Sunday, June 7, 2009

Game Reviewers Suck

This post was conceived on Friday, for the record.

Game reviewers are notoriously bad. I'm referring to any game reviewer. They just don't get games.

It kind of makes sense, because if a game reviewer had enough sense to know what made a good game, they might be making their own. That's what Sirlin did, right?

Most game reviewers aren't literary geniuses. Am I wrong for suggesting that the literary merit of a video game be judged by people with backgrounds in literary analysis? It sounds common sense to me.

I'm not really serious on that point, honestly. I don't think you should have a lit degree to be able to judge a game's plot. However, people judge stories by the quality of the actual story itself, often making points towards originality. However, in most cases I would argue that the value of a story is in the method it takes to get to the individual plot points. In general I think this is really glazed over by game reviewers.

Case in point: Mass Effect was a really awesome game. Most people who read this site either haven't played the game (go!) or probably liked it. The story in Mass Effect, most people would agree, is pretty awesome. I wouldn't say that it's original though. It had a fairly stereotypical space opera plot, but the devil was in the details, in the actual storytelling. I feel like no game reviewer ever gets this right.

Gameplay is the single most important part of a game for me. It's also never elaborated on by game reviewers. Occasionally game reviewers get little snippets of why a game should feel right. Typically they say things like how Halo 1 'just felt right' and such. They don't say things like the slower gameplay make things easier to pick up on, or weapons have the right killpower without feeling too strong, grenades had the right arc, right blast radius, etc. Never does a game reviewer get nitpicky with a game, and when they do it's to complain about something like "throwing fireballs in SF over and over is so easy and people do it all the time on XBL."

Just recently I had a friend who played the new Bionic Commando. I've never played this game before. He said to me that the game felt really satisfying. He then went on in great detail about how the bionic arm physics worked, and what you could do with the arm. He brought up sample scenarios of things you could do with the arm to illustrate what awesome things you could do in the game.

When I read a review of Devil May Cry 3 a long time ago, none of the awesome things Dante could do, such as midair leaping off enemies, wall running, air dashing, midair combos, teleporting, and so on were even addressed. When I actually talked with friends I explained all of these things and they asked how you could do it, and I explained to them. I explained also that the game was too damn hard for mortals and most people would not be able to play it, but because of the stuff I said about the game, people wanted to play it anyway. Heh.

Music and sound effects are a mixed bag. A lot of game reviewers don't have the slightest clue about how to talk about them. Generally, sound effects should produce a psychological effect when they're heard, like the noise when you fire a gun should be satisfying, the sound when you jump should make you feel a certain way, and so on. Most reviewers are like "sound effects did the job, k" and move along. I feel this is generally worse than bringing it up at all.

Lastly is the 'fun' categories. Generally people totally wipe out at this because fun is highly subjective. I see fun categories pretty much all the time but they are pretty much useless. Some of us like matching colored jewels together, others enjoy reading huge walls of dialogue, and others like fighting through crowds of bad guys with chopsticks. What's fun for you? Ultimately this is the category which determines a purchase or a rental, but it is too subjective.

Fun can be distilled though, if we run it through a peer review process. A lot of game magazines do a sort of mediocre effort at this. If we want a solid review of what makes a game fun, a majority of a game publication's staff should play the game, and give briefly what makes the game exciting, and the game's flaws. Instead, we have one guy that writes a huge biased article with maybe one other person's opinion on the matter.

I think the biggest troublemaker in the game reviewing world is Yahtzee. He pretty much provides no useful information in any of his reviews. I just watched a couple of reviews of his, and they're pretty much of no value in purchasing games. They're interesting as entertainment value, sure (especially if you've already played the game) but are pretty much useless as an actual review tool. He addresses annoying, superficial points that often don't matter or are totally overblown, and tangents on things that have nothing to do with games.

But hey, he's more popular than me, so what do I know?


  1. Aww, my descriptions of BC stood out that much? Maybe I should go into reviewing games. =3

    I agree, though. Too often do they go "oh the arm controls were good" or "oh the guns felt underpowered" or "everything was okay with the sound" without giving us any examples or otherwise trying to sell us on the idea.

    The bits I went on about the Bionic Arm were what I felt were the most relevant - when you swing, it follows at least semi-real physics for a swinging object, suddenly released; momentum and seamless swinging do count for something, as you fly faster and a -lot- further; plus swing-fly-swing-fly-latch onto enemy-zip kick-HIKER (shotgun) round to finish is really very satisfying. It really makes you feel like this guy can do some crazy stuff, and you're the one telling him where to aim and how to do it.

    Why can't 'real' (see also: paid) reviewers do that? It baffles me as it has since the Playstation came out and play mechanics suddenly became three-dimensional and more elaborate, and therefore less spoken of.

  2. Interestingly Yahtzee's review of BC was pretty cool about the actual game mechanics involved. He hated that there was unrealistic momentum and stuff, and that areas had artificial boundaries instead of being sandboxy.

    Yahtzee clearly loves sandboxing heh.