is next week, you better have it working then!”, they have no choice but get it at least partly/superficially working.

  32. Hwan says:

    Some of you may find The Escapists’ “Zero Punctuation” a novel and entertaining, if not informative, approach to video game reviews. Sorry, long URL follows:

    http://www.escapistmagazine.com/articles/view/editorials/zeropunctuation

  33. Ryan Speck says:

    I used to quite enjoy reading game reviews, pretty much exclusively from Computer Games Magazine. They were easily the best in the business and put PC Gamer and Computer Gaming World to shame.

    Sadly, they’re gone now, because their parent company, The Globe, was run by idiots who got sued for millions of dollars for spamming MySpace and the magazine was shut down without warning when it finally appeared that they were going to have to pay up.

    As such, it pretty much ruined my interest in continuing to play PC games.

  34. Hal says:

    I guess I get to play “Devil’s Advocate” here, since I’ve been a loyal PC Gamer subscriber since I was in high school.

    I think most of you are being WAY too hard on PC Gamer. I can’t speak for any of the other game reviewers.

    Their reviews almost always do take into account difficulty, installation, and fun. Graphics play a role, but won’t ruin a game’s score. And they always review the game as it is out of the box. Their policy is to review the games as they’re received, so they won’t review a game they aren’t asked to review.

    And the last time there was a terrible issue related to anti-piracy software, PC Gamer was pretty irate about it, too. I can recall quite a few columns devoted to the subject.

    Disagree with me as you will, but I’ve been reading this thing every month for years, so I’d like to think I have somewhat of an idea of what they’re up to.

  35. Shamus says:

    Hal: Thanks for the info. I still have gripes with them, but it’s nice to know they didn’t abandon their policy of reviewing unpatched games. Good on them.

  36. Gaping_MAW says:

    I think the rant against reviews has some merit.. however it ain’t going to change reality.

    You need to accept that reviews really are just guides to game elements you may or may not enjoy. Use them to filter games in/out and then check out the beta reviews, user forums etc to find out what is REALLY going on in the game. Absolutely don’t early adopt and only buy from companies that support post release and you won’t get burnt. Ideally, reviews would cover post-release support, but by then the ‘news-worthiness’ of the review is over.

    Sure, it shouldn’t be this way, but development deadlines mean things are not going to change. (btw I use metacritic to look at good and bad reviews, and generally trust the scores if review averages and user averages are approximately equal).

  37. Taneli Taira says:

    It is very unfortunate that the Finnish gaming magazine Pelit (very simply ‘Games’ in English) isn’t available to more people around the world (mostly because it is in written in Finnish). I’ll tackle those five points in relation to the Pelit-magazine individually:

    1.
    They always remember to chide games that have heavy requirements for smooth play. The rewievers don’t have bleeding edge computers (most of them – someone has to review the Oblivions etc.) so they very often have elements of ‘with these kinds of specs you need to cut down on eye candy a lot, but it still looks good enough’ etc. If there’s content in the game (besides just graphics), the score the game is given remains high (some points are deduced for high requirements and the high requirements are clearly mentioned in the reviews), but especially when there seems to be only graphics, the score suffers very much from the heavy requirements. Then there’s the very small number of exceptional games that look very good without pushing customers into buying bleeding edge graphics cards. Those are lauded, though even that is put into context against the actual content of the game.

    2.
    Admittedly the reviewers in Pelit are sometimes guilty as charged. Most of the times they remember to mention the skill levels needed to complete games and they have a good impression of the skills of average gamers (at least in my opinion – I game for maybe 5-10 hours a week and their estimates match my skills very well). For example they valued the the Prince of Persia: Sands of Time higher than the latter Princes of Persia with a big reason being the artificial difficulty in the latter games. That is one very sore point for them: lengthening a game artificially with inhuman difficulty or with too thinly spread saving points.

    3.
    They regularly lambast games that go out of their way to annoy the users. The Bioshock anti-privacy measures are already under fire in their web pages. They have a very realistic idea of the situation: most measures are easily circumvented by skilled crackers, while they are an immense annoyance to regular users and drives some people to piracy. They also remind users of the fate of Amiga and Commodore computers and the decline of PC gaming (although it seems to be on the rise again).

