Friday, January 13, 2012

What makes a good game review?

One of the types of articles I want to try and write is game reviews. I have read a lot of reviews over the years, from my first subscription to Computer Gaming World to the plethora of gaming sites that have popped up over the years. For me, the most common reason for reading reviews was to see if the game you have been anticipating for months (or years) has lived up to the hype. Lately that has changed for me. It is much for exciting to stumble upon a review for a game that I have never heard of, but after reading it I decide it is something I must get. As more and more indie titles pop up, this is becoming more prevalent. It is also fun to root for the small developer to have a blockbuster game because many of us are tired of ‘working for the man’ and would love to create something ourselves that others find enough value in to actually pay for. This can be creating your own game, writing a book, or crafting a block of wood into a piece of art. Anyways, I digress from my original topic. In conversation I tend to bounce a bit from one subject to another and I guess it is the same for me when I write…

What Makes a Good Review?

I needed a way to organize my thoughts about what makes a good game review. I figured if I wrote them in a place where there is a potential reader then I may take it more seriously. Feel free to add your thoughts about what makes a good game review.
What subject matter does it cover?
Sometimes a game can have good mechanics and production values and a player may still not enjoy it because they are not interested in the subject matter. A really good game can overcome that, but not always.
Explain what biases you may have that influence your opinion.
I have a tendency not to enjoy space games. They tend to use terms that don’t make sense to me, like Xenomicrobe production. In an ‘earth-based’ game like Civilization, perhaps this would just be a bonus to agriculture. Hey that means growing stuff!! That is why I am a huge Civilization fan, but didn’t really like Alpha Centauri. Alpha Centauri introduced many quality game play enhancement to the Civ franchise, but I just couldn’t get into it.
What are the main game play elements?
This one is a no-brainer. If the actions you take and the decisions you make do not sound interesting, chances are the game will not be fun.
 Does the UI provide enough information in an accessible manner to allow the player to make decisions?
A game may be based on quality mechanics, but if you have to click 5 times to drill down for necessary information the game becomes too much work. Paradox’s Victoria had this problem for me. I found I was having to dig into multiple places to figure out my next move that it just wasn’t worth it anymore.
 Does the AI provide an adequate challenge for different skill levels?
 I think most people are looking for a challenge when they play a game. There is a sense of satisfaction for solving a problem in a game and sticking it to the AI. What may be a challenge for me may be a cakewalk for another player.  A game has a much wider potential audience if it can challenge a range of skill levels.
How does the AI adapt to provide an increased challenge?
There are many ways a game can provide a challenge to different players:
-          Receives bonuses to attack, production, etc.
-          Sees beyond the fog of war.
-          Comes at the player with overwhelming numbers.
-          Uses more sophisticated algorithms to determine its actions.
It is hard to provide a challenging AI that doesn’t ‘cheat’ and some players get upset when the AI doesn’t play by the same rules as the player. If it is known to the reviews I think it is something worth mentioning.
Are the graphics and sound pleasing?
This is more important in some genres then others, but the game’s art can enhance the game experience.  It goes without saying that any game-related graphics should be clear and identifiable. Does the art direction draw you into the experience?
How is the technical performance?
High-quality graphics don’t mean a thing if a FPS plays like a slide show. Also, an epic strategy game can become an epic chore if you have to save every two minutes because of game crashes. It is also helpful for the review to include some basic specs of their hardware so others can understand the basis for the review’s comments on performance.
Was the review entertaining to read?
I list this last not because it isn’t important, but it is going to be a big weakness for me until I get more writing under my belt. There are many ways to entertain; humor (Out of Eight), offering insights into games beyond a mere review (Flash of Steel), etc. I hope to someday acquire these skills. Until then I hope there is somebody out there who will find something worth reading at One Guy, Too Many Games. It will be sad if I have to have my wife visit the blog just to see the page views increase because I am not tracking my own visits J.

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