As someone who not only plays video games, but actually cares enough to read and write about them, I must, I fear, enter the fray of video game journalism. I have been writing for 2404 for some time now, covered E3 for the site a few years back, have written editorials in the past and also written previews. I say this to give you some idea of where I am coming from before I begin to espouse my beliefs to you.
I have recently seen at websites like GameDaily articles detailing the nature of videogame journalism, as well as pointing out many of the common mistakes that those in the profession make. For the most part, I applauded the writer of those articles as he had very valid points to make. I myself was making many of the mistakes that he pointed out when it came to writing game reviews, something that has caused me to change the methodology that I use when I construct my reviews.
One of the things I like about 2404.org is that regardless of how long our review is, be it my review for F.E.A.R., or Anguel Delidjakov’s review for Aura: Fate of the Ages, you will always see the review featured on one page, offering easy access to just reading the conclusion and looking at the score. Some of the major websites often force one to scroll through two, and sometimes as many as five, pages before you see the score and read the summary. While I personally have been guilty of writing with 3,000 words what can be conveyed with 1,000 words, I have been reformed and now marvel at the length of reviews we get from some of the more mainstream websites.
Perhaps the biggest trend that I have noticed as of late is the scaling back of review scores. All video game websites are guilty of occasionally getting far too carried away with our scoring of games (I personally gave Doom 3 a 9.8 out of 10). I believe that this happened so often overall and was so poorly received, that we are seeing a widespread scaling back of the final review scores. Certainly games like Prey, Oblivion and G.R.A.W. have received slightly inflated scores from all over the web, despite the legions of gamers who have complained about various aspects of the games themselves. Still, by and large, we are seeing far more games falling within the 80% range of reviewing scores.
What has happened, is that games that used to get scores in the 90s, like Half-Life 2: Episode 1, find themselves scoring instead in the high 80s. I imagine this is a way many websites feel that they can show that they are being more fair with their scores. Giving a high score for a game now draws far too much scrutiny, so instead an arbitrary high(ish) score is given to convey that while not perfect, the game is worth playing. In a way, this middling for game scoring is going to even further muddle the issue as most people attribute video game scores to grades on tests, despite the fact that many websites are very open about their scoring criteria.
For example, at 2404, we have our criteria for game reviews listed here. We at 2404, believe that a game receiving a score over 9.0 of a possible 10 is a game that can be played and enjoyed by nearly all styles of gamer – the casual, the hardcore and even people at all spectrums of the gender and age groups, while an 8.0 to an 8.9 means that this game is a great game, but more for folks that are fans of the specific genre for the game being reviewed. Finally a 7.0 to 7.9, indicates a game that may very well be worth looking at, after it’s been patched a time or two. How many times have we bought a game, like Greyhawk: Temple of Elemental Evil, only to find ourselves playing a highly buggy or perhaps highly unstable build of a game which is good, but not yet ready to be truly experienced the way it was intended top be experienced?
I strongly recommend that regardless of what website you go to on a regular basis for reviews, news and editorials, you pay close attention to criteria listed for the website’s scoring system. I also strongly recommend that you look for writers who can convey in fewer words what it takes others volumes to do. I have found that often the longer reviews, as has been pointed out elsewhere, merely repeat what is found in a game’s instruction manual. Also, don’t get caught up in what a game’s average review score is, no matter how tempting it is to assume that if a game has a high ratio of review scores that it’s a great game. I strongly suggest finding game reviewers who appear to see games the way you do and wait for their reviews. In this day and age, given the high retail prices that often accompany game releases, the longer one takes to buy a game, the better. Look for websites that don’t spit out reviews the week a game is released as odds are they likely didn’t even complete the game they are opining on.
As always, don’t take my word for it, educate yourself about the world around you, and formulate your own opinions.