“Reviewing”?

 By Shamus Oct 17, 2007 31 comments

Several people have been nudging me to get Portal, so I thought I’d note here that I have already devoured the game. I’m just waiting until I get the Episode One writing out of my system before I start in on reviewing Portal.

Wait. Reviewing? I suppose that’s the correct word, but I don’t review stuff in the typical sense of talking about a product and then assigining some sort of numeric (number of stars) or boolean (thumbs up / down) value that’s supposed to guide your purchasing decisions. That’s not really why I write. I just enjoy talking about games and I’m always pleased when people join in. Really, my tastes can be quite peculiar and my opinions often border on heresy (I loved Serious Sam and hated Far Cry, for example) so I can’t imagine someone buying a game just because I say it’s good.

I actually wish game review sites would go more in this direction: Turn down the self-aggrandizing, ease off on the hype, don’t encourage the jabbering fanbois, and just talk about your experience playing a game. What worked, what didn’t, what could have been better? Stop talking about the games coming out next month and talk about what games you played this month, and why you’re still playing them. I itch for this sort of writing, but it’s rare. I feel like most gaming sites are geared towards semiliterate teens. Maybe that’s where the money is, but I can’t help thinking that a site talking about games, aimed squarely at grownups wouldn’t fill a need for a lot of neglected gamers out there. I can’t be the only one who’d prefer literacy and personality over big screenshots and verbal intensity.

“Games for Grownups”. Aspiring games journalists: This is your big chance.

201131 comments. Hurry up and add yours before it becomes passé.


  1. Doug Sundseth says:

    As a business model, catering to the drooling, semi-literate teenager is reasonably good. That demographic is more subject to influence and manipulation than a mature market is, so it’s more desirable for advertisers. (Even though a more mature demographic might spend more money.)

    I want the same sort of reviews that you want, but I don’t know that targeting me would be efficient.

  2. Ian says:

    Hey, you’re not the only one who loves Serious Sam and hates Far Cry. I tried playing Far Cry again and it was one of the most agonizing experiences I’ve had in a while. Nothing like being an adept FPS player and dying repeatedly…on easy. Love that DIAS gameplay.

    I really like how you structure your reviews. Each segment is about the right length and is always a fun read. Another positive trait is that you actually talk in length about how the game plays rather than going into great detail about every visual fault you see in the game (like the people who sit there and count pixels, then whine about how, say, Halo 3 isn’t true 720p…things like that).

    The best thing is that you go into enough detail that, even though one might disagree with your opinion on the game, they can still generally form their own opinion based on what you write about the game. I like that.

  3. DGM says:

    I’m just waiting until I get the Episode One writing out of my system before I start in on reviewing Portal.

    Wait. Reviewing?

    Heh. Looks like I called it. Shamus is turning into a game journalist. Slowly and perhaps even against his will, but… ;)

  4. Davesnot says:

    It’s an age old problem.. if you’re reviewing and getting paid for it.. well.. then your review is tainted.. If you aren’t getting paid.. then you’re not a “real” reviewer..

    It’s kinda like getting your spouse to listen to you. You spouse thinks you either don’t know what you’re talking about because she knows you can’t find you wallet to save your life.. or.. she thinks you’re trying somehow to get out of doing something..

    That same spouse will listen to someone say the same thing you told her.. why?? Because that person is paid to say those things… what you say? You’re an expert in that field too?? Not to your spouse.

  5. Jeff says:

    Maybe that’s where the money is, but I can’t help thinking that a site talking about games, aimed squarely at grownups wouldn’t fill a need for a lot of neglected gamers out there. I can’t be the only one who’d prefer literacy and personality over big screenshots and verbal intensity.

    This is why I loved the old Computer Gaming World.

  6. Loren says:

    You might enjoy the writing at: http://www.rockpapershotgun.com/

    A blog by four UK games journalists who concentrate on the goings on in the world of pc gaming and seem pretty level headed.

  7. Khoram says:

    Check out Gamers With Jobs (gamerswithjobs.com). The whole point of the site is it is by and for adult, mature (although occasional silliness is permitted) gamers. There’s a well-written front page story right now on Portal. It’s not a huge commercial enterprise, though.

  8. The Pancakes says:

    Yours is the site you’re after, Shamus. You’re filling the niche you’ve identified.

  9. DmL (Davey) says:

    I agree. While I could be more excited/interested in your new comic, I continue to stop by here to read your thoughts.

  10. Another Look says:

    If everyone else who ‘reviews’ games started doing it the way you did, your method wouldn’t be so unique, and would become somewhat mundane. The more rare something is, the more precious people will find it.

