What Should be in a Review?

In case you didn’t gather it from the totally genius play on the title, this is a response to nofi’s relatively cynical (relative to, for example, the Teletubbies) What’s In A Review? blog earlier this morning. He basically outlined that the up-to-3 years (didn’t Killzone 2 take 4?) that games spend in development basically comes down to  a load of people sitting at keyboards and summing it up in a public opinion to the tune of around 1200 words. All that work, all the code-configuring, engine-optimising, game-marketing and other-stuff (that shouldn’t be hyphenated, but I had a thing going on) all having less of an effect on how well the game sells than what a load of buggers say about it. At TSA, we are a load of buggers, but nofi may have a point there. Or does he?

No. Sorry nofi, but it doesn’t matter how much work has gone into a game, it should never be scored in relation to that. A review is specifically about the quality of the game and nothing else.

It might seem a little harsh, I suppose. I understand that a lot of work goes into making a game, even the horrors that you wouldn’t play if you were at gunshot probably took more work than I will ever do (I’m a very lazy person), and that is why it shouldn’t be taken into account when reviewing said game. Huge amounts of work go into all games, even the crappy ones, so that evens the playing field between them all – sure, the work that went into, say, Pixeljunk Monsters didn’t last as long as Killzone 2’s 4 years, but that doesn’t devalue either game – they both deserve to be judged fairly.

What I’m trying to say is that it doesn’t matter how hard you work on that single assignment, it’s the end product that matters. If it’s shit, it’s shit, regardless of whether you spent 2 years polishing said shit or whether it’s only just burst forth from your tortured anus after a night of curry and Guinness. I will end this paragraph so you can shake that image from your mind.

The reason for this is that games cost £40-£45 (unless it’s published by bastards), it’s more important than ever that people not buy bad games. Have you ever bought a game for the full price, got it home and thought ‘well, this brings forth a certain terrible image from a paragraph ago back’? People can not really afford to buy games that aren’t good, and that’s why people hold reviews in such high regard. Sure, it’s just an opinion and it might not necessarily be one you will agree with, but game quality is not opinion. Lo-res textures, bad animation, bad dialogue, terrible voice acting, dull cutscenes, awkward controls, unintuitive gameplay; all of this is not opinion, it is simply fact, and can be evidenced by proof.

Where the opinion comes in is the score, and whether or not the good points outweigh the bad points. If a game has awkward animation, and lo-res textures but plays like the second coming of digital Christ, it’s probably going to get a high score regardless. In short, it’s how much the bad points bother the reviewer that makes up the review, not the bad points themselves. The best way to even out the opinion is, of course, Metacritic. The averaging system works rather well in minimising opinion’s affect on the score – I even look at averages myself before I buy a game. Granted, if I still want a game after looking at the score, even if it’s got a low score, I still buy the game, but then again I’m about as responsible with money as Paris Hilton is with video cameras.

Personally, when reviewing a game, I like to have a high opinion of the game until I have reason to think otherwise. I start a game like it’s going to give me money and send me into a tantric orgasm, then every time something annoys me, or something doesn’t quite work, it gets knocked down a peg. LittleBigPlanet lost so little I gave it a 10 in my review (not on TSA), whilst Bladestorm, when I reviewed it for TSA two years ago (How weird is that?), got a 6 because it did a lot of things wrong. How long the game took to make, how much work went into it and how much I like the publisher or developer never affects the score I give a game. I owe it to the readers to be impartial, they’re trusting me.