The State of Gaming Reviews – Part 5

Concluding my analysis of what I believe to be the broken modern day review model.
Read Part One
Read Part Two
Read Part Three
Read Part Four
I feel that video games should be judged on four key principals of game design. When these four principals are working, you get a classic gaming experience. You don’t need all 4 to have a good game, however, but you do need all four if you want a game to be memorable and classic:

1: Controls

Without responsive controls, the game is unplayable. This is vital to the gameplay experience. There are no excuses for poorly designed controls. Not in this day and age. If the game is trying to go for a particular feel, I can forgive non-standard controls (ie, Killzone 2, with it’s “heavy” weapons and character movement. It’s deliberate, and therefore acceptable to me).

2: Graphics

The visuals don’t have to revolutionize the industry, but they have to be in line with the standards of the genre it’s in, and the technology available on the box. The visuals we get in games like Spider-Man 3 are unacceptable when there are similar titles in the same genre with better visuals. The graphics should match the tone, and what the developer intended. Look at the new Prince of Persia game. The graphics aren’t a revolution, but they are possibly some of the most beautiful visuals I’ve seen this generation. Due to the excellent art design. No, it doesn’t push particles like Killzone 2, but they are equally gorgeous.

3: Sound Design

Often under-appreciated, excellent sound design, whether it be for weapons, ambiance, characters, etc, really help to immerse the player in the environment. It’s something that we don’t really think much of when we’re playing a game, but if you’ve been around the block a few times, you’ll notice a difference. Here’s an experiment: fire up a sandbox title like Saints Row, Spider-Man, and Crackdown. Now fire up Grand Theft Auto IV. There is a completely different tone and feel and ambiance to the environment in GTAIV than there is in the other sandbox titles. GTAIV has superb sound design.

Fire up a game like Metal Gear Solid 4 and Uncharted, and listen. To everything, from the voice-acting, to the ambient sounds, to the weapons, and then fire up a game like Kane and Lynch, Turok, or other games in the same genre. There is a difference.

4: Game Design

This is a rather large, broad category. But I’ll try and narrow it down some. We’ve all played terrible games. We’ve all played games that we just weren’t feeling. Why is that? If the controls, visuals, and sound aren’t the problem, then it’s probably simply poor game design. The levels could be rather bland and boring (ie, Legendary: The Box). The characters could be uninteresting (see Kane and Lynch).

Look at a game like Ico, or Shadow of the Colossus, or Mario, or Zelda, or Metal Gear Solid, or Bioshock, or Prince of Persia, any such game that is generally well regarded. These games have something in their game design that resonates with the gamer. Maybe the pacing is spot on (ie, Uncharted), or maybe the levels are superbly designed in their intricacy (ie, Prince of Persia; old and new). Maybe the game has such an excellent gameplay mechanic that hooks you (ie, climbing a Colossus and taking it down in Shadow of the Colossus is exhilarating).

Regardless of the technique, we can feel good or bad game design. As a reviewer, it is our job to recognize when that game design is bad, or when we’re simply being too nitpicky about a certain aspect because it’s not exactly like another awesome game we played.

And most importantly, we need to explain why we feel both positively and negatively about the design.

As an example:

What makes Resistance 2 “generic?” Quite a few reviewers threw that out there, but never elaborated. How is a game that has it’s own separate 8 player co-op mode, 60 player online, unique weapons not seen in FPS titles before, be considered generic? Just a few examples of Resistance 2’s weapons include a sniper rifle that slows down time, an assault rifle that shoots an electric ball of energy at enemies, a gun that shoots through walls, a gun that fires a “lock on” tag that causes subsequent bullets to home in on the target, a Magnum that has detonating rounds as secondary fire, etc, etc, i could go on, actually. I’d just like some clarification for such bold, general statements, as I’m sure would many a potential customer. Don’t just say, “the MP was adequate, I guess,” and move on.

Start reviewing games based on the above criteria, because I think those tent poles of game design are evident in all games, from just about all genres, and when they work together well, you have a really great experience. And most importantly, don’t forget that games are supposed to be about fun. If you are having fun, it shouldn’t matter if the game isn’t 100% perfect. If you are enjoying yourself, that is the most important part.

I think that somewhere along the way, reviewers forgot how to review games. You don’t review them against hype. You don’t review them based on sales numbers. You don’t review them based on the console they are on. You are reviewing a game. Not it’s sales projections, the console, or the hype surrounding it. You are reviewing your enjoyment factor of the game. Why amplify the few small issues when the majority of the experience is a good time (ie, the few dull puzzles in Heavenly Sword, in which you have to throw a shield at a plate to activate something; that gameplay mechanic was harped on to no end by reviewers, when you only do it a few times in the entirety of the game).

I don’t doubt that the gaming media loves the industry. Of course they do. I’m simply trying to remind the gaming media of what really matters when it comes to game reviews. I hope that I’m able to practice what I preach, and avoid unnecessary nitpicking and getting caught up in hype when I review titles.

Change has to begin somewhere, and I’m going to try my best to do my part.

Part One
Part Two
Part Three
Part Four

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One Response to “The State of Gaming Reviews – Part 5”

  1. […] One Part Two Part Four Part Five Possibly related posts: (automatically generated)The State of Game Reviews – Part TwoGaming […]

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