I have read a lot of bad reviews, and not just on this site. There are things I feel should be mandatory in a good review besides just a breakdown of graphics, audio, gameplay and control. At worst, a review is nothing but three 80 word blurbs, half of each spent on being “funny” or about 300 words and then some pictures representing the reviewers feelings of the game, we in the biz call them emoticons.
Tell us who made the game. Mario Golf was not made by Nintendo, nor was Paper Mario. I cannot tell if this is due to a lack of research or if reviewers just think we don’t need to know. I guess their logic is that telling us Nintendo made a game is easier than telling us Camelot did. This is self satisfying since if they had been telling us the actual developers’ names over the last few decades then continuing to tell us wouldn’t confuse nearly as many people. Publishers publish games but don’t always develop them. Please, fellow reviewers, read that sentence again if it was confusing. Give a developer credit for their work.
Tell us what else the developer has done. How can a review of Advance Wars not mention the Fire Emblem series? Don’t ask me, I wouldn’t be stupid enough to gloss over a detail like that. Highlights or failures in a developer’s record can have a significant impact on a reader’s perception of a game. “Intelligent Systems made Advance Wars and have previously done work on the Fire Emblem series? Well, since I hate that series I am less interested in Advance Wars.” A thought process like that isn’t too far fetched. Knowing the pedigree of a game empowers the consumer, which is perhaps one of the reasons magazine reviews tend to omit that information. Some magazines exist to sell games, not educate.
Tell us if the game is part of a series. I have read reviews that approach Trapt with no knowledge whatsoever about the Deception series and because of this fail to mention that any of the other games exist. I think a lot of reviewers simply haven’t played every game in the world, but that is not a good excuse. Spend an hour playing other games in the series. For hell’s sake, do a google search if you don’t know if it’s a one off or part of a series. Simple steps can make a big difference.
Tell us what the game is similar to. In the latest issue of EGM, Tekken 5 is reviewed and compared to Soul Calibur 2 series. It apparently didn’t dawn on any of those professionals that Soul Calibur 2 is not a hand to hand fighting game. I don’t mind that they mentioned it in the review, but missing a comparison between Tekken 5 and Virtua Fighter 4, the generally agreed upon best hand to hand fighter, is just careless. They went for a comparison between popular games at the cost of accuracy, but at least they tried. Plenty of reviews won’t.
Tell us about the history of the game. Why not mention in a review of God of War or Gauntlet: Seven Sorrows the interesting facts behind their development? At worst a reader will skip past it if they are bored, at best it will inspire them to think about the state of the industry. Perhaps they will question the current design model, seeing God of War as an example that a game is better when it is a labor of love and not just a product, or wonder if the overblown egos of designers and producers can severely compromise the quality of a title. Whatever the impact, getting gamers to think seriously about the world of gaming is only a positive thing, unless the goal of your magazine is to get people to buy crap.
I know this is a demanding list and I don’t expect even good reviewers to hit all of these points in every review they write. This is as much a protest against the terrible, vapid reviews we are all used to reading and have accepted as it is a hard and fast outline of how to write a review. I do expect better things from online reviews, however. Maybe it makes sense to ignore some things in print because paper is money, but online words are basically free and online reviewers should take advantage of their medium. Some of the bigger sites do give us three page reviews and we should all be thankful, but others do not.
The main complaint a reviewer would give is that their readers don’t want huge reviews. Maybe this is true of some of their readers, but not all. If you want to appeal to hardcore gamers then write like you want to appeal to hardcore gamers. If you were to go by quality of reviews, I know very few magazines that are written for gamers. If you run a web site and don’t want to alienate readers with book long reviews, write a good synopsis of the real review. Pretend you work for EGM, post those 80 words but then have a link to a full review. I doubt this approach is novel but I don’t see it enough. And then some sites don’t want to appeal to the hardcore, who equal less advertising income.
Maybe reviewers just don’t want to spend the time. There is no excuse for any publication to allow for lazy reviewers since there are so many long winded gamers out there with opinions they’ll gladly share with you, of course the ability to write isn’t something everyone shares.
I doubt it’s the reviewers, honestly, unless we’re talking about game FAQs. The format of the publication is what dictates what they can and cannot write. It’s a shame that there are reviewers who wish they could say more and cannot.
Alas, this article is a good example of the problems of the internet as well as the benefits. I have been rambling for almost a dozen paragraphs and with no space constraint; there was no reason for me to stop.
One word review of this article: Crap