Friday, September 27, 2013

My Review Philosophy

Since I have started posting more reviews, I have had a few people ask for clarification on how I can to my conclusions. While I feel that my reviews are pretty straightforward in that they follow the structure used by many mainstream gaming sites, I think an explanation of my methodology can be a helpful supplement to the reviews themselves. As such, below you will find an outline of some of the criteria I consider and how everything fits together to get to a final score. Of course, I reserve the right to change my opinion and criteria at any time, but I think this should represent a pretty good idea of my general review philosophy.

What gets a review?
Mostly I opt to review only completed titles; games still in beta or pre-release stages should receive an 'early impressions' rather than a full fledged review. That said, some games reach late beta stages and can be considered complete for review purposes; in these cases I do my utmost to indicate those sections which are still in development. If a game is still in beta and unplayable due to bugs, I will not review it until the developer has had a chance to stomp them out. Otherwise, any title from any genre on any platform is open to review.

I make every effort to finish a game before writing the review but, due to time constraints, will generally not go for a full clear. What this means is that I play through the game as I think most gamers will, perhaps collecting a few of the hidden bonuses along the way, but I make no assertions that I have seen every scrap of content that the game has to offer. For genres which are constantly evolving (i.e. MMORPGs), I aim to provide my impressions for the game in it's current state; I may highlight some of the promised future features but will weight these points significantly lower (if at all) than what is already implemented. Occasionally, I will review major updates or patches to a title to provide an update on whether a game has improved significantly enough to change my initial impressions.

The Score?
While some reviewers detest the idea of assigning a score to a game, I feel that this can be an extremely useful tool in determining if a game is a good purchase. Scores in the upper range (9 or 10) represent games which I feel should appeal almost universally and I have no problem recommending these to anyone; scores in the high-mid range (7-8) are generally good examples of a particular genre or good games that may have a few flaws and I recommend these to fans of the genre or people who may be on the fence about purchasing it; scores in the mid plus range (5-6) generally suffer from at least one significant flaw and are usually only recommended for those who are big fans of the genre or subject matter; scores below this range (1-4) either suffer from serious design flaws or bugs that render the game unplayable, some of these games might have potential through patching but I cannot recommend them in their current state.

The score is an amalgamation of the complete gaming experience and typically includes a consideration of design, graphics, and sound but may also cover replayability and value (a game which is free is easier to recommend than a $60 title). Sometimes, a game exhibits a synergy where the final score transcends the apparent sum of its parts; the score here can reflect this 'x-factor'. As such, it is entirely possible for a game to receive a high score in 'The Short' while 'The Long' is mostly critical. I generally consider a game on its own merits as part of a genre and do my best to mitigate my own personal biases. As such, I consider a game first as an example within it's own genre then apply this to gaming as a whole.

How my reviews are structured?
My review structure borrows heavily from several mainstream gaming sources. As such, I aim for the structure to be familiar. Of course, all of the main content is my own. Each review is divided into two parts. 'The Short' provides an extremely brief rundown of the highs and lows of the game and provides a score on a 10 point scale. I intend for this section to provide an at a glance overview of my impressions of the game and should give an idea of what to expect. I place 'The Short' at the top to provide guidance when reading the full text. The second section, 'The Long', provides an in depth exploration of some of the key points. 'The Long' tries to cover as many aspects that I think are relevant to determining if the game is a good purchase but may not be fully comprehensive (some points I have may not make the final cut). Each of these points is usually covered under a broad heading to facilitate reading. From time to time, I will add some bullet points following 'The Long' to highlight a few smaller things which may not have fit in to the normal flow of the review; these are unlikely to significantly impact a purchase decision but are worth mentioning.

Some common criteria
Below are some the common criteria that are likely to appear in a majority of my reviews. Depending on the genre, these criteria can be weighted differently and, sometimes, entirely different criteria may be used.

This category broadly encompasses the entertainment factor of the game and will often describe the mechanics that drive play. I feel that design is integral to whether a game is actually fun and use this criteria to help elaborate where a game succeeds or falls short. I generally praise efforts to break the established mold of a genre and am favourable to new ideas even when the execution is a bit rough. On the flip side, if a game doesn't make an attempt to innovate and fails to incorporate elements which have become genre standard, I am much more critical.

Graphics/Art Style
I don't expect photo-realism from all games. For me, 'good graphics' incorporates an art style that is appropriate to the gameplay. A cartoon approach to a platformer may score just as high as the most realistic graphics in the latest FPS. This isn't to say that each genre has a specific style that is best but I feel that the choice of art style should properly convey a mood. Further, the art style should be consistent throughout the game with each asset feeling like it belongs.

Much like graphics, sound needs to be appropriate to the gameplay. Great music can elevate a game just as easily as a horrible music can bring it down. Further, I consider if the sound design is integral (dynamic) to the gameplay or simply an accompaniment; neither approach is inherently right or wrong but needs to mesh well with the other elements of the game. While far from an audiophile, I consider sound/music design to have a dramatic impact on the play experience and thus almost always consider it in a review.

This criteria is slightly less subjective than others in that it represents the ratio of playtime to cost of the game. That said, I also consider if those hours of playtime are actually entertaining; 50 hours of boredom is nowhere near as valuable as 5 hours of exhilaration. On this point, a game which is free does not immediately warrant a play through; time spent playing a bad game for free is not time well spent. Ultimately, my considerations of value are inextricably linked to the overall score and consequently is heavily weighted in my review.

Hopefully this should give an idea of what influences my reviews. I don't think any of what I said here should be a major revelation (especially for those who actively read game reviews from other sources) but, nonetheless, I think it is valuable to explain. As always, anything said here is subject to change but I don't expect any sudden shifts, though perhaps gradual changes, in my review philosophy.