    4.
    They aren’t as harsh PC Gamer was in the past. They review the games patched. But they also give only preliminary reviews to games that aren’t playable yet because of bugs and warn customers of the situation. Once the game has been patched enough to be playable again, they revisit the game with a proper review. There also was a column about the decision between buying a buggy game released by a small developer to give them the support to be able to release patches; or waiting for the patches to be released before buying the game, so you wont be stuck with an unplayable game that isn’t going to be patched by the developer.

    5.
    Obviously Pelit has to review the mega releases. Finnish is spoken by about 5 million people, so we don’t have the customer base required to release a magazine concentrating only on marginal games. But the mega releases aren’t automatically given great reviews (they seem to be quite bad games more often than not) and a lot of the pages are devoted to smaller indie games. They are actually seeking skilled reviewers that like those mega release games that every average gamer knows about, since their current staff doesn’t have many members that want to review those games (Oblivion, WoW and many others are exceptions – some of the mega releases are good games, but for example many movie license games are reviewed only, because they have to be noted in the magazine).

    This might seem like I’m viewing the magazine through rose tinted glasses, but everything above is true. They concentrate on the whole gaming experience instead of flashy graphics and give pages to marginal releases instead of concentrating on mega releases.

    Sorry for the long comment. I agree with you that, if you have a lot to say, say it in your own blog and crosslink. Unfortunately, I don’t have my own blog.

  38. MaxEd says:

    I thought about starting something like “Evil Reviews Site” which would only host negative reviews focusing on bugs, bad story, glitches in gameplay, high system requirements and so on… Or maybe a dual-reviews site, with one bad, and one good review for each game by different people :)

    By the way, there is one Russian (www.ag.ru, Absolute Games) review site which I really like, because their reviews… Well, they are NOT objective, since there is no such thing as truly objective review, but they’re MY kind of subjective – I often agree with what theirs authors write. Also, they’re never afraid to give low rating to hyped games. STALKER, for example, got only around 60% there.

    I think we need more niche-oriented reivews. I, for example, strongly dislike 95% of modern games, because to me they are inferior to old games. I would like all new RPGs reviewed from POV of Fallout/Arcanum fan, so I would know if I should check ’em out or pass.

  39. Ian says:

    I very rarely look at reviews for games anymore because most of them are just horribly horribly wrong. I usually either try to grab a demo, get a synopsis of the game to possibly see if I’d enjoy it, getting my friends’ opinions on it, or just taking my chances.

    Those methods have been treating me rather well so far, I’d say.

    Cat Skyfire Says: “A good example (of a review that was helpful, as well as an example of how pathetic I can be) was a review for a Dance Dance Revolution type game. The idea was that you could use your OWN music for this. (It was PS2.) I was thrilled with the idea until I read the review, which basically claimed it was mostly random how it assigned moves.

    Holy crap…Dance Factory. XD What a terrible, terrible game.

    A lot of the reviews seemed to forget to mention that the hardest steps that Dance Factory generates tend to make DDR/ITG’s trick/standard/medium charts look hard. To make matters even better, the syncing totally blows.

  40. Me says:

    The last (as in final ;-) review I read started off something like this:

    “My hands were shaking with excitement as I took the shrinkwrap off the box”

    Yep, completely unbiased ;-)

    I don’t get many PC games these days, ‘cos the last couple I tried simply refused to install properly and I can do without the agro of fighing the machine.

  41. Alexis Li says:

    Gap. In the. Market.

  42. Vulpin says:

    Hmm. I think maybe a game review equivalent of Mr. Cranky may be called for as a balance to the gushing reviews out there.

    Oh, Dolohov, console games are not immune to patching. Just patches are a bigger hassle – I used to work for a now-defunct console game company, and they had a MAJOR issue escape into the wild due to the insane dev cycle of the game and some flaws in the testing department’s methodology on that title (which were exacerbated by the insane dev schedule). The same company released a game with a 20% chance of crashing on loading the final battle even after the testing department documented it as a show-stopper.

  43. Johan says:

    “Bugs used to be a terrible sin. I remember PC Gamer taking the hard-line stance, “We don’t review Patched games”. They played the game as it came out of the box. Maybe they’re still doing it, (although I doubt it) but most online reviews have no problem with letting the developer release an incomplete game and patch it later.”

    In a way, I have to disagree with you on this. Patches aren’t just for bugs, they’re also for balance issues in games.

    Case in Point, Rome: Total War. It’s basically a game where you control a Roman-Era empire/etc (Seleucid Dynasty, Carthage, the Britons) from the time of the Punic Wars to the death of Augustus Caesar. It had a huge amount of units and each one could not be tested in ever single environment that the players would use them in for balance issues (so that the game isn’t over-powered for one empire) if they wanted to ship it by the end of the decade. Thus, they sent it as well balanced as they could make it, and let the players give their comments so that they could patch it. In my eyes, there’s nothing wrong with that.

