Monday, March 17, 2008

The Product Review

Every time I watch a great movie, or even a terrible one, the experience sticks with me upon finishing it. I always feel the urge to talk about the movie with whomever I watched it with and when I get home, I immediately bring up online reviews to see what other people thought of it. Yeah, I use reviews the wrong way. I don't read them to make an informed decision on what movie to watch. I make my movie decisions based off previews and word of mouth. Rather, I read reviews after watching the movie because it's fun to find others who share my opinions and it's interesting to understand the opinions of those who don't agree with me.

Unfortunately, I can't say the same for game reviews. They're incredibly boring to read. There's already a lot of criticism written about game reviews -- whether or not they're influenced by advertisement pressure, how they differ and are inferior to game critiques, and how broken the number rating system is. Nevertheless, I'll share my personal gripes about game reviews.

1) The long descriptions of fact and features
Q: "Wait, reviews are just opinions. Right?"
A: Actually, we don't think so. We make no excuses for our verdicts about games and believe our reviews stand for themselves. While our reviews, of course, do contain an element of subjectivity to them, we see the process of reviewing games as one that primarily involves the reporting of facts. -- Gamespot, in the FAQ section of their review philosophy.
What facts are there to report? The game runs at 60 fps, it has 16 player online matches, it includes 20 different game types, and it takes 20 hours to complete. These aren't very interesting to read at all, especially for someone like me who reads reviews the "wrong" way. At the top of every review, they should include a bullet list of all the features and get it out of the way early, or just post links to previews that already covered the different modes and characters. I frankly don't want to read three paragraphs of facts before I get to a sentence telling me the story is good.

2) The pullback comment

The pullback comment happens when the reviewer makes a negative criticism, then immediately relents it with a positive note that is of a different category. Below are three examples of the pullback comment selected at complete random.

"If you're a Ninja Gaiden fan, it's a bit disappointing to realize that on standard difficulty level, you'll be able to take the majority down in one try. Even some of the attack patterns are practically the same among bosses, which is disappointing. That doesn't mean, however, that Dragon Sword isn't a lot of fun, regardless of how you feel about its level of challenge." -- Gamespot's review of Ninja Gaiden Dragon Sword
"While there's a huge selection, very few [maps] stood out as iconic in actual layout – the bigger maps were a little bland, while the smaller maps were incredibly pretty, but without much personality beyond looks. Don't get me wrong, UT's gameplay is more than strong enough to carry maps that aren't wildly interesting" -- IGN's review of Unreal Tournament III
"That’s right, the framerate is a major problem in this game and it does get bad during multiplayer and sometimes in the single-player game when you’re in a massive battle. The game does feature online functions using the Wi-FI connection but it is reserved to trading Moogles with others. It’s hardly a worthy substitute for going on quests with other gamers. Still, with a game with solid controls and good use of the touch screen, you can’t complain too much." -- GameZone's review of Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles: Ring of Fates

3) The cliché fan recommendation

"It's a blast to play with friends, but not alone. It's certainly worth a look if you're a fan of this series." -- PCMag's review of Mario Party 8
"Check it out if you're a fan of the series or want to go questing with local friends." -- Game Daily's review of Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles: Ring of Fates
"If you're a fan of the genre, you pretty much owe it to yourself to pick this game up." -- IGN's review of Virtual Fighter 4 Evolution
It's a given that fans of the series or genre will check it out. Instead, inform fans when they should stay away. Not surprisingly, most of these boring reviews are from the big enthusiast press outlets. Thank goodness for the Tom Chicks and Mitch Krpatas, or else I'd think game journalism is doomed.

No comments: