Monday, March 25, 2013

A Review on Reviews and Reviewing: The Review

"Judged as a piece of entertainment...It's pretty close to perfect." Destructoid. Score 10/10.
"Awful in nearly every way." IGN. Score: 2/10.
"Entertaining and unpredictable...delivers more shocks than schlock." Gamespot. Score: 7/10

These are all reviews from reliable sources and all from different games obviously. Right? No? You mean these are all from the same game, Deadly Premonition?

Well, how about this:
"Loses focus and fails to accurately assess which of its elements are truly worthy of being included." IGN. Score: 7.9/10 (Wouldn't expect that score with that kind of intro would you?)
"A mishmash of elements put together without any sense of care or direction." GameSpot. Score: 4.5/10
"Big, brash, and full of memorable moments." Gametrailers. Score: 8.8/10

These have to be for different games. What? They're not? They're all for Resident Evil 6? Well that's odd.  It sounds like, just maybe,

Reviews are just people's opinions!

Think about it: do you have the same interests as everyone else?  Does everyone agree with you about what is cool?  Does everyone love anime and JRPGs?

Everyone loves this game, right? Final Fantasy XIII (2009)
Sure, these are all people who play and rate video games for a living, but they all obviously have pretty different ideas on what makes a game enjoyable.  Some really love certain genres and will be either incredibly critical of any game that fits in that genre or give almost every game in it a pass.  Others have that one game or series they compare everything to, even when it doesn't make sense to.  And some, for the most part, try and look at what the developers were trying to do and see if they delivered to their audience in an enjoyable and meaningful way.

So why is it important to discuss reviews?  Because many gamers use reviews to see if they should spend their time and money on a game.  No one wants to plop $60 down on a game that they end up hating.  They want to make sure they are getting their money's worth.  So they see what the "experts" say.  But here, many people run into bad researching habits.  I blame the school system personally, but still, it's there.

One of the largest mistakes is only looking at the score. "8.2? Might be worth a look!" "9.5? Holy cow! Gotta buy that!" "6.1? Eh, probably pass." "3.8? Who would buy that crap?" Sure, scores are great ways to get a quick synopsis of what the reviewer thinks, but it doesn't tell you at all why the reviewer thought that. Maybe he loves any game that has Patrick Stewart?  Maybe she wanted the game to focus on the plight of the poor in Venezuela instead of using helicopters to fling tanks into fuel tanks?  Maybe he or she is just a moron?  But if you don't read it, you have no idea if you agree or disagree with their assessment of the game.  You may find that you completely disagree with why someone gave a game a low or high score.  Don't believe me? Go read several reviews for a game you played and remember well and see how much you agree with the reviewer.  You may be surprised.

I mean, this is all you really need in a game anyway. Mercenaries 2: World in Flames (2008)
Another common mistake is just to look at the average of reviews.  Take the two games mentioned above.  Deadly Premonition got a 68/100. Resident Evil 6 got 67/100 or the Xbox 360.  Pretty average you may say.  But let's look at the breakdown for these scores. Deadly Premonition mostly has reviews in the 70 to 85 range, but several reviews rate very low.  It appears most reviewers had favorable impressions for this game, but a few people despised it and so brought the average down. Resident Evil 6 has a pretty even spread across 60, 70, and 80 with a few scores above that and a bit more below.  Seems reviewers have quite widespread opinions about this game.  However, you would never gather this just by looking at the average.  Even worse, this just compounds the score problem mentioned above.  Instead of just reading a synopsis of a review, you are reading a synopsis of a synopsis!  Why did some reviewers hate this game while most liked it? Why does this game have a large spread in its reviews?  Unless you read the actual reviews, you have no idea.  Maybe most of the reviewers' idea of what makes this game good isn't the same as yours?  You go into a store, confident you are making a good investment, only to realize, to your horror, you just wasted $50 and 20 hours of your life on a game you would have hated had you only heard a summary of it.

So what do you do? Speaking for myself, I have found the best reviews come from people I know.  For one, you know the person giving the review.  It's not just some journalist or blogger telling you this game is great or terrible, it's your friend.  Someone whose tastes and interests you know.  You can ask questions about what you think is important.  You can maybe even just borrow it for a day or so and see what you think.

That's great but what if the game just came out?  For starters, don't just look at the scores or, worse, the average of the scores.  As mentioned, this is a terrible way to determine if you will like the game.  Second, look at reviewers who you have had a good track record with.  You will find that some journalists have similar interests to you.  Maybe run across a journalist and find you both agree completely on what makes a good FPS.  Then whenever you see a new FPS, you can see if he or she has done a review and get an idea if you would like it or not.  This isn't foolproof of course because no one is exactly the same as anyone else and the journalist isn't a close friend you know well or can question, but it's a good starting point.  Finally, read lots of reviews!  Obvious, I know, but it's amazing how many people don't do this.  Reading a lot of reviews, unlike getting an average score, lets you get many different perspectives.  From all these perspectives you can get a better understanding of the game, certainly better than if you just read one person's perspective.

Some of my favorite games that I've played for hours have been games many critics panned.  I've also been bored by games that many critics loved.  Reviews are great, but they can only get you so far.  Research wisely, ask around, and you can find those lost games you fall in love with while avoiding the popular games you know you will hate.

In case you just skipped to this.

Words by Joshua Matern

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