Experienced Points: Reviewer, Amuse Me!

By Shamus
on May 1, 2009
Filed under:
Column

Attention game reviewers: Entertain me! Dance for my amusement! Say something witty! Engage in frivolous japery to wring a smile from my stony visage.

No? Then sod off.

Enjoyed this post? Please share!



1515 comments. (Fifteen is the smallest natural number with seven letters in its name.)

From the Archives:

  1. Julian says:

    (copied and pasted from my comment on The Escapist)

    I love the way you review: it’s simple, entertaining, and actually informative. You talk about what the game is about, what worked, what didn’t, and how you could fix that. Then you go on to talk about something that really stood out (like when you talked about Dreamfall’s ending, Prey’s child-killing, Jade Empire’s plot twist, etc). Then it’s on to the nitpicks. Sometimes they’re petty, as in your Prince of Persia review, sometimes they’re a joy to read because they’re so many and so severe, like in Fable 2.
    The way you include personal anecdotes also helps with the feeling that a human wrote it (let’s cook up an example… your Oblivion hardware problems, Neverwinter Nights’ “plot door”)

    Now it sounds like I’m just gushing, so I’ll say this was a good read, I liked it a lot more than previous EP’s.

  2. karln says:

    Good points, as long as we don’t forget there’s also room for the drier, more analytical kind of reviews. I watch ZP to be entertained, but when I want to know whether it’s really worth blowing a hefty chunk of my income on a game, I go check IGN and other such sites and get as much information as possible. I’d be a bit lost in a world with only comedic reviews :/

  3. Anachronist says:

    Seeing as this part of your web site is called “Twenty Sided”, any chance you’ll be reviewing the D&D 4.0 tabletop game sometime? Unfortunately for me, my work and family life stopped my D&D activities before 4.0 came out (and shortly after you finished DM of the Rings) but acquaintances tell me they like it better than 3.5.

    Hmm, on another note, your blogging software seems to remember who I am. I keep getting the same avatar each time I post, which is infrequent. I thought these avatars would be random. Must be a persistent cookie thing.

  4. Neil Polenske says:

    I had a whole big huddo to say about your article, but really it boils down to this:

    It’s a good read, but a seriously flawed argument.

  5. I’m pretty sure Eurogamer does most of the things you want a good review site to do. But they do boil it down to a number…

  6. Magnus says:

    I’ve given up reading reviews almost entirely, since the majority of games released these days tend not to interest me (thank god for Good Old Games!), but I used to lurk over at gamespot, and seeing time and time again games that I liked getting 7-8 and games that I thought we’re completely overhyped and overrated given 9-10, I started to despair.

    Agree with you about the negatives though, which is of course why Yahtzee is so popular. I actually get a little annoyed when he doesn’t completely tear into a game.

    In a similar vein, I got endless enjoyment from reading the “review of reviews” over at No Mutants Allowed for Fallout 3, in which they tore into hundreds of reviews.

  7. Mari says:

    I’m with you on absolutely hating numeric scores. They tell me nothing except how big an advertising budget a game has (sorry, I’m a cynic). And of course we love it when somebody’s review agrees with our own assessment although I really don’t comprehend getting my panties in a wad when a reviewer doesn’t agree with me. I love Guild Wars, you hated it. That’s because we want different things from a game. No skin off my nose and I sincerely doubt it bothers you much either. Story-first gamers are probably happy to have a min-maxer like me off of their servers and playing something else anyway and vice-versa.

    I think for me it’s about knowing a reviewer. Not necessarily personally but after a while I do get a feel for what a reviewer wants in a game and I can start sifting through his/her comments and figuring out what games will fit my needs. It doesn’t really matter to me if a particular reviewer wants only Halo-clones so long as I’m aware that it’s what that reviewer is looking for. Then I can steer clear of games that reviewer rates very highly because I don’t want to play a Halo-clone, etc.

    I didn’t even really find Yahtzee that entertaining or informative at first until I got a better sense of what he was looking for in a game and what he absolutely hated in a game. Then he because useful to me as a review source.

    That’s probably one of the reasons I like your game reviews so much. You’re very up-front about what you look for in a game so right from the start I had a sense of how my game wants meshed with yours and it gave me the necessary perspective to glean something useful from them.

    I guess I can concede your point on entertainment, though, because I watch Yahtzee’s reviews of games I know I never have any intention of playing just to listen to him rip them apart mercilessly. Sometimes you just need to hear a good boob joke, I guess.

  8. vdgmprgrmr says:

    I notice that, at the time of this comment being written, five of the eight featured articles on the Escapist main page are yours, Shamus.

    Impressive.

  9. Jeysie says:

    I’m going to echo your thoughts on game sites actually assigning games to the folks who like the genre it’s in.

    It’s especially annoying being an adventure game fan. Lots of mainstream gamesites reviews end up being utterly useless because the game essentially gets low marks merely for being an adventure game, rather than telling you whether it’s a good adventure game or not. It would help immensely if the people reviewing those sorts of side genres were actually familiar with (and liked) the conventions of the genre.