    On the other hand, a game that is sent buggy, and is poorly patched/developers refuse to listen to gamers is a different horse completely. Games like that are a disgrace to the industry, but you can’t lump all patches together as “fixing bugs that should have been fixed earlier,” because they aren’t.

  44. Mazinja says:

    There is one huge reason why magazines mostly give out good reviews as well: companies pay them big money to advertize their games, and giving a bad review for a game you have an ad for is… counterproductive. Imagine having a game on your magazine cover and then blasting it. These days, that’s probably not going to happen.

  45. Miako says:

    Please don’t blame the developers.

    blame the ad team. every game must be done by christmas.

    those developers have just spent months of 12-16 hr days working, to give you that horribly buggy creation.

  46. Stranger says:

    I dunno. It may just be me but I (am/was/will be) running Morrowind on a system which is/was well dated and probably only barely past minimum requirements for video card. I didn’t have much problem with it. I’d gotten the Game of the Year edition, so it WAS a patched game . . . so I cannot attest to how good it was immediately upon release.

    I buy console games mostly, ones from companies I know and trust. Sure, that includes SquareEnix, but it lumps in Atlus as well . . . for computer games, I haven’t gotten a new one in ages.

    In fact, the last two computer games I pulled out were a NetHack GUI version (which I have a love-hate relationship with now) and Cave Story. One is keyboard-crunching difficult . . . the other is Nethack.

    Before that, the last game I put down money for was Guild Wars: Nightfall and FarCry. I’d recommend FarCry to anyone who likes FPSs for the challenge this game presents. And you don’t really need to patch it from the box, and minimum requirements will work servicably for it. Guild Wars is a MMO so . . . constant patching for balance issues and not technical issues.

    Speaking of games which should never have been released . . . I’ve a distant memory . . . of a while back, a game so buggy it would cause SERIOUS damage to the OS. “Pool of Radiance 2: Assault on Myth Drannor”. It actually got middle-road reviews, was patched no less than three times within a month (I think a week but not sure) of release.

  47. lost chauncy says:

    One thing I like about GameSpot are the user reviews. If you’re willing to sift through the chaff chances are good you’ll find one or two quality write-ups. Getting that additional perspective or insight can be helpful I’ve found, and quite often helps round out the Editor review.

  48. Miako says:

    I remember a game (hearing from developers, I don’t remember the game’s name, and I’m not going to defame soemone unfairly)
    that randomly wrote semicolons to its own data.

    Somehow the game still worked. The designer was suitably impressed, before getting to work fixing it.

  49. Krellen says:

    Hey Shamus, thanks for telling me about Virtual Villagers. I love it!

  50. CurtisJ says:

    Not to thread necromise, but Official Nintendo Magazine (in the UK and for the Wii) reviews quite fairly. It reviews a lot of indie games (which often score quite well). It touches on graphics and talks about difficulty objectively, instead of an “ideal difficulty”.

  51. I agree with you and Penny Arcade on this. A numerical score MIGHT be useful in some hypothetical universe, if people stopped pretending they were mathematically relevant (e.g. that you could create a Meta-critic average, for example – they’re not fungible data because IGN’s 76% is not someone else’s 2.5 of 5). But as it is, people just look at the number. What is astounding is that you can read reviews that echo exactly the same problems and benefits ranging from 7.0 to 10.0. MGS 4, for example, was considered a very good game with some very serious problems. But all the fanboys cared about was the 9.0 review. The text could have said that Hideo Kojima rapes babies with semi trucks and they wouldn’t know it, except for someone who takes blurbs out of context and promotes it across the Interwebs.

    A game review should tell me WHAT sort of game I’m buying. I don’t want to know what Tal thinks about a game. I want to know what he’s discovered about what is fun in the game and what isn’t, and I want to have my purchase and/or investment of time suggested by properties of the game (e.g. “If you like roleplaying games, you’ll like this”).

    Penny Arcade has consistently done it right, so much that I eschew looking at reviews if they’ve commented on a game. Look at both the comic and Tycho and Gabe’s posts, and they’ll talk not about some arbitrary, institution-mandated score, but about WHETHER OR NOT I WILL HAVE FUN WITH THE GAME.

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