Part of why I read reviews is to decide whether or not I should play/buy a game. Games cost money and with a regular 9-6 job my time is limited in what I can play. I have to make that count. Also, I like reading reviews! If I’m going to play a game from start to finish and then talk about it, I should also post my own formal review of it. Makes sense, right? But what makes for a good review?
A good review should be able to present a game objectively while still emitting character, personal taste and enjoyment (or lack thereof) for the title. Still though, what one reviewer says about a game is totally different from what another might say. Which brings me to my next point.
Something else to consider is relevance. Not whether a game is relevant to you (if it wasn’t relevant to you, you wouldn’t be reading it) but relevant to the writer. If you like RTS games and want to know if an upcoming game is worth checking out, someone that mainly enjoys games like Battlefield 3 or Call of Duty may not present the game in the greatest light.
In this age of Internet everyone is a reviewer. We all have different guidelines for what truly makes a game “great” and so it’s a good idea to know how your reviewer makes up their score.
This being said, I present to you the scale with which I quantify the greatness of the games I play- my Bullshit Review Scale.
My Bullshit Review Scale
Scores are based on three categories:
Each of these categories gives a max of 3 points which can total as much as 9. The 10th point comes from what I like to call a “bullshit” point but we’ll get to that in a bit.
Is the game fun? This often gets confused with “addictive.” While both definitely factor in here, a game can be very addictive but not necessarily as much fun. For example, Tiny Wings is addictive but not as fun as Half-Life 2. Not even close. Even though one is a tiny, mobile game and the other is a big blockbuster FPS, the comparison is still fair simply because they’re both games and hey- that’s what we’re talking about here!
Other factors I consider- gameplay mechanics, controls, multiplayer, addictive/fun, replay value
I consider the technical prowess of the game’s engine as well as its visuals- both in-game and in-menus.
Though, both are greatly valued here, it’s important to distinguish between “graphics” and “visuals.” Graphics are the power behind the realism of what you’re looking at. Whereas the visuals of a game refer to art style without regard to technical power/ability.
For example, the graphics for a game such as Borderlands are not that impressive, however its visuals- it being cell-shaded -make it quite colorful, but at the same time less edgy. This lends itself well as it’s a way lighter game than Call of Duty or Battlefield with its humor and cartoon-like characters.
Framerate is also an extremely important part of graphics. The framerate of a game, if dropped below optimal levels, can take you out of a game in every way. Having to wait for a game to catch up to where you subconsciously expect it to be already has you thinking about technical issues when they should remain in the background.
Do the visuals match the theme of the game? Does the game look realistic? Lighting? Buggy? Does the framerate hold up well?
Story is the backing for so many awesome things in video games. Without it, you’d have no context for your missions in Call of Duty, no reason to cure the genophage in Mass Effect, and no reason to get Ellie to safety in The Last of Us. The game would feel empty. We take story for granted but, theoretically, this is the reason you’re playing the game. If you feel motivated by something other than achievements or trophies, it’s usually tied to the story.
Story also extends to writing- everything from the written dialogue between the characters to the voice-acting to the way the music fits with what’s on screen and how the menu options are listed.
Is the story engaging? Original? Do the dialogue and plot make sense? Is the voice acting believable?
This idea of this point is to award the games you especially liked. It can be because all of the pieces came together really well or maybe the game has a special lasting appeal that keeps you coming back. It could even be just because you’re a fan of the developer. Really, any reason whatsoever.
But, dood! Wait a minute! You didn’t mention music! I believe that music and sound design/mix, for the most part, help drive story. A few exceptions aside, games aren’t designed around music/sound- they’re largely a visual medium. So while music and sound is definitely significant to games, they serve mainly to immerse you in the story.
So that’s it. That’s where I come from when I talk about and/or review games. What are your core factors in deciding if a game is “good” or not?