  10. Cybron says:

    I love reading the negative reviews too. Back when I still read print reviews, I’d flip through them looking for anything less than a 6.

  11. RichVR says:

    FYI, nitrous oxide was used for other things long before it was used for whipped cream. From Wikipedia:

    “The gas was first synthesized by English chemist and natural philosopher Joseph Priestley in 1775 [2], who called it phlogisticated nitrous air (see phlogiston). Priestley describes the preparation of “nitrous air diminished” by heating iron filings dampened with nitric acid in Experiments and Observations on Different Kinds of Air (1775). Priestley was delighted with his discovery: “I have now discovered an air five or six times as good as common air… nothing I ever did has surprised me more, or is more satisfactory.”[35]

    Humphry Davy in the 1790s tested the gas on himself and some of his friends, including the poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge. They realized that nitrous oxide considerably dulled the sensation of pain, even if the inhaler were still semi-conscious. After it was publicized extensively by Gardner Quincy Colton in the United States in the 1840s, it came into use as an anaesthetic, particularly by dentists, who do not typically have access to the services of an anesthesiologist and who may benefit from a patient who can respond to verbal commands.”

  12. A fan says:

    I agree with your idea of improving the video game review sites, but you’re wrong in one point: most of the reviews are not only unentertaining, but also mainly uninformative.They don’t tell you what you need in order to know whether or not you should buy the game.And there are times the author loses himself in selftalking, blabling about his life, and making an analogy or a connection between this and the game.They try maybe to be fun, and they fail.
    What I hate mostly about a review are those:
    -reviewers that tell me that “I’m not a gamer if I haven’t played this”.Imagine trying to buy a car and having the salesman tell you that you’re an idiot if you don’t buy the product!
    -people that compare games that come from the same series.They are like “the combat sistem in Goblinslayer 4 is almost like the one in Goblinslayer 3, with slightly improvements”.Hello?!I haven’t played Goblinslayer 3.Did you think about this?Maybe they should shake hands with the first category.
    -reviewers that are unspecific.The kind that says that the graphic is astonishing…Did you like the graphic?Good.Why?What exactly did you like?The details, the pretty light show, the fact that it builds atmosphere…What?

  13. Tesh says:

    I’m interested in information and entertainment. What bothers me is that typically neither is available, and writers confuse the two in their hamfisted efforts to provide justification for their jobs.

    I get more consumer information from blogs than I ever will from an EGM or a “scored” review. They are often more entertaining as well.

  14. Count_Zero says:

    As someone who reviews things, but not for a living (I am a staff writer for Bureau42 in addition to writing on my own blog – and I don’t get paid for either of those) – when I review things for Bureau 42 – we use a scoring system, rating the film, or book, or show, or game based on 7 categories, each with a score out of 6. Now, with this format, we basically give the premise of whatever we’re reviewing, the relevant information on who made it (and whose in it – in the case of film), the high point(s) and low point(s) – and then when we give a score in each category, we give a justification of that score in each category, explaining why (I gave Patlabor a 4 in the Originality category, for example, because while it’s a giant robot show – it’s a giant robot show crossed with “Barney Miller” or another cop show that more on the tongue in cheek side than the serious side, while still having serious moments.)

    By having to give a score in the various categories, it helps me to structure my reviews, and also keeps me from becoming too verbose – when all is said and done, my reviews at Bureau42 are fairly short, and might even be shorter than a review you might find of a game at Gamespot.com, while still being (hopefully) informative.

    On the other hand, when I review something on my blog (more or less), the format I use for my review is a lot less rigid, and I don’t give a score. This leads to a much more loose writing style for my review, but I tend to ramble more.

    So, I’d say that it’s not quite necessary to dump the score concept yet, but I do feel that going without a score has its advantages.

    Besides, if all the big sites went without scores for a few months, Metacritic would hopefully die a quick death, and people in the game industry would pay more attention to review content than scores, and thus scores could go back to their original meaning – an at-a-glance explanation of how the game is, with the review expanding on and justifying that point (and, hopefully, the score could find itself in it’s proper place – at the very, very, very end of the review, where you can’t see it until you’ve actually read the review.)

Leave a Reply

Comments are moderated and may not be posted immediately. Required fields are marked *

*
*

Thanks for joining the discussion. Be nice, don't post angry, and enjoy yourself. This is supposed to be fun.

You can enclose spoilers in <strike> tags like so:
<strike>Darth Vader is Luke's father!</strike>

You can make things italics like this:
Can you imagine having Darth Vader as your <i>father</i>?

You can make things bold like this:
I'm <b>very</b> glad Darth Vader isn't my father.

You can make links like this:
I'm reading about <a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Darth_Vader">Darth Vader</a> on Wikipedia!

You can quote someone like this:
Darth Vader said <blockquote>Luke, I am your father.</blockquote>