  11. blizzardwolf1 says:

    Shamus, I actually consider your site to be the only one to present legitimate game reviews. Sites like IGN and such, their reviews are good for a laugh, 5 minutes’ entertainment, but that’s it.

    Every time a game comes out now, I find myself thinking more and more “Y’know, I really hope Shamus plays this and writes about it, especially before I buy it.” because I know you’re not gonna waste my time.

    Your coverage of Bioshock is the reason I didn’t go out and buy it. Every other game-centric site I looked on barely mentioned the DRM problems with Bioshock. I didn’t care if you’d played it or not: Just from looking at it I could make a decent guess that the developers did their job right, and made a good game. But you focused on what I didn’t know and needed to, and THAT’S the kind of reviewing I have respect for, and seek out.

    I can trust you to play a game, and review it later honestly, and as it is. I know you’re gonna tell me if it’s buggy, if it’s particularly frustrating in points, if the load times are brutal, if the controls or camera are shit. If the story is infantile, if the leveling system is broken, and so on and so on. This is all information I’d like to know, and won’t find out anywhere else unless I buy the game.

    I know you’re not gonna waste my time by practically orgasming over the shiny new graphics and the texture of the water, things most average gamers won’t have access to anyway, and which I definitely don’t care as much about as the gameplay.

    This is why I’m hoping you’ll review Grim Fandango when you’re done playing it. I really want to hear what that game is like.

    Keep it up Shamus, please.

  12. Renacier says:

    What I like about Shamus’ “game reviews” is that he doesn’t talk only about games, so that when he does give his opinions on one, there’s an outside context that I can use to evaluate his evaluation.

  13. Phlux says:

    I also loved Serious Sam. I didn’t hate Far Cry, but I also never finished it, which is rare for me. I like to complete single player campaigns, even if only out of spite or obligation.

    Far Cry was just boring me, and I think another game captured my attention. It started life as a tech demo for the engine, and it shows. Nothing new or innovative really. Homeworld is the only one I really regret not finishing. Every time I play I get stuck at the level with the radiation and the asteroid belts, and can’t beat it. I hear it only gets harder after that, too.

    I am a big fan of sci-fi and that game had an amazing story, so I always hope to one day go back and finish it. The slow play speed is nice for your first run through a level, but once you know the strategy it’s just boring waiting 15 minutes for your ships to cross the map.

  14. Turgid Bolk says:

    The widespread assumption that games are made for children was recently touched upon in the Level Up blog: http://blog.newsweek.com/blogs/levelup/archive/2007/10/09/the-problem-and-the-danger-of-the-continued-infantilization-of-videogames-part-i.aspx

    Thus, many game reviews are aimed at young’uns, even M-rated games. I rarely bother reading reviews from IGN and the like, but your “discussions” are very informative indeed.

  15. Miral says:

    I also enjoy reading your thoughts on games — that’s one of the reasons why I keep coming back here. Of course, I also enjoy Zero Punctuation. I’m not sure what that says about me :)

  16. foobario says:

    You assign a value judgement for the games… that is ‘reviewing’ by any other name. Step up to the plate and bat.

  17. ngthagg says:

    I like to get two things out of a review. First, information. No reviewer can provide me with all the information I need to make a good decision (does it fit in my budget, will my roommates be playing it, can my computer run it, etc), which means I need as much information as the reviewer can provide in order to choose wisely. Reviews which gloss over the actual playing experience to tell me “If you buy one game this year, make it . . .” don’t do me much good. Second, I need an honest reaction from the reviewer that I can combine with a history of honest reactions to get an idea how the game will suit my personal tastes. For example, I know that Shamus is a skilled FPS player, whereas I am clumsy at best. If Shamus finds an FPS frustrating, I’ll probably hate it. On the other hand, Shamus preferred FFX to FFXII, so I know if he dislikes a jRPG, he’s crazy and I’ll probably enjoy it.

  18. Wilcroft says:

    it’s not only adults who like mature reviews. I for one ( being a teenager) can say that there are younger people out there who enjoy reading sense rather than junk. On the flip side, there are many “grownups” who like “reading” fanboy propaganda.

  19. Mark says:

    Well, The Escapist is pretty much all the grown-up games journalism I can handle. N’Gai Croal, too.

  20. As someone who reviews albums for a part-time job, and much prefers telling people what it’s actually like and ignoring hype rather than giving it ‘marks’ (which I really don’t like doing), I empathise completely. I prefer yours, or the aforementioned Yahtzee (from The Escapist)’s reviews over a typical game site review any day.

