What’s In A Review?

Here at TheSixthAxis we take pride in our reviews, whether they’re something simple like a minis round up, a full 1250 word essay or a cool video review.  Why?  Because we’re invoking some kind of know-it-all approach to arbitrarily awarding a score out of ten for up to three years of work for upwards of a hundred staff, and that matters.  If you didn’t already know TheSixthAxis is featured on Metacritic, an aggregate game, film and album scoring website that collects trusted review scores from quality websites and magazine from all over the internet, and thus the score we give a game directly affects the overall ‘meta’ score of that particular release.

Imagine, if you will, that you’ve spent three years at University on one single assignment.  You’ve poured blood, sweat and tears into that paper , working late, abandoning family and doing everything you can to stay true to your original vision whilst resisting pressure from your tutor (who for the sake of this metaphor is playing the part of the publisher).  Then, once everything is done, the final stroke of the pen committed to paper, your three year work is whipped away from you, duplicated, and sent to various other people who have never met you or anyone else that worked alongside you (and probably don’t even know your name) and in some cases have no interest in what you’ve done.


Except, that is, to review it.

After all your efforts, people like me then see what you’ve done, mess around with it for 8 or so hours, then write about it and give it a score.  When you think about it, it’s a joke – most websites won’t have been involved at any point in the development and promotion of the game other than copy and paste the odd press release and put up some screenshots; they won’t have visited the studio and spoken to the other guys working on the game; they won’t really care if one sticky part of the coding took a month to iron out and in some cases won’t even have heard of the game until the disk landed on their doorstep or the redeem code in their inbox.

I’m not for a second saying that TheSixthAxis isn’t guilty of at least some aspects of the above, of course, but as an independent website without the constraints and restrictions that publisher-fed advertising can impose, we can basically write what we like about any game, and two years ago when the site was just being read by a handful of our hardcore fans, we did.  Now though, with regular daily visits massively above what we’d ever hoped for, we like to think we can make a positive difference to the way a game is perceived if we like the developer and the way the game is heading.  If we don’t, then yes, our words and actions can have the opposite effect.

In the grand scheme of things, though, TSA is barely a drop in the ocean, and the ‘big’ sites can often easily influence the way the public see a game with just one page of text, destroying in a flash everything that all the other sites like ours, in co-operation with the developers and so on, have slowly built up.  Here at the ‘Axis we like to think our regular readers trust what we’re saying and have confidence in our reviews – yes, they’re all written by different people but we tend to fit the games around our personalities and hope that this all shines through in the writing (or, in Peter’s case, his voice) and thus when we score a game a 9 or, occasionally, a 10, we absolutely mean it.

Especially when Liam gets behind a keyboard, which he only does when he’s got 1000/1000 Gamerscore!

This doesn’t mean a game scoring a 10 is perfect, it means that the review thought at that time the game is the best in the genre, and the few games we’ve scored a 10 – Call of Duty 4, Singstar, Forza III – were absolutely the best you could buy and if you’re arguing about that bear in mind you’re also arguing with the personal, subjective opinion of the review – one man who’s spent 8 hours playing a game and 3 hours writing it up.  Discussion on the points raised in the review is fine, of course, but discrediting the text based on your personal experience with the game’s demo – no, that’s ridiculous. And then there’s the issue of preview code, and the real point of me writing this blog.

I’m not going to mention the publication or the game, it’s Monday and I’m in far too good a mood to go down that route, but recently one of the ‘big’ sites seemed to have reviewed a game based on non-final code.  Here at TSA we get publishers handing us what’s called ‘preview’ code on a regular basis, but it’s meant for exactly that purpose – to get a feel for the game and test out the mechanics, see what the visuals are like at that stage and so on – but not for reviewing and certainly not suitable for a final score that’ll affect Metacritic (and in some cases, the bonuses paid out to developers).  Have I played the game in question?  Yes.  Is it deserved of the score given?  No.

Would I have committed a score to publication based on the early state of the code?  Again, no.

It’s frustrating, because it’s really not fair.  Scoring a game with average-to-middling marks is fine when the game is done and dusted and it doesn’t come up to scratch, but one that’s not finished, with several glaring bugs still in place?  It’s possible that the site in question might have gotten more advanced code than the version I’m currently enjoying on an alt-profile (I’m not that dumb) but I’m assuming that’s not the case.  Will this score affect the game’s chances of great sales?  Possibly, and that’s doubly frustrating because, as written above, some sites have been patiently building up discussion on the game to try to get the message across that it’s actually rather brilliant.

Reviewing games – serious business.