    I’d disagree that reviews are mostly for kids: I’m more or less likely to buy a game (or album for that matter) if it’s reviewed as a good or poor game by someone whose opinion I respect, whereas I regard kids (sure, technically I’m a kid in some countries still, but I don’t think of myself as one) as the kind of purchasers more likely to buy based on impulse, hype, or some combination thereof (as I remember doing when I was younger).

  21. HeroForge says:

    Yes! Thank you for backing up my own opinions on game reviews.

    I have NEVER purchased a game based on pre-release reviews. Partly because I can’t justify (or afford) throwing down $50+ for a computer game, but mostly because some titles just turn out differently than what all the magazines and popular websites say about them.

    Who remembers the little bug in the uninstaller for the last Pool of Radiance game? Until they made a patch, it could take your system files with it.

    Even if I’m going to get a game shortly after release, I prefer to do some hunting around online, to see what people have to say about it. If people are still raving about it, then I consider the purchase.

  22. Taneli Taira says:

    Again, the Finnish gaming magazine Pelit would match your need perfectly. If they went international, they’d be a guaranteed hit (they already are in Finland – their circulation is the third biggest of any Finnish magazine and newspapers). Alas, it seems like the joy of Pelit is going to stay accessible to Finns only.

    I think the reason we have such an adult gaming magazine has a lot to do with the Finnish gaming culture in general. For example PC games still have a whopping 46% market share in Finland and games like the Europa Universalis and Total War series sell really well here. Off course Sims, Half-Life and Bioshock etc. are hits here also, but not in the same scale as in the rest of the world (at least as far as I’m aware of the situation of the rest in the world).

    Pelit magazine has been around since 1992 and some of its staff are still the same, which begs the question: Has the adult line of writing of the magazine molded the Finnish gaming culture in general or has the Finnish gaming culture birthed the magazine. In 1992 gaming was a really small thing in Finland and the huge circulation of the magazine says that the influence of the magazine on Finnish gaming culture hasn’t been small…

  23. Alexis says:

    Personal reviewing is the way forward. If I don’t like what you say, I can ignore you and listen to the other guy, who mainly likes the same games as me. ‘Objective’ ratings just aren’t that personally accurate.

  24. Alex says:

    Do you have any idea how hard it is to put a grade on something? It’s totally arbitrary. If you can’t tell what someone thinks of a game by their words alone, they’re doing something wrong.

    It’s why someone like Jeremy Parish laments; he has to put a number to something but what does that number represent? It represents a bottom line of stupidity and constant war. I’ve never understood why games are the source of such flamery – except then I realised that if people blindly hate something, they don’t have to spend money on it. It’s economic self-preservation.

    Still lame, though. (I think it holds the same for movies, but a slightly different motivator, obviously – although the internet has bizarrely bred “studio snobs”).

  25. Zukhramm says:

    I don’t really see the difference.

    “just talk about your experience playing a game. What worked, what didn’t, what could have been better? Stop talking about the games coming out next month and talk about what games you played this month, and why you’re still playing them.”

    Is’nt that what game reviewrs do? The one’s I’ve read at least.

    And also, I almost allways let reviews influence my buying of games. Not nessecarily the way that if reviews gives games high score I’ll buy it. Even if the revviewer disslikes the game, he should be able to (and they mostly are able to) tell me whether I like the game or not.

    And scores in reviws, are not really needed, the few reviews I’ve written I’ve had to add them in the end because the site I posted on demanded it, but a review should really be able to give the writer’s opinion without a number.

  26. Dev Null says:

    I can’t imagine someone buying a game just because I say it’s good.

    Actually, I’ve bought a couple because you recommended them (or compared other things to them unfavorably.) Its exactly because everybodys tastes are different, that it was a relief to find someone who agrees with me about some of my old favorites. Not all of em, mind you, but enough to make it worth checking out the things you raved about that sounded cool. If you reduced it all to a star-rating it would ruin the point though – I wouldn’t be able to tell if your reasons for raving about something were things I actually cared about.

  27. Ian says:

    Zukhramm wrote: “Is’nt that what game reviewrs do? The one’s I’ve read at least.”

    Some do, but a great majority of them simply don’t deliver very good reviews.

    Let’s take a look at X-Play’s reviews, for instance (since that’s a very mainstream game-related program). Nine times out of ten they don’t actually say much about the game. Often times they do nothing more than make stupid jokes about something that happened in the game or what have you. Their reviews are more about entertainment than actual content and, in most cases, are not very informative. Yet that doesn’t stop them from slapping their ill-advised “FOUR…OUT OF FIVE” on games at the end. The reviews on their site are pretty good for the most part. The ones on the show suck if you’re looking to make an informed decision.

    What game reviewers need to stop doing is gushing about how long they’ve been waiting for the game, talking about things that happened during the game’s development, and repeating themselves over and over again for twenty paragraphs.

    I think the biggest problem is that many reviewers are rushed to push out many reviews in a relatively short period of time. Ultimately, that means less time to give the game a solid play-through and, thus, less content to write about.

    Meh, now I’m rambling. I think I’ll stop now.

  28. J says:

    [Ian] You are absolutely correct with the quality of X-Play’s on-air reviews. Though personally I think they are quite entertaining to watch anyway.

    Now that I really think about it, Shamus is the first video game reviewer “of record” that I can recall reading over my years of this hobby. All the print and almost all of the online reviews say nothing that cannot be anticipated… even with only the vaguest idea of the game.

    My work-around was to pay extra attention to ONLY the negative things said in many reviews (lovers and haters, “professional” and fan) to get at the real bottom line of a game… how badly will this game piss me off?

    I was one reader who was persuaded to buy Bully after reading about it here. Rockstar games pretty much never shows up on my radar (me preferring Japanese RPGs and 4X), but I do not regret getting this game at all! Though I suppose it could be a bad social influence–by the end of it all, I hated prefects, teachers, adults, and cops with a passion. :P (Where’s my unlimited ammo spud gun?)

  29. AndrewNZachsDad says:

    Shamus,

    I know I’m coming to this party a little late (like, 3 days since the last post), but you can blame yourself. I’ve been reading Girl Genius since you recommended it about a week or so ago. I haven’t had this much fun catching up on a storyline since…well, DMotR, truthfully.

    Anyhow, I wanted to echo what many others here have said: Shamus, you are in a small way filling the very need you mention. At the very least, you are providing a rock-solid example of what those of us who agree with you would like to see in “proper” reviewing. I know your site will never become “all games, all the time” (and most of us don’t want it to do so) but the gems you put out will likely serve as a beacon for one of those “aspiring game journalists” to kick off a career. Or a really well-respected review site, anyway.

    That being (over)said, however, the real reason I wanted to drop in my 2 rupees today was to point out the level of comments on your blog. For crying out loud, most of the posters in this thread alone actually used paragraphs! Normally, reading blog comments is a guaranteed 2 hours pay for my psychoanalyst as I try to decipher what 1337-g33k-f14m3r-80i (leet-geek-flamer-boi, for those of you who share my un-1337-n355..,sorry, unleetness) was trying to say. It’s like there’s a keyboard language set in Windows which doesn’t include any punctuation…or letters, for that matter. Aside from Zukhramm’s spelling issues (sorry, Zukhramm, I don’t mean to pick on you – mispelling on the internet is just a pet peeve of mine; I’m not making a judgement on you personally) and trying to figure out what ngthagg meant by jRPG (Japanese RPG, got it, thanks), these comments were easy to read and well thought out! Look, Ma! No therapy! ;)

  30. Stranger says:

    Sir,

    I might not agree with your reviews, and in fact on a couple things you and I disagree rather vastly. However, your reviews and listing of experiences have led me to add games to my “list” to look into and take others off (Fable migrated off, for instance, Jade Empire on).

    Your reviews and commentary have the distinction of being offered as you actually play a game or deal with whatever OTHER headaches come up. As the aforementioned Yahzee . . . they are both amusing and a good gauge of the game.

    I don’t have much use for “official” reviews as often they are done seemingly to serve up games with Big Names or hype to people . . . sometimes they are done specifically to fall in line with the “console politics” which are impossible to ignore.

    (You know of what I speak, and how some people prefer one system over another . . . and as reviewers this can color their comments either consciously or subconsciously.)

    I like reading game reviews by people who are NOT being paid for it. They don’t have to answer for it if they take a look at Halo 4 or Quake 6 . . . and go: “You know, this isn’t as good as the last one . . .” No fear of arcane retribution by a company witholding “exclusives” or advertising people jumping ship . . . just people who want to stand up and say: “I liked it.”

    I do recommend you continue to tell what you think, Shamus, but please don’t go out of your way for it. Remember, you are not OBLIGATED to give us anything.

    . . . Except ‘Chainmail Bikini’ . . .

  31. Varewulf says:

    Hehe, seems like you were asking for the Escapist all the way back then. ;) And sorry for more necroing. ^